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MEDIA WATCHDOG: Would you pay for sports web content?

Street Talk MEDIA WATCHDOG: Would you pay for sports web content?

Posted in Street Talk

SCENARIO

Members of a venerable American business institution are under severe economic stress.  Leaders in their respective industry for decades, they have been attacked by new competition for their services.  They have been forced to seek new avenues of revenue just to stay in business.  Things that their customers got for free, and took for granted, now have price tags on them.  The very existence of these so called “Legacy Organizations” is now in serious doubt.

Am I writing about the U.S. Legacy Airlines?  I could be, but I’m not.

I’m writing about another dying industry.  I’m writing about the print newspapers, the hot-off-the-press industry.  Something is happening that may change, in a very fundamental way, how we, as sports fans, get our sports news.  And it may come very soon. 

WHAT HAPPENED?

In mid-March the New York Times announced that a new digital subscription plan would go into effect at the end of March that would require visitors to their web site to pay up to $15 for a four week subscription for unlimited visits to www.nytimes.com.  Since March 28, visitors to the NYTimes.com can read up to 20 articles per month without paying.  After that, you need to put your hand in your personal till to keep reading.

Without going into the excruciating financial details (you can read the article here), the Times is betting that users will pay for something that, until now, they received for free. 

The implications of this are huge. 

The Times estimates that their web site has 30 million hits per month, the largest by far of any news organization in the world.  No American news entity as large as the NYT has tried to put its content behind what is known as a “pay wall,” particularly after previously allowing unrestricted access.  Some, if not many, will not do it.

Actually the NYTimes is not the first to do this.  Because I research so many information sources for my “News and Notes From a Fan’s Perspective,” column, I have, for some time, bookmarked the daily newspapers of the home city of every NFL team.  When the balloon went up on the NFL labor agreement at the beginning of March, I surfed several sites to see what was being said by NFL scribes in various cities around the country. 

I first tried the Dallas Morning News, the acknowledged news leader in all things Cowboys and Jerra.  I tried to link to commentary by several of their leading sports columnists.  Nope.  Had to pay.  General articles were no problem but when I tried to read Tim Cowlishaw’s take on the breakdown of negotiations, I was directed to a page that asked me for a credit card. 

Same thing in Philadelphia!  Sports information of any type in the Inquirer and Daily News, even general news articles, is now behind a pay wall.

Frankly, I’ve been expecting this for some time.  With the exception of the occasional Sunday Sun during football season, I haven’t purchased a print edition of any newspaper in years.  In the case of The Times and the Washington Post, the news was first rate and the on-line content was free.  In the case of the Baltimore Sun, the fish wrap version is so emasculated, so devoid of content, so thin, you can’t even use a single edition to cover the table when hosting friends for steamed crabs. 

Besides, the content is so much better on-line.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

This initiative is being closely watched by news organizations all over the world.  Due to competition from internet news organizations, Fox News, Facebook, YouTube, or you name it, the backbone of the newspaper industry, print advertising, has been in steady decline.  The Times article noted that advertising revenue for American newspapers in 2010 fell 6.3 percent compared with 2009, which had been the worst year on record.

Don’t you think Sam Zell, the owner of the Tribune Corporation, which owns the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times, among other print media, is waiting to see what happens? 

The Tribune Corporation has been in a dragged-out bankruptcy battle for years now.  We’ve seen the result in the paper-thin (pardon the pun) editions of the Baltimore Sun at news stands.  Depending on what happens, a potentially rich source of revenue is waiting in the wings.

Some think it’s not going to work.  A source cited in the NYT article noted that in the 21st century we access news on-line in a very episodic way.  We log onto a computer, pick up a smart phone or a tablet. We read what we want to read and then we move on.  Some times we come back, and sometimes we don’t. 

And then the source made perhaps the most telling argument of all. 

“Of course there’s the 15-year history of people not paying. We’ve trained them not to.”

Touché.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

If the NY Times finds this to be a reliable and lucrative source of income, the wheels will come off the cart.  Newsprint organizations across the country will develop their own form of internet revenue and the pay walls will go flying up.  The Tribune organization is desperate for income.  Remember, Sam Zell is the guy who tried to commit the ultimate heresy in Chicago – selling the naming rights to Wrigley Field.  The links to internet subscriptions would go up in all his newspapers. 

No more reading the Cowerds, the Schmucks, and the Ravens Insiders.  Want to read about the draft?  Tommy Z’s latest fight?  The Orioles’ latest controversy? 

Then get out the credit card. 

Except for national sports web sites, it will cost to surf and search about your team.

Unless of course you do it here.

What ever happens, you can always get the latest and greatest news on the Purple and Black at Ravens24X7.com.

And it won’t cost you a dime.

CBA Update:

Thoughts on improving the current labor negotiating climate, courtesy of the immortal William Shakespeare.  From his play Henry the Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, line 71–78 : 

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers….” 

Damn straight. 

Once negotiations failed and the case moved into the court system, the lawyers took over.  To take a line from my previous post, they are now controlling the transmission.  Regardless of the damage that will be done to the owners, the players, the fans, and/or the sport, and there will be damage, the lawyers will get paid.

So, let’s take it out of the hands of the hired guns and their lawyer-speak.  Owner’s Lawyers David Boles and Jeff Pash?  AMF.  Enjoy the money we’ve paid you, now get lost.  NFLPA lead counsel Jeffrey Kessler and former NFLPA* Executive Director DeMaurice Smith (who, incidentally, has lost a ton of credibility with his irresponsible comments), see ya both.  While we’re at it, the Jerry twins (Jones and Richardson) and Kevin Mawae can also stay home.

Let’s put the moderates, the voices of reason in a conference room and throw away the key.  Roger Goodell,  Art Rooney, John Mara, maybe Bob Kraft on the owner’s side.  Domonique Foxworth, Mike Vrabel, Peyton Manning on the player’s side.  And let them go at it.

Can they do any worse?  Doubt it.  The fans are being taken for granted by both sides, anyway.  Cutting out the lawyer-speak is a benefit in and of itself.

In Memoriam:

As I was drafting this article I read the news (on my smart phone, and this time I didn’t have to pay), of the passing of William Donald Schaefer, long-time mayor of Baltimore and former governor of Maryland. 

Who can forget his frolic in the silly swimsuit when the National Aquarium opened?  His unabashed support of all Baltimore sports teams?  Who can forget his humiliation when Bob Irsay, the besotted, scotch-loving, drunkard-owner of the Baltimore Colts, ranted to the media at BWI airport and soon took the team to Indiana?  Who can forget the discomfort when Governor Parris Glendening gloated and took undeserved praise for the arrival of the Browns when it was Schaefer who tirelessly worked behind the curtains to bring NFL football back to Baltimore?

Baltimore-bred, Baltimore’s own.

Governor-Mayor Willie Don!

Requiescat in Pace, dear friend.
 
 
 
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Fran "The Fan" Vojik

About Fran "The Fan" Vojik

Fran Vojik has been a contributor to the Ravens24X7 site since 2005, first as a regular on the "Letters to T.L." page, then as the author of the Fran the Fan column. A huge Orioles and Ravens fan, he defines the term “homer.” A former season ticket holder of the Baltimore Colts, he now roots on the Ravens from his corner end zone seat in M&T Bank Stadium. His work makes him a regular traveler to various MLB and NFL cities and he’s watched both the Birds and Purple and Black in a variety of away stadiums. He brings a passionate and humorous perspective to the world of professional sports. Born in Highlandtown, and a graduate of Calvert Hall College and the University of Maryland, he lives on Furnace Creek in northern Anne Arundel County. He and his girlfriend, Sandy, have recently renovated his Man Cave, known as the “The Sports Palace," which contains many mementos from the Colts, Ravens, and Orioles. On days the Ravens play at home, Fran can usually be found tailgating at the Baltimore Fire Fighters Union Hall Local 734 , supporting the organization’s Widow’s and Orphan’s fund. More from Fran "The Fan" Vojik

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