Sunday, July 02, 2006

And Coming in 210th...

(This article was originally publish by Sports Media Watch on November, 11, 2005.)

VH1 and ESPN Classic have made a cottage industry out of turning lists into televised entertainment: Top 40 Fabulous Lives, Top 20 Game Ending Plays, etc. They’re good conversation fodder because of their arbitrariness. How is Doug Flutie's pass that low? Britney Spears is skanky and trashy, how is her life that fabulous?

Likewise, I wonder about the arbitrariness of the Nielsen list of media markets. New York is number one, Los Angeles is number two and all of the top markets make sense because they have the most people. That’s easy. But at what point do you stop listing markets? Do you stop after Macon, Georgia (#120, with .209% of the American population)? Do you stop after Bangor, Maine (#151, with .130% of the American population)? Or maybe you stop at a nice round number like 200: Mankato, Minnesota, which represents .046% of the American population?


If you’re Nielsen, you go a little bit further. You stop at #210: Glendive, Montanta, containing just a shade over 5,000 television-owning households and representing .005% of the United States.

Sure, Glendive gets its own media market listing, but is it really a media market? Couldn’t it just as easily been rolled into one of the nearby media markets? The answer depends on your sense of distance.

Glendive is almost 196 miles from the center of the nearest media market: the mighty Minot-Bismarck-Dickinson market (#160) of North Dakota. After that, the nearest market is 222 miles away in Billings, Montana (#171). Even out west, TV signals can only travel so far and newspaper circulations can only spread so wide. This leaves Glendive in a strange situation.

Glendive isn’t as large as any of the other media markets Nielsen lists, but it can’t get media from any of the “nearby” media markets either. And really, you can’t be in a media market without getting some of the media from that market; it defeats the purpose. So for want of a better alternative, Glendive has become the smallest media market in the US. But let’s be honest, for practical purposes, it’s still in the fringes.

And this fascinates me. The fringe of a media market having to become its own market. They’re so far from media markets that they don’t even get lumped together with the big boys for convenience, like New Hampshire, which means that they make their own TV news and newspaper. That’s great, they should. But what do they cover? What sports do they cover?

Never mind Billings and the three-headed monster of Minot-Bismarck-Dickinson, those aren’t exactly sports meccas as it is. What about college sports? Grand Forks, North Dakota – home of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, one of the best college hockey programs in the country and a constant thorn in the side of the UNH Wildcats – is more than 465 miles away. Boise State University in Boise, Idaho – where the nationally prominent Broncos football team plays on Smurf Turf – lies almost 850 miles away.

And professional sports? Forget it. Glendive is over 620 miles from Minneapolis, over 700 miles from Denver, over 780 miles from Salt Lake City, and a whopping 1040 miles from Seattle. Largely due to these distances, the Common Census Sports Map Project reports that Glendive has no particular favorite NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB or Division I-A college football team. So again I ask – What sports do they cover?

Ok, I hope no one is thinking too hard on that question, it was rhetorical. This column is all about how the edges of markets cover their teams. I wouldn't have anything to say about Glendive if it weren't covering it's own teams.

The Glendive Ranger is the paper of record in Glendive, Montana. The paper is published twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays. It’s available for home delivery in Glendive, Forest Park and Highland Park. The on-line version – a collection of the week’s top stories – is published once a week, usually on Thursdays.

This week’s top sports story in the Ranger is the Dawson County High School Lady Red Devils volleyball team. For the first time since 1998 – and only the second time ever – the Lady Red Devils are going to the state tournament. The team secured their spot in states by winning four of six matches in the conference tournament last weekend. The Lady Red Devils beat every team they came up against, except number one seed Hardin, which beat DCHS twice in the dual elimination tournament, once in the second round and again in the conference finals.

What is striking about this particular story is that it’s not just one article on the Ranger’s site. Most of the sports section is devoted, match by match, to describing how this team’s success and playoff berth unfolded. There’s a sense of pride; the hometown team – our kids – have played really well and they get to compete for the state championship representing us. That it’s high school girls’ volleyball, a sport hardly given much thought outside Glendive, doesn’t matter. Those are their kids and the town is proud.

The other big stores coming out of Glendive this week are all college sports. Not Division I-A sports like the Boise State Broncos or I-AA sports like the UNH football team. No, the big college sports stories coming out of Glendive this week are more community oriented. As in community college.

The men’s basketball team at Dawson Community College began their season by going 1-1. The Bucs lost their first game, 83-78, against the Bears of Rocky Mountain College. The team rebounded by blowing out Montana Tech Junior Varsity by 81-62, a score that made the game look closer than it actually was given that DCC led by as many as 30. Last year Bucs basketball had a very successful season, making it to the Region IX championship game of the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Unfortunately, the DCC women’s basketball team got destroyed over the weekend in a tournament in Sheridan, Wyoming, losing their three games by scores of 62-85, 49-82, and 33-84. Not surprisingly, the Ranger gives the team a favorable article despite the losses. The story focuses on how the team played fairly well in one game’s first half and actually was tied with another team at the end of another first half. The Ranger covered all three sports stories with equal glow, but the soft treatment was most glaring for the DCC Lady Bucs.

I would also like to point out that Dawson Community College has a rodeo team. They won the national championship in 1981. I’m just throwing that out there.

Even for someone from New Hampshire, Glendive’s sports media seems bucolic, to be generous. But it’s theirs. And the Glendive Ranger helps them assert their ownership over those teams, strengthening the community’s ties to the schools and the teams. I love my New Hampshire teams, but anyone from New York or Los Angeles or wherever would almost certainly laugh at their smallness.

Fine. Let ‘em. They’re my teams, and I don’t care what people outside of my fringe area think of them. I’m sure Glendive is the same way. Their sports coverage reflects that. The town may be a Nielsen media market only by necessity, but they live up to it: no pro sports coverage because there aren't any, no far off college sports coverage, only local sports coverage.

In a media market like New York, that usually means the Knicks, the Jets, the Giants, and the Rangers (which is only a hop, skip and a jump away from the relevance of girls' high school volleyball). But in Glendive, that means Dawson County High School and Dawson Community College.

So at least Glendive looks the part of a media market. That’s more than I can say for the fabulous life of Britney Spears. She still looks trashy.


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3:10 AM  

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