During the early 2000’s, Billy Beane, a general manager for the Oakland A’s, created a strategy for drafting and acquiring players that would change the way we analyze sports forever. Beane and his staff were able to take a shoestring budget and transform the A’s into a power house in the American League. Their plan was simple: analyze statistics over the past couple decades to see which players were being overlooked by scouts, but were able to produce results nonetheless. The A’s used these players to build a team that, during the 2002 regular season, became the first team in 100 years to win 20 consecutive games in the American League. Their secret to success was a willingness to stray from traditional methods of acquiring players in order to beat out the wealthier competition. The strategy paid off, with Oakland defying all odds to win 103 games in 2002, leaving Beane as a pioneer in the world of Major League Baseball.
This idea of critically analyzing statistical data in order to enhance a team’s roster spread throughout sports and before long, organizations started using this approach in their training, player development programs, play-making decisions and evaluation of an athlete’s overall performance. However, teams and players were not the only ones to recognize this shift as the media also began to embrace the change. Through technological advancement, anyone is now able to access information on players and teams within seconds that would have otherwise taken weeks to obtain in the past. Sports broadcasting companies have made it a priority to supply fans with the most up-to-date statistics and have created a fan base that can hold its own with most sports analysts.
To address this constantly evolving environment, Seton Hall hosted a discussion panel last week, which included Tom Verducci, senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, Jayson Stark, former baseball reporter for ESPN and the most recent addition to The Athletic and finally Marc Weiner who is currently a coordinating producer for both MLB Network and NHL Network. The panel moderator was Seton Hall sports media professor B.J. Schecter, who is also the editor and publisher for Baseball America. Combined, the four men have over 100 years of experience in the sports media industry, which led to an in-depth dialogue surrounding the advantages and disadvantages involved in this rapid advancement of analytics.
Undoubtedly, a common agreement among the speakers was that the change seen in statistical analysis has generated more progress for athletes and organizations alike, than any of the traditional managing and training methods could have. For years, tradition eclipsed progress and left teams in a rut. It was only when they began to take a closer look at the numbers that they realized how much they could benefit from research and analysis. Athletes began to change their techniques, front offices began to change their business tactics and the media had to change with the times. The more statistics that became readily available, the more fans wanted to know the most recent facts and news. Just as the average fan increases his or her knowledge of the game, the media must keep up with its audience.
“As a media person, if you’re not speaking that language, you’re lost,” said Verducci.
The figures and statistics of players and teams create a clear picture for analysts to see exactly who is performing and who is not. This information, in turn, helps reporters and editors to write stories that are not only compelling, but also more accurate than ever before.
Despite the advantages of the increase in use of statistical information, each speaker had their own critiques of this new system and its constant developments. Each speaker agreed that while numbers are key to understanding the sports industry as a whole, too many numbers can sometimes be a hindrance in getting a message across to the audience. Stark made a compelling point when he mentioned that a key skill for any sports media professional is to make people comfortable by putting analytics into terms they can understand. Weiner reinforced this thought by saying how information has to be digestible for the average fan so that everyone can be involved.
Another issue with keeping up to date as a sports media professional is exactly that: keeping up to date with any and all current events in your specific field. With the amount coverage around athletes and teams today, fans can find the information they are looking for in a matter of seconds. To combat this, writers everywhere have to make sure that they are always bringing something new to the table. More than ever, it is important to create an interesting story about something that has already been covered dozens of times.
Planning for the future
As sports media coverage seems to intensify every day, it becomes more apparent that only those people who are truly passionate about the industry will find success. As a result, colleges and universities across the country are entering the mix by starting sports media programs for students who want to focus on their own development in this growing field. Schecter is already helping to plan a program for Seton Hall, which will most likely be implemented within the next couple of years.
Unsurprisingly, when asked if their respective schools offered a sports media program when they attended, both Verducci and Stark, who both graduated with degrees in journalism, and Weiner who graduated with a degree in telecommunications, said that their schools did not offer the program at the time. However, when asked whether the three men would have chosen a sports media program over their degrees that they currently have, each one said that they would have chosen sports media had it been offered. Verducci, Stark and Weiner, who are all well-established in their own professions, are able to see the value that could come with a program like the one Schecter is proposing for Seton Hall.
No one really knows which direction sports media will head next. Will television and broadcasting remain the kings of air time, or will mobile platforms take over? This will be another challenge for those seeking careers in the sports media industry. However, those people who truly love the thrill of statistics and information will find a way to keep telling stories. During the panel, Verducci fondly recalled a piece of advice that he had been given from longtime friend and mentor Vin Scully, when Scully had told him, “It’s about the humility to prepare, and the confidence to pull it off.” Once you can accomplish that, the game will have to catch up with you.
Riley Cronan can be reached at email@example.com