I Want My Local Sports Anchor

When Skip Bayless left sports writing in San Jose to join ESPN, he told readers he had always hungered to move to New York and play for the Yankees. Referring to ESPN's dominance and budget, he said that "ESPN has become the Yankees."

How about Wal-Mart? The huge retailer, of course, has been criticized for erecting monstrous stores in small communities and putting local merchants out of business.

For some time, ESPN has been playing a similar role vis-à-vis the sports reports on local newscasts. Believing ESPN's "SportsCenter" and other non-stop coverage - plus the Internet -- have rendered their sportscasts largely moot, station managers could be penny wise and pound foolish.

For the most part, sports reports in local newscasts have been shortened. There may be a few scores or a highlight or two.

That's if the traditional sports report, with a sportscaster given ample time to "go to the video tape" and toss in some hijinks, continues to exist at all.



Now, many stations have one of the news anchors offering a quick, perfunctory sports report. The Fox affiliate in Las Vegas went that way two years ago.

"The sportscast is not what the viewers come to us for, research has been telling us that for years," news director Adam Bradshaw told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Bradshaw added that expenses are better apportioned elsewhere to chase ratings.

In many markets that means going without the salary of a high-profile sports anchor. Now, WPIX in New York is going without a sports host, using a variety of reporters for sports coverage now. (The New York Post first reported the switch.)

This is all sad and potentially a mistake. First a moment to appreciate what is increasing being lost: those lovable sports anchors, who provide a certain comfort just being there every night, while serving as community pillars.

New York's Len Berman and Warner Wolf (he of the "let's go to the videotape"); Tony Segreto in Miami; Tom Suiter in Raleigh-Durham. To be sure, many have retired willingly, but the loss is no less hurtful.

They will be missed with their knowledge of the market and ability to relate to the viewer. (Leave your favorite hometowner in the comment section below, so Wikipedia can have a "local sports anchor legends" entry.)

Stations, however, may be erring by turning away from the comfort chef at 6pm and 11pm (or 10pm).

ESPN has so many anchors, it's difficult to know when they'll show up. It's tough to establish a relationship. Difficult to invite them into your living room, so to speak.

ESPN's anchors are at once trying to appeal to New York, Los Angeles and Flyover Country. Younger viewers may appreciate the national coverage for their fantasy teams.

But localism still has appeal - ESPN has admitted as much with its local sports Web sites. On WNBC in New York, Mike Francesa's half-hour after the late news on Sunday is a hit as he focuses on the local teams.

ESPN and the Web aside, local sportscasts have lost some relevance because of the increasing popularity of hometown sports cable networks. But those skew male.

On broadcast, there is ample room for human-interest stories about local teams and players aimed at female viewers. Females love them during the Olympics, why not make them a staple at 6pm and 11pm?

Sports reports also offer stations a burgeoning financial upside. Purists cry foul - perhaps rightfully - but the door seems to be irreversibly open to having a sponsored sports desk or placing a logo on the screen throughout the report itself or attached to a score scroll on the bottom of the screen. Sports does allow for more advertiser integration than the rest of the newscast.

(By the way, with ESPN now serving as the brand for all sports on ABC, why isn't that the case for the local stations owned by ABC? Why isn't the sports report on Houston's KTRK tagged "ESPN SportsCenter Houston"?)

Those worried about the future of local sportscasts may soon have a stalwart supporter in Comcast. As part of its commitment to take control of NBC Universal, it's promised to maintain the current level of news programming on local NBC stations it owns, while adding thousands more hours.

Its portfolio now includes Len Berman's old station. Would it bring him back or is he yesterday's news?

1 comment about "I Want My Local Sports Anchor".
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  1. Art Salisch from Hearst TV, January 21, 2011 at 3:45 p.m.

    I agree totally. Aside from the Great Bruce Beck on Channel 4 in NYC, there are no must watch sports guys on local broadcast. For some reason, news directors think sports fans like 'snarky'. News flash, we hate it!!!
    Len was good because he did not talk down or make fun of his viewers. Because of RSN's and ESPN, broadcast has let the sports fan down.

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