Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fringe Media Super Bowl Orgy

(This article was originally published by Sports Media Watch on February 10, 2006.)

Even among fringe media, the Super Bowl is by and large the biggest day in American sports media. As I wrote my column last week, I noticed that the York Daily Record had enough Super Bowl coverage to beat up a referee from Pittsburgh. That makes sense – not only is it the freaking Super Bowl, but York is also in the greater Steelers fan base area. But it got me thinking – what about some of the other papers that have appeared in my column over the last few months? What types of stories did they run about the Super Bowl?

Let’s begin right where we are, in York, Pennsylvania. Obviously, Both the York Daily Record and the York Dispatch were giddy like school girls in Justin Timberlake’s underwear drawer over the victory.

The Daily Record even reports that people who couldn’t watch the game because of cable problems were even happy, as happened to the Faith Gang Youth Fellowship at Hellam United Methodist Church. The kids there had a “Soup-er Bowl of Caring” football party to help a local food pantry. The turnout was already expected to be low given how many of the would-be participants were Steelers fans, but the group still hoped “to raise funds for their cause and enjoy the evening playing board games and possibly listen to the Super Bowl on a radio.” Forty-five cans of food and $34 were collected, and the Steelers won, so of course the evening was a complete success.

Before the Super Bowl, the York Dispatch ran a story of a most unfortunate man, a die hard Eagles fan, who bet a coworker that if the Steelers beat the Colts, he would come to work in full Pittsburgh regalia. Obviously, he lost the bet and hated every minute of that day at work. For the Super Bowl he decided to bet on emasculation: if the Steelers won, he had to go to work in a Steelers cheerleader outfit. Sadly, there was no follow up story on his losing bet, but thankfully that also meant there were no pictures.

Moving to my beloved New Hampshire, with the Union Leader. Super Bowl Sunday, the paper had a feature on Dan Kreider, a former standout on the University of New Hampshire’s football team and currently the starting fullback for the Steelers. The article was ostensibly about Kreider having the chance to be only the second UNH alum to win a Super Bowl, but other than the first paragraph it was entirely about the first UNH alum to win the Super Bowl, Bruce Huther, who won with Dallas in 1978. Huther now lives on a sprawling ranch in the Dallas area and runs his own aquatic toxicology business, which I believe means he cleans pools and aquariums.

Huther seems like a nice guy and the article was a decent if not stellar human interest story on him, but it seems ironic that during the most media saturated week of Dan Kreider’s life the Union Leader couldn’t manage an interview with him. Instead they had to turn to a guy who hasn't put on a UNH uniform in 30 years.

The Nashua Telegraph ran a snarky piece by columnist Tom King on Sunday, in which he wonders out loud how this could be the Super Bowl if the New England Patriots aren’t in it. I don’t disagree – and both Bill Belichik and Tom Brady did show up for the game – but that’s the reason fans of other teams hate us.

Of course, not all New Englanders like the Pats, as the Telegraph’s article on local bookies makes clear. One of the article’s odds-based businessmen said that “everyone around here loves the Patriots… Unfortunately for us, the Patriots were winning and (the bookies) were getting killed.” Let us now observe a moment of silence for New England bookies… ok, that’s enough.

Not all of the papers that have appeared in this column get into the Super Bowl spirit, though. Take the Bemidji Pioneer, the stalwart publication of Bemidji, Minnesota, which features a picture of the Bemidji State University curling team on its main page this week. The sports page of the Pioneer has zero stories on the Super Bowl. Instead, it features an article on the Bemidji High Lumberjack swim team’s first winning season, the high school boys’ hockey team losing 7-1 against Thief River Falls, and the Lumberjack boys basketball team defeating Thief River Falls 63-51.

A search for “super bowl” on the paper’s website brings up one – ONE – article on the Super Bowl, and I can’t even read that because you have to be a paid subscriber. But according to the search engine's blurb, there apparently is a world renowned pianist that performed on Sunday and offered people a diversion from the Super Bowl.

Other papers in other areas use pounds of ink to glorify the Super Bowl. The Pioneer offers tips to avoid the Super Bowl. They live a little differently in the fringes of Minnesota.

Similarly, the Glendive Ranger from Glendive, Montana saw little need to write about the game. Instead they focused on the Dawson County High School girl’s basketball team defeating the Colstrip Fillies 47-20 and on which high school wrestlers who qualified for the state tournament. Included in the group is sophomore Aaron Ladd, who last year was literally a 98-pound weakling, except for the weakling part; I’m sure he could kick my ass. In 2005, he qualified as a freshman in the 98-pound category, but had bulked up to 112 this year.

Still – no mention of the Super Bowl. How does the biggest American sports media event of the year go completely unnoticed by two forms of sports media, even in the fringes of markets?

I’m sure no one will be shocked when I say that the amount of Super Bowl coverage depends on the markets in which they are the fringes. Take York, for example. It’s essentially the fringe of the Harrisburg media market, number 41 according to the good people at Nielsen. This market, technically, doesn’t have a football team.

But look at the two bigger markets it sits between: Philadelphia (#4) and Pittsburgh (#22). And both of those are professional football obsessed markets; that rubs off on the rest of the state. There is so much NFL fervor in that exact area, that according to the Common Census Sports Map NFL fandom around York breaks rather evenly for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Washington Redskins. That’s backed up by the side bar at the York Dispatch’s sports page, which lists information for all those teams. The Harrisburg market may have no NFL team of its own, but even in its fringes it feels the power of major media markets competing.

New Hampshire is similar. As the fringe of the Boston (#5) media market, we get inundated with Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins – all the Boston teams. With the Pats’ recent success, it’s only natural that New Hampshire papers would care about football in general.

Bemidji is a completely different story. Sure, it’s in Minnesota which has the Vikings, but the Vikings play in Minneapolis. Bemidji is closer to North Dakota than to Minneapolis. They’re much more interested in college hockey than professional football. Same goes for Glendive, Montana, which isn’t any where near anywhere. That’s why it’s the smallest recognized media market.

All sports, in the end, is local. The Super Bowl is the biggest American sports day – and sports media day – of the year. As a result, even in the fringes, people can notice and care. But there needs to be some local connection. It might come from local players who are in the big game, the pull of the center’s interest, or the pull of competing markets around them. There just has to be something for the fringes to care about, otherwise their media won’t care either.

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