Window Slowly Closing On Local TV Sportscasts
By Dave Hughes
Is the sportscast on local Baltimore TV news an endangered species? Probably not, but the media environment for the delivery of local TV sports is changing -- big time.
Just recently, the Baltimore Sun reported sports cuts at Channel 2/WMAR. And, as Sun TV critic David Zurawik reported, Baltimore's ABC affiliate no longer has a major high-profile sportscaster and is using freelancers for coverage.
While WMAR may be the first major local TV operation to downplay sportscasts so much, it is not alone. There is a definite trend toward less sports time on local newscasts all across the country.
Jim Williams, who covers Baltimore sports media for the Washington Examiner, points out the cuts and reductions are simply a fallout of who is watching local TV news -- lots of women.
Females, Williams said, are the majority viewers of local news these days, particularly late afternoon and early evening newscasts. Men, who tend to be larger consumers of sports news, are more often bypassing local TV newscasts and checking out the latest sports news on ESPN, ESPN News and numerous Web sites.
"Are sportscasters on the 6 and 11 p.m. news going the way of the teletype machines?" Williams said. "WMAR cut Scott (Garceau) over a year ago. And now, most Baltimore sports fans don't get their sports from any of the local TV newscasts."
Local TV stations now give more priority to weathercasts, said Williams. His recent study found weather news got almost three times the amount of time on local newscasts than sportscasts.
It's now common for a local TV sportscast to be just a few minutes -- down from six- and seven-minute segments a decade ago.
"Sports anchors are becoming dinosaurs," Williams said.
The local TV news "stars" are now the weather people. Women, particularly those in the age 18-49 demographic, are the main viewers of newscasts and they want weather, features and consumer news. Sports? Not so important.
The remaining local TV sportscasts often deliver stories in a more entertaining way so they can appeal more to non-sports lovers, Zurawik said.
Take Channel 11/WBAL's Jerry Sandusky, for example. He's "downright entertaining," and often focuses his sportscasts on a "single compelling story," said Williams. Sandusky's sportscasts feature "a very quick, brief mention of other sports headlines," tailored to non-sports-interested viewers.
That said, Channel 11, like other stations over the years, has shrunk the sports window.
Over on Channel 13/WJZ, there's Mark Viviano.
"Viviano is one of the best local TV sportscasters anywhere," said Williams. "He's very polished and entertaining."
Viviano seems to be the "most likely to move up to a larger market," Zurawik added.
Up the dial, Channel 45/WBFF is taking a bit of a different approach. Rather than having a shorter sportscast during its newscasts, it actually makes its sportscast longer by cutting if off from the rest of the newscast -- similar to WMAR's "Sports Extra."
Bruce Cunningham has his own, separate sportscast, "Sports Unlimited," in the middle of Channel 45's 90-minute weeknight news block. At about 10:50, the news ends with Cunningham delivering about 10 minutes of local and national sports news, before the channel returns to news at 11 p.m.
"It may be the smart way to do it, and maybe it'd be better able to sell it commercially," Zurawik said. "Still no proof in the ratings."
Then there's former Channel 2/WMAR-er Scott Garceau. WMAR jettisoned Garceau from nightly sports duties in a series of budget cuts a year ago.
Garceau had a big following on TV, but now gets more time and better ratings on the radio with his afternoon drive show on 105.7 The Fan, WJZ-FM, with co-host Anita Marks.
Garceau now has three to four hours each day on the radio to discuss sports, as compared with less than three minutes he had on each newscast on WMAR.
"Now, I can kick some issues around, and have fun," Garceau said.
Sure, there will always be plenty of sportscasts out there, but fewer of them in the local TV media mix.
Issue 142: October 2009