Building smarter baseball fans starts in the broadcast booth

Living in Seattle and being a Mariners fan is growing more and more enjoyable. Yes, there's Jack Z and all the great moves he's made turning 100-loss team into a much buzzed-about contender. But on top of that, Mariners fans are blessed (yes, blessed) with a wealth of phenomenal reading material via what has to be the best blogosphere in the majors. There's Lookout LandingUSS Mariner, Pro Ball NW and even ASW's own Northwest Diamond Notes. It isn't mindless stuff either, these are intelligent baseball writers. As great as their content is, if I come across a post a bit too heavy with Sabermetrics and advanced statistics, I just can't do it. Like hitting an old 50 Cent song on shuffle, I roll right past.

It's not that I think they're wrong, I don't understand them. I read about sports for pleasure and haven't invested the time in doing 'homework' (see: LL's Sabermetrics 101 series) so I can understand some of the blog posts I read. These are the statists the best and most accurate baseball writers/bloggers use. They're the best evaluator on why one ball-player is better than another. And yet, a majority of baseball fans do not understand them, So, how does this change?

In a guest column on Baseball Prospectus, ESPN broadcaster Jon Sciambi says it starts in the booth:

Let's not forget "it's the search for objective knowledge about baseball." The goal is not unveiling newfangled stats; it's about getting people to understand basic ideas and concepts. To achieve that, we can't just slap stats up on the screen and explain them. Understanding has to come in the form of analysis. We have to use the stat and explain it. Sometimes it needs to be the [play-by-play] guy playing analyst and getting the color guy to react [...]

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The 'Twitter Olympics'? Not with taped delay.

Last week brought some terrible, terrible news—news that the Olympics on NBC has received phenomenal ratings, even beating out American Idol. Prior to that, American Idol hadn't been beaten in six years. That's on you America. Back to the point, NBC will likely continue its policy of not airing major events live, instead broadcasting them at two different times to the American public. Maybe you haven't noticed, but fans—while watching—haven't reacted all that well. So, does NBC care as long as people are watching? Of course not. But let's look at one area where this could be hurting: social media.

Prior to the Games, Bob Condron, the Director of Media Services for the United States Olympic Committee, proclaimed that these would be the 'Twitter Olympics' due to loose restrictions on athletes' use of social media.

For those who you who use Twitter to follow and, more importantly, discuss sports, does it seem as though the use of Twitter has been all that prominent surrounding these Olympics? Certainly not.

In one of my first posts on this blog, I wrote about how the NBA's rise in popularity and it's potential link to the growing prominence of social media was less about its use by athletes and more about the high level of conversation taking place amongst fans. This is the same thing.

For a sporting event to reach its full potential in the world of social media, there has to be a great amount of discussion amongs fans. The Olympics simply don't have that. Olympic news currently comes in three different waves: when it actually happens, the East Coast broadcast, and finally the West Coast broadcast. It is absolutely impossible to have a good conversation when everyone has is at a different wave. Some people may have just heard the results, some people may have heard the results and seen it, then there are others who have no news. Breaking up an event like this greatly reduces the amount of conversation.

For someone who follows along on Twitter with every sporting event possible, I refuse to do so with the Olympics. During the day, I try to avoid the results and then once I have it on in the background at night, during the West Coast airing, no one is talking about it. So yes, I continue to watch, while being sorely disappointed. The other day NBC aired an extended piece on the 1980 Olympic hockey team instead of showing the live USA-Canada. I don't care if the ratings are somehow higher. This lunacy has to stop.


BBC News to journalists: learn social media or leave

We're getting beyond the point where it is acceptable for journalists and newspapers to sit on the side and just dip their legs into the icy public pool that is social media. Finally, we're starting to see publications fully embrace it, and not simply as a kitschy gimmick to prove to readers that they're down with the times.

Peter Horrocks took over last week as the new director of BBC Global News and he's determined to change things. From The Guardian's PDA Digital Content Blog:

"This isn't just a kind of fad from someone who's an enthusiast of technology. I'm afraid you're not doing your job if you can't do those things. It's not discretionary", he is quoted as saying in the BBC in-house weekly Ariel. [...]

"If you don't like it, if you think that level of change or that different way of working isn't right for me, then go and do something else, because it's going to happen. You're not going to be able to stop it."

Exactly. Check out the entire post and full Q&A for a bit more.

It's time for newspapers—and sports sections in particular—to adopt a similar approach. This isn't simply about the ability to report either, especially in sports. As much as any subject, readers look to build some kind of connection with the sportswriters they read on a daily basis. Social media has already shown a remarkable ability to foster relationships when used appropriately. For example, if Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley had used Twitter to further explain a backhanded apology to Erik Bedard, it's possible I'd see where he was coming from. Probably not, but the possibility exists.

Social media is something journalists need to know. And not to simply use for the sake of using, but learn and take advantage of. The more newspapers adopt such a strict policy, the better.

Disney CEO (think ESPN) says iPad 'has a lot of potential'

The iPad is coming and, as disappointing as it is at first glance, some people will inevitably buy it. To satisfy those people, developers will need a little bit more than blown-up iPhone applications. Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger isn't discouraged by the initial responce and is thinking big when it comes to the iPad, saying it "has a lot of potential" and "could be a game changer in terms of enabling us to essentially create new forms of content."

Iger, speaking during a conference call with analysts, said that the iPad's portability and interactivity create the the possibility of something different than what is available on a typical computer or TV set. "With ESPN," he said, "you have ScoreCenter, which is a great app on the iPhone and provides rudimentary information and scores. Suddenly we have a platform where you can really make those scores come to life."

Business Insider highlights the possibility of using the iPad/ScoreCenter to watch replays and monitor other scores while watching games on TV. Of course, this is a possibility, but so is using the iPad at live sporting events.

We've already seen similar devices taking advantage of technology that allows stadiums to add to the experience of attending a live game. As far back as 2007, Seattle Mariners fans owning a Nintendo DS couls use it at Safeco Field to watch the live broadcast, check out replays and even order beer and beverages from their seats. There's no reason to think that if a Nintendo DS—not even the most technologically advanced handheld gaming system—could handle tasks like this three years ago, the much more advanced iPad should be able to handle this and more.

This isn't even any more advanced, but I'd be more than content using the iPad to listen to the radio broadcast while using a 'scorecard' app to keep score and check stats. Unfortunately, the iPad isnt capable of doing two things at once. Let's get it together Apple.

Good idea for sports: Journal-Register Co. will issue video cameras to all reporters

Rarely do you see newspapers taking drastic and ambitious steps in an era when one false move could bring down a publication for good. That's why it's so enlightening to see the Journal-Register Co. making major moves to advance and improve coverage provided by the company's 19 daily and 150 other newsapers.

As noted by the New Haven Independent (via the Editors Weblog), CEO John Patton told the company's 3,100 employees that they no longer work for a 'newspaper company', but a 'media company' instead.

“We’re not looking to make any cuts,” Paton said, clearly pumped about the prospect of inventing a new business model at a chain that had lagged behind the rest of the industry in adjusting to the digital age. “We need to improve [local coverage]. We don’t need to make it worse.”

Patton has some good ideas for improving the quality of coverage, one of the best is that all reporters at the company will have Flip HD video cameras within 30 days. This, I think, is something every newspaper should adopt, even if it means purchasing one for every three reporters—having them checked out when necessary. Sports sections would appear to benefit as much as any part of the newspaper.

While images and audio are better than providing print copy alone, video brings content to a completely new level. Of course, there are certain restrictions with where video is allowed (locker rooms, etc), but in any situation where it can be used, it almost always should.

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Olympic social media & blogging policy is hard to understand

As is the case with these huge global events—Olympics, World Cup, etc—the media polices in place are extremely strict and breaking them usually results in dismemberment. So, watch out bloggers. The IOC released its Blogging Guidelines for the 2010 Games (PDF) and they are bit cumbersome, especially confusing to the athletes planning on sharing an inside take with their fans.

Unlike professional sports leagues where there are bans on when athletes can use social media sites, athletes are free to blog at their own discretion, as long as they don't break any rules. One of those: don't act like a journalist.

There are some restrictions on what athletes can do online during the Olympics. According to the IOC Blogging Guidelines for the 2010 Games, athletes and other accredited people must keep their posts confined to their personal experiences. “You can’t act as a journalist if you aren’t,” says [Director of Media Services for the United States Olympic Committee] Bob Condron. “You need to do things in a first person way.”

Rule 49 of the Olympic Charter says that “Only those persons accredited as media may act as journalists, reporters or in any other media capacity.”

Umm, what? In this day and age, what constitutes being a journalist? What if you inject any journalistic post with a first-person voice? Such as "I just spent some time kickin it with Bode Miller and he said he did not close the bar last night, only stayed out until 12:45 and feels relatively good to go today." Does that count as journalism or does it fall under the 'diary' format the IOC is looking for from non-accredited athletes and bloggers?

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Why opting out of Google News is a terrible idea in the era of social media

I would kill to be Mark Cuban. Billions of dollars and a professional sports team, of course I would. And you know what? I'd probably act exactly the same. I'd sit at the end of my team's bench, yell at referees, buy my guys everything they wanted and when he offseason came, I'd be rumored to be involved in the acquisition of other teams. But even more than all of that, I'd use my wealth as a pulpit to express my views on any topic I have an opinion on. Mark Cuban seems particularly fond of that, and his recent view that Google News is a vampire has drawn out the opinions of just about everyone.

For a second, let's disregard the fact that Mark Cuban is calling out Google News while investing in its competitors and instead focus on the fact that there are some major flaws in what he's saying. Cuban's argument revolves around the idea that being indexed on Google News can do major damage to a newspaper's brand equity. In the world we live in, the opposite is more true: not being indexed would damage a paper's brand. But before moving onto that, here's a summary of Cuban's argument:

When that newspaper allows itself to be included in Google News it becomes a de facto endorsement of Google News as an acceptable and probably preferable “discovery destination” . The branding message to the consumer is “I dont need to go to the newspaper homepage. Everything the newspaper has  is referenced  here in Google News. So if there is something of interest to me from the local paper, Google News will send me to their site.  I don’t need to go to both sites any longer. I can just go to Google News.

Thats not good for the publication brand and business. They just lost their position as a trusted source where real people make decisions on what content they think their readers will want to discover – to an algorithm.

He goes on to say that having your story listed as 'one of x thousand sources' is never, under any circumstance, a good thing for a paper's brand. 

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College coaches using Twitter to announce signed recruits

It's an ingenious idea, updating fans as soon as the Letters of Intent are faxed in. In what I've seen, Washington's Steve Sarkisian has been one of the best at it, with reporters just relaying what he's been putting out on Twitter. On top of that, UW had a live chat/blog going throughout the day. Very impressive stuff. The University of Washington is doing a lot of things that other schools would benefit from taking note of.

Of course, the University of Spoiled Children took it to another level, with Lane Kiffin doing what Kiffykins does:

Well congrats to UT for hanging on to a couple of our recruits. But we got the important ones

Now, I was planning on posting an image of said tweet, but it appears as though Lane Kiffin got in a bit of trouble, the Twitter account in question no longer exists. Obviously, there's something to be learned here as well.

UPDATE: Sounds like the Kiffin account was fake. Still, it would not have been the least bit surpising.

Universities outsourcing social network security through UDiligence

We've seen all too often that college athlete athletes—or ones who are about to be—cannot be completely trusted on their own in the world of social networking. A majority of athletes will get by fine, communicating with other students and colleagues without looking stupid, but for the idiots who slip up there is a safety net for the schools.

AOL Fanhouse has a great article on UDiligence, a service that keeps tabs on the social networking activity of a school's student-athletes to avoid potential public relations disasters. A summary:

UDiligence was founded by Kevin Long, a former congressional press secretary, and a business partner. They have invested more than three years and a substantial financial sum into the patented social network monitoring system, complete with bells and whistles, and currently work for more than a dozen athletic programs nationally.

Long says his system is monitoring Facebook, MySpace and Twitter pages -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- of more than 6,000 student-athletes from New Jersey Institute of Technology to the University of Nebraska.

Pricing depends on the number of student-athletes and portal configuration but costs from $1,350 per year for 50 athletes or less to $5,000 per year for over 500 athletes.

I'll always advocate education over restriction and punishment but it's impossible to say that this isn't a fantastic idea for a business.

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NFL's Super Bowl site a perfect example of social media for the sake of social media


The NFL's new Super Bowl site features a page that allows users to see relevant and realtime content from Twitter and Flickr; there's Tweets from smalltime users as well as prominent media outlets. Sounds pretty neat. The problem is, it's one of those sites you look at once, say to yourself "well, that was interesting" and go right back to doing work or Facebook stalking with no plans to return. Such is the problem with social media, some companies and individuals get into it for the sake of appearing hip or technologically savvy without adding any real value.

The idea itself is certainly a good one, and this may even be a decent format for displaying images, but they could've done something much better with Twitter. Why not have separate streams and directories for select writers, bloggers, players and fans along with a chronological timeline for all posts with their #sb44 hashtag? At least that layout makes sense, as opposed to sliding over a virtual mural.

So, well done NFL, you look really cool and hip to those who don't use Twitter on a regular basis. To the influencers who do, the site isn't anything more than something shiny to look at for a minute or two.

AOL Seed an opportunity for sportswriters? Not yet.

With everyone dying to find the next successful revenue model for journalism—assuming it even exists—many have taken an interest in AOL Seed. Seed takes aim at 'crowdsourcing' journalism by giving publishers a forum to post stories and freelance journalists an opportunity to claim and write those stories for compensation. The thing is, it doesn't take a great deal of journalistic expertise, if any, to write the stories Seed is looking for.

As an example, Seed's most recent and ambitious project includes profiling all 2,000 bands playing at SXSW. The details

  • Each assignment/profile is worth $50.
  • The format will be a 1,000 word Q&A
  • Said format will be based on a template, with Seed providing some of the questions
  • Finished bios will be used to populate, AOL's music site
  • Posts will be edited and approved by the teams at AOL/Spinner

Now, where exactly does this fit in for sports? It's hard to imagine a format where you'd need that type of content, possibly a situation like the NCAA Tournament. But many sites are already doing profiles of each team, with Deadspin even coming to mind. Those don't involve firsthand reporting (talking to the coaches, players, etc.) but I don't imagine a template-based series with predetermined questions would be all that interesting to a majority of readers. However, this isn't to say all content is templated, but it's not all that much better either.

Just to see what was available, I signed up for seed and went to their recommended sports opportunities. At the moment, there are two opportunities: a $100 story on going to the 2010 WWE Royal Rumble for the first time and another titled "Investigate the World of Broomball!" for $75. Not interested.

So, based on this, I decided to check out who was using the Seed-produced sports content. Based on their own publisher portfolio, it looks as though only AOL-owned sports entities have used the service. Makes sense at the moment but this isn't ideal.

So yes, this could be a good idea and if you're interested in writing on other subjects you could make some money right now, but for sportswriters Seed still has a long ways to go.