Does the Sports Media Have an East Coast Bias?

Dispelling the Myth

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on April 11th, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

Whenever an east coast team, player or league gets attention, especially if it is perceived to be at the expense of another team, player or league that does not play on the east coast, there are cries of east coast bias!

Not only from representatives of the sports media but from sports fans on message boards and blogs as well. Most recently we heard screams over eleven teams from The Big East college basketball conference receiving bids for the NCAA tournament. So, is there a bias?
In the “old” days this bias was said to exist in part because everyone on the east coast was asleep by the time west coast games were over and there would be more coverage of east coast games in the print media the next day as a result. However as the balance of media power shifts more and more away from the print media to digital, on-line media, results and scores are all available by the time we rise and shine.

Editorial content and stories on teams are driven by three factors:

  • Who is winning.
  • who is controversial
  • What the public wants to read.

Further, with ESPN and FOX Sports providing twenty four hour coverage and shows, the accessibly is always there so let’s add who is doing the viewing. Winning, controversy, reading and viewing are mostly neutral factors.

The New York Yankees, The Boston Celtics and the New York Jets are three teams that do seem to garner a lot of attention. Is it because they are on the east coast?

Maybe. In the case of the Yankees and the Celtics, you are talking about the winningest franchises in their respective sports that are frequently in the hunt to compete for championships.

The Jets? Do you think their recent ascension in the media has more to do with their location or their controversial, verbose, toe licking head coach Rex Ryan? Up until the Jets hired Ryan and before they signed Brett Farve, the Jets were the L.A. Clippers of the east, with the New York football Giants serving as the L.A. Lakers in this metaphor.

The Jets fall into the category of controversial and as a rising team. If Rex coached for the Minnesota Vikings rather than the Jets, they would have been the subject of HBO’s Hard Knox. In 2011, the previously little talked about Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the team HBO follows with their brash head coach Raheem Morris and their improved play probably having something to do with their selection.

In the interest of equal time lets talk about non- east coast teams. The Dallas Cowboys, otherwise known as “America’s Team”, The Chicago Bulls, I’m talking Michael Jordan’s Bulls, The San Francisco Forty Niners, circa Joe Montana and The Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, or Kobe Bryant era, take your pick. None of these franchises play on the east coast. Since 1979, the year Magic Johnson was drafted to today, I’d say the Lakers have been the dominant NBA team, winning the most championships, housing the most stars and getting the most media attention. West coast bias anyone?

Would anyone suggest that had Jordan played in Miami on the east coast, he would have received more attention and bias than playing in the Midwest? America’s favorite diva, Brett Farve, may have played a year in New York, but he played for sixteen in Wisconsin. Would anyone suggest that Farve and Green Bay were short changed of coverage in those years? The Denver Broncos seemed to do okay coverage wise with John Elway. The Utah Jazz seemed to get more coverage when they had two hall of famers Karl Malone and John Stockton playing for them. Rightfully so, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts get more attention than Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

With his 100 mile an hour fastball, pitching phenom Steven Strasburg was destined to be a media focal point regardless of where he signed. The momentum was there for him to take off no matter the team that selected him. Why was Fox commentator Joe Buck slobbering all over Strasburg in effort to get him selected to the All-Star game? Because I’m assuming he felt it could help great ratings.

Stirring passions, whether it is love (underdogs) or hate (Yankees) the media will gravitate to whatever it can to up ratings. The hate aspect is not to be underestimated, and the irony is, if there is an east coast bias it exists in part because people love to hate teams like the Yankees that spend money and win.

Controversy and individual players that generate love/hate also sell regardless of the market they play in: Teams that Terrell Owens played for never seemed to lack for coverage. When Latrell Sprewell choked his coach in Golden State, his Q rating seemed to elevate. And of course the aforementioned Brett Farve.

In reality the discussion should not be about location, east coast vs. the rest. It should be big market versus small market bias. The Cleveland Indians, Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Orioles and Charlotte Bobcats are just some of the teams that play on the east coast that I doubt anyone thinks there is any kind of bias going in their direction. Further, given that there are a disproportionate amount of professional teams that technically play in the eastern time zone relative to the rest of country it makes sense that the east would get more coverage to some degree without it being a bias. So when people do say east coast bias, I think they’re talking about a handful of teams predominantly in the northeast.

The big market teams tend to (but not always) spend more money on their players, in some cases that leads to winners which leads to coverage. However, when Mark Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks, it didn’t matter that they weren’t on the east coast. Cuban increased payroll, brought in players, is a colorful personality, controversial, and the team started to win more then previously. Thus the media profile went up.

The San Francisco Giants put together a moneyball winner, have a closer, Brian Wilson, with a colorful personality and lo and behold they’re getting coverage and Wilson is capitalizing on endorsements.

Kevin Durant is bringing attention to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is a superstar. The next step is for him to have a Michael Jordan/ Craig Ehlo moment and take his team deeper into the playoffs. If his team progresses, they win a championship and he continues to grow as a player, he and the Thunder will become more of a story, there will be more public interest and the attention and coverage will follow.

If we bring college sports into the conversation, there we see a more even distribution of teams spread out throughout the country. Notre Dame, UCLA, USC, Duke, there are plenty of teams that are not in the northeast that dominate coverage and attention based on current success, history and tradition of their program, or a dominant coaching personality. Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino, and Larry Brown, should he return to college, where these guys coach media will follow.

Having said all of this you might reach the conclusion that I do not think there is any bias in sports. I wouldn’t go that far. I would say it does exist but to a lesser degree then is often mentioned because of the reasons talked about in this blog.

Where you do see bias is in the reporters reporting the news, picking favorites, criticizing and so on. Human bias is part of the equation in hard news that we see all of the time coming from “journalists”, covering world events.  Of course it will rear itself in the sports world as well where we see fewer journalists, and more fans with microphones, and oh yeah, blogs! In the interest of full disclosure I did grow up in New York.

I started this blog by mentioning the Big East and college basketball. By the way how does the Big East usually do when it comes to bowl selection in college football?

##############

March 31st, 2011 on ESPN’s First and Ten: In Skip Bayless’ continuing campaign to deny Derrick Rose the MVP he actually said that the Bulls & D. Rose have benefited from the Celtics trade of Kendrick Perkins in pursuit of the number one seed in the east. Funny how Skippy doesn’t mention that the Lakers and Kobe Bryant are benefiting from Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker missing games for the Spurs in their pursuit of the number one seed in the west… At least for the first time in a month he didn’t mention Rose’s one bad game in Atlanta.

March 30th, 2011 on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, Michael Wilbon was emphatic that the Miami Heat loss to the fifteen win Cleveland Cavaliers meant nothing, zero! If Miami winds up not having home court advantage against either Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas or San Antonio because of one loss ask Wilbon the question again of whether or not this loss meant something.

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s