Mavericks owner Mark Cuban questions the role of sports media in 2011 in his latest blog post, and comes to the conclusion that “internet reporters” no longer should be allowed access to locker rooms, because their interests and those of the team are no longer aligned.
That’s the short version of a much longer piece on the media, one that makes some decent points, especially coming from the perspective of a team owner. But it’s also a piece that has some flaws, particularly from a journalistic standpoint.
Let’s start with the parts that make sense. Cuban is coming at this strictly from a business standpoint. He’s looking at media outlets that contribute directly to his bottom line, which really means driving traffic not to a particular website, but specifically to his arena in Dallas. This is evidenced by the fact that Cuban puts local print media at the top of importance in terms of having locker room access.
Newspaper has to be in the room. I know this is counter intuitive to some, but it is a fact. Why ? Because there is a wealthy segment of my customer base that does not and will not go online to find out information about the Mavs. If I don’t have a PRINT beat writer and /or PRINT columnist showing up and writing about the Mavs, both sides lose.
Dan Shanoff breaks this down in much greater detail over at Quickish.com, but again: “a wealthy segment of his customer base” means the people spending those dollars to attend games in person. From Cuban’s perspective, this makes sense. And so does another part of his piece, where he discusses the negative impact that the constant reporting of transaction rumors can have on a team or its individual players.
Cuban mentions specifically the toll that non-stop questions about rumors can take on the players, which can impact their performance, which will in turn impact the quality of the product he’s selling.
The result is that the team is often negatively impacted. Players get distracted. Team personnel get distracted and spend too much time dealing with the rumors. Its a negative for any team.
Of course rumors wont go away if a writer doesn’t have access, but we can reduce the stress of a player having a mike shoved in his face and asked the same question day after day. We also don’t have to legitimize the writer by giving them access to the locker room.
It’s true that the follow-up reporting of trade rumors is excessive, and it must be exhausting to the players involved, regardless of whether or not they’re the ones who initiated them in the first place. (See: Anthony, Carmelo.) Fans love to play armchair GM and talk trades and rumored trades, which is why these stories generate traffic. But Cuban is wrong when he singles out “internet reporters” as being the ones pushing these storylines, because every sector of the sports media is equally responsible.
I went through two straight seasons of Amar’e Stoudemire trade rumors in Phoenix while covering the NBA (yes, as an internet reporter), and I can tell you that besides the occasional visit from a national internet writer, there were local members of the television and radio media that asked the players and coaches about it, essentially on a daily basis. Now, was Suns.com asking about it daily? Not necessarily, but they certainly would be there filming while others asked about it, and would (naturally) post the video of the players’ comments on the team’s website. Same goes for the local print media. Of course they reported almost daily on the fact that the team may be losing one of its biggest stars; how could they not?
The point here is that the possibility of a team losing an All-Star in a mid-season trade is a huge story, as is any potential trade before the deadline that would change the shape of a playoff contender’s roster. Every person in every sector of the media with any interest in reporting on the league at all is going to cover something like this until its resolution — not just the ones classified as “internet reporters.”
Near the end of his piece, Cuban asks why he can’t simply use his own media platforms to communicate with his team’s online customers, thus eliminating any potentially negative impact on his ability to sell his team’s product. The answer is an easy one.
By controlling the message, there’s always going to be a positive spin on anything the organization does — player transactions, questionable in-game decisions by a player or coach, and the list could go on and on. And that’s a problem.
Fans (i.e., Cuban’s customers) crave informed reporting on both sides of a story, and reporters with access to the team who don’t work specifically for the Dallas Mavericks are going to be the ones who will write those alternative, not-necessarily-flattering pieces.
As a business owner, Cuban isn’t wrong for wanting to control how his product is marketed. But consumers of sports thrive on discussing all types of information, from the rumored, to the positive, to the negative. Blaming one segment of the media for covering the stories that you would deem undesirable isn’t going to change that.