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2012 News Releases

Local TV sports may be dying, according to Longwood professor

June 14, 2012

Jeff Halliday
Jeff Halliday, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies

Local sports on your TV station might eventually be as obsolete as rabbit ears and test patterns. That's the assessment of a Longwood University communication studies professor - and former television sports reporter - who has researched local television sports.

A recently published research paper by Jeff Halliday, assistant professor of communication studies, surveyed network-affiliated television sports personnel across the country on staff size, changes in coverage, working relationships between management and sports departments, and their perceptions of the future of local television sports. The results paint an uncertain and generally bleak picture of a future that will include fewer jobs, reduced air time and lots of anxiety.

"One sportscaster, who chose not to participate in the survey out of concern for his job, said ‘If things don't change, we're dinosaurs approaching extinction,'" said Halliday, who before joining the Longwood faculty was a weekend sports anchor/reporter for a TV station in West Virginia.

The paper, "Dinosaurs Approaching Extinction: Local Television Sports Threatened by Job Losses, Cuts in Time and Changes in Newsroom Philosophy," was published in late March in the Spring 2012 issue of the Journal of Sports Media. The research involved an online 44-question survey that was completed between August 2009 and October 2010 by 77 people in stations at markets of various sizes.

"Stations are eliminating sports departments, farming off sports to local radio and shifting the newsroom philosophy to less emphasis on sports programming," said Halliday. "This is an alarming trend, and it has continued since I finished the study in the spring of 2011."

Some 51 percent of the respondents in Halliday's survey saw a reduction in their sports staff between 2007-09, 32 percent experienced cuts to their nightly time allotment and 28 percent said their news director did not appropriately support sports coverage. Eighty-eight percent saw the role of sports journalism diminishing in local TV newscasts.

Most significantly, Halliday said, 32 percent of the respondents were considering leaving their stations, 39 percent were considering leaving the business altogether, and 81 percent believed the current state of local TV sports had led to increased professional anxiety.

"Sports is generally found at the end of a news show and is given the least amount of time; it's at the bottom of the barrel," Halliday said. "You're all vying for the same 30 or 35 minutes, which, with commercials, works out to 21 to 23 minutes. Something has to give. On a busy day, sports is cut significantly. The amount of time can dwindle, the size of the staff is constantly changing, and you're competing with the weather."

Though sports coverage thrives nationally, the success of network and cable broadcasts hasn't trickled down to the local affiliate stations, Halliday wrote in his paper. TV stations have seen declines in advertising revenue and shrinking audience numbers, and many are struggling to remain on the air.

"Despite the prominence and popularity of sports coverage on the nation's major networks and cable outlets, sports staffs at local television stations are struggling," Halliday wrote in his conclusions. "With the ever-fluctuating economy negatively affecting television's revenues at designated market areas across the nation, news directors have put sports on the chopping block.

"Within the context of an evening newscast, sports coverage remains as literally the last priority in each show. As expected, sports departments have seen significant cuts to their travel budgets, limiting their ability to provide in-depth coverage of local teams/sports figures."

The future of sports coverage by local TV stations will vary from market to market, depending on each one's passion for local sports, said Halliday. "Some markets will be fine, especially the larger markets. Pittsburgh, where I grew up, is obsessed with its sports. And people in Texas, where sports is big, said ‘We'll never have a problem.' The smaller and medium-size markets have to focus on their content and make it as localized as possible and make it interactive with the community - or they'll die."

Before joining the Longwood faculty in 2007, Halliday worked for four years as a weekend sports anchor/reporter for WDTV, a CBS affiliate housed in Bridgeport, W.Va. "I was very fortunate that this station valued its sports coverage and gave its sports teams a lot of time, especially at 11 p.m.," Halliday said. "I sometimes got 9 minutes on a Saturday night, whereas other stations got only 3 minutes. My situation was atypical."

Because he's been there, Halliday can relate to sportscasters on local TV stations. "It was the hardest job I ever had, but it was also fun and rewarding," he said. "You cut your teeth in front of thousands of people, which takes both confidence and humility. When I would be shopping for groceries, people would walk up to me and say ‘Hey, are you that sports guy from Channel 5?' Then they might say ‘I don't like the way you do the sports,' or ‘I don't like the way you talk' or ‘I don't like you not covering our high school.' My response was always the same - ‘Thank you for watching.'"