Is Social Media Boxing Out Access for Traditional Sports Media?
I stumbled upon an old Bill Simmons (@SportsGuy33) column in which he discusses the dwindling access that reporters have to today’s athlete. His general premise is that social media is boxing out tradition sports media. Simmons hearkens back to a time when David Halberstam had one-on-one access for his book The Breaks of the Game, and reporters often hungout with the very athletes they covered. He calls it the “Scotch ‘n Sirloin Era”, with the current era being “The Twitter Era”.
But, Simmons may not be the best authority on this topic. In my time in the Boston Celtics PR Department, I never saw Simmons in the locker room or at a shoot-around during media access, and never had a player interview request from him cross my desk, or that of my co-workers. But, his column still raises an interesting topic.
How has the role of the PR person and sports media access in general been affected by social media, if at all? Is social media basically boxing out the traditional sports media?
To gain a little more informed insight, I spoke with someone who’s been in the trenches on this issue from the start, long-time NBA PR man Terry Lyons (@TerryLyons). Lyons worked in the NBA from his days as a PR intern in 1981, up until 2007, when he moved on to start Terry Lyons Sports Marketing LLC. During his time, Lyons worked every NBA Finals, All-Star Weekend, NBA Draft and international event, including serving as the PR person for the Original Dream Team in 1992. He knows and understands this issue as well as anyone!
One word dominated our discussion, “relationships.” Media access has changed, but according to Lyons, it’s better. Like in the “old days”, reporters just have to be willing to build relationships. “People have to develop relationships,” Lyons said. “PR people can assist in that process, but the individual personalities get it done. The media that take time to get to know the players are still the ones that the players end up trusting more, and they’ll get the access.”
Yes, in the NBA specifically, media seating continues to move further from the court, and the hordes of media surrounding players has increased tremendously. But, has the access actually “dwindled faster than A-Rod’s pectorals”, as Simmons put it?
“Access is tremendous,” said Lyons. “NBA players are available more than ever. Shoot-around is a great time, it’s a little easier on the road when there’s less numbers, but if a reporter can develop a close enough relationship with a player, there’s no reason they can’t get the player to walk back to the hotel and grab a cup of coffee with them. It isn’t hard if they spend the time, then they’ll get all the access they need.”
Simmons mentions how athletes use of social media pretty much cuts out the middle man, specifically reporters. But, according to Lyons, “Athletesto fans is not new, it’s just changed. New used to be doing live interviews on radio, then it was TV, then color TV, then satellite and cable TV, now the Internet. Media are now more threatened and more defensive of their ‘turf’… they missed the boat, as they say, because they aren’t a dying breed. The Boston Globe reporters are now Boston.com reporters. Period.”
To answer the question, the access athletes and fans have to each other has evolved, and the way these mediums affect traditional sports media has changed, but the access is still there. Like Lyons suggests, access is still based on tried and true relationship building. Something social media can’t “box out”, it can only enhance, assuming traditional media embraces the changes.