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Competition is Fierce When Pitching Sports Media

The St. Louis Cardinals have made it to the World Series. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Current and former athletes are the hottest tickets for sports media outlets. Sports stars’ extracurricular activities, such as competing on Dancing with the Stars, are sought after stories, along with business news like endorsement deals. And if they are big enough names, these sports celebs can also use the media exposure to promote the many causes they support.

These were a few of the tips from a sports media panel held earlier this week by the PRSA’s New York chapter. The participants also offered their take on the competition, including social media, as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse at their jobs.

Apparently it’s not all fun and games on their side of the field… or is it?

The lineup included Jim O’Connell from the Associated Press, Michael McCarthy from USA Today and its GameOn blog, and Lynn Hoppes from ESPN.com‘s page 2. Panelists from local and regional New York outlets included Jeane Willis from SNY TV and Al Dukes from MSG TV and WFAN-AM radio and television.  Kerry Ruggieri, VP at Ketchum, moderated.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

Internal and external competition is fierce. “When an athlete visits ESPN headquarters, he goes through the ‘car wash’ since he talks with all our platforms. So the competition is also ourselves,” Hoppes explained. Exclusives are required for ESPN.com page 2, and for GameOn, but not for WFAN-AM.

Everyone goes after the sports celebrities, but as Dukes mentioned, “sometimes the biggest athletes are on so many times and are so programmed that they know not to say anything stupid.” Other timely topics quickly become worn out after making the rounds, such as Christian Lopez, who caught the baseball from Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit.

Social media is a competitor and a key information source. “The fight to the ‘get’ was causing enough ulcers when there were fewer channels,” Willis said.” Hoppes added that one time an onlooker at an event beat ESPN to the big photo and distributed it on twit pics.

They all check athletes’ twitter feeds, and McCarthy likened it to “having a wire service at his fingertips 24/7.” As O’Connell noted, “when I started at AP, news items used to last about a week but now it’s only ten seconds and they’re gone.”

Covering major sports events can be a mixed bag. “The biggest problem with the Olympics is that we’re shuttled around in countries with no access to the athletes. And on Super Bowl media day we only get an hour with the athletes and they’re cordoned off,” Hoppes reported.

McCarthy recounted a more lively Super Bowl experience, and he called the week of parties leading up to the big game “the unofficial convention of the sports business industry.”

Their best interviews still make it all worthwhile. O’Connell spoke to NBA star Dikembe Mutombo at a women’s basketball game during the Atlanta Olympics, and Big Lead Sports’ Barry Janoff covered gold legend Arnold Palmer during a major golf tournament. McCarthy, a self-described “trekkie,” once interviewed actor William Shatner.

So if one can get past the heated competition, the hectic pace, and the elusive “get,” the rest of the job appears to be fun and games after all.

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