The Importance of Sports Journalism in Today's World
A few weeks ago I was talking to an Op-Ed page editor in Pittsburgh about the politics of sports business and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s bold move of offering ACC membership to three Big East schools. The editor thought there might be a day in which sports issues would be on his Op-Ed pages. But today wasn’t that day, although he could see the merit of opinion pieces on how sports really operate.
That is the mindset of newspaper and magazine editors, along with radio and TV programmers. Sports are merely games; the toy store of life. Nothing to be taking seriously. After all, seven-year-olds play sports.
The mindset is wrong. More than ever, sports is a business. A multi-billion dollar business with global implications. General Electric is spending billions of dollars so that its NBC TV network can broadcast the 2010 and 2012 Olympics. Communities all over America have created special tax districts; raised hotel, motel, rent-a-car, restaurant, cigarette, and beer taxes to fund stadiums and arenas. Congress may take up discrimination legislation against men-only member golf courses, change tax exemption laws as they apply to companies that are Olympic sponsors, and legislate the boxing industry.
Those issues aren’t found in the sandbox of the playground. That’s why the mindset has to be changed. Sure, sports journalism tackles some issues; frivolous ones like, “Is Bud Selig a good Baseball Commissioner or is he Bud-Lite?” And, sure, a talking head like Bob Costas will try to intellectualize the “Is he good or Bud Lite?” debate. But people need to be aware of just how government influences the sporting industry and its cause and effect.
Without the change in the 1986 Tax Code, new stadiums and arenas would never have been built. The mass expansion of the 1980s and 1990s would never have had happened. The tax code change allowed municipalities to become very involved in public-private sponsorships of sports. Sports is a business with labor actions, that sometimes are settled amicably and other times not. It depends on government funding for facilities, for cable TV regulation or deregulation, and tax breaks for corporations who buy tickets as a business expense and writeoff. Sports also needs watchdogs. The industry has very few of them looking into the actual day-to-day operations of the business.
Colleges are offering sports business management courses because it’s a growing field. Editors and programmers need to look at sports as more than an entertainment forum. Journalists also need to examine the sports industry because, in the end, just about every American citizen has some money directly or indirectly invested in the sports industry.
That’s why we need more competent journalists taking a closer look. It’s great to watch a game and report on it, but the democracy deserves more than a box score when it comes to scrutinizing the business of sports.