Sports and Technology – the changing landscape of sports media

On Thursday December 10th I had the chance to interview popular Toronto sports host and broadcaster Eric Smith.  Eric works for video blogs for The FAN 590’s website and for the Toronto Raptors website.  I’m sure there’s more but probably closest to his heart is his new responsibilities as a father and husband.

The purpose of our conversation was so that we could discuss how the sports broadcasting landscape has changed recently as social media and other technologies have permeated into sports reporting and broadcasting. 

The first thing we talked about was how blogs, message boards, chat rooms, Facebook and Twitter have increased the availability and accessibility of sports personalities to fans and media in general.  While Eric sees this as an exciting fact for fans he also cautions against the negative aspects.  The ability for people to self-publish blogs creates the perception that all authours are experts which is far from true.  Eric feels the ability to be properly accredited and cultivate important contacts is a privilege that most independent bloggers don’t have.  Traditional sports media are still able to access player and coach interviews as well as seek sources that the average Joe probably can’t.

However, it has forced the media to step up their game, especially in print.  While TV and radio sports shows have traditionally always been interactive, the print media has been traditionaly a push medium.  Until now with the enormous popularity of sports blogs.

I was also curious on new media has changed Eric’s day-to-day duties.  “More work, no more pay,” was how Eric described it.  Eric finds less free time on his hands and strives to find a balance between work and his personal private life.  It’s so easy to turn on the portable laptop or pull out the BlackBerry that his “work mode is always on.”  Eric understands that it’s the sports fan’s who drive his business so he finds it a necessity and a responsibility to respond to every tweet and email he receives.  “The fan’s expect it and it’s really an extension of my job.”  And with today’s ultra-competitive environment, being first and being right on a breaking story is important.  Eric gave a recent example of letting the fans know that Andrea Bargnani was injured less than 20 seconds after he had found out. 

Eric recalled how he was hesitant on jumping on the Twitter bandwagon but has since grown to like the micro-blogging format.  Although the constant interaction may not be preferred on a constant basis, the 140 character limit is very much welcomed.  This allows Eric to continue to interact but also keep things short and sweet.  Eric is still a big believer in sports talk radio because, like the current social media tools of today, it also allows instant and constant communication and conversation.  And like Twitter, it enables him to “stand out or keep up” with his competition.

One tool Eric is not a fan of is Facebook.  “It’s too personal,” he says.  The whole process of accepting strangers, former high school bullies, and online stalkers as “friends” seems a bit strange to him. 

The conversation then turned to the process of blogging.  I was curious if blogging was an idea that Eric ran with or was told to do from his supervisors.  A bit of both it seems.  On The FAN 590 website, as the basketball beat reporter he was given the added duty of providing content to the site via a blog. As a result of this experience, he approached the Raptors and offered to do a blog for them a few times a week.  Now we can find Eric blogging on both sites as well as offering  a video blog on the Raptors site.  It seems Eric enjoys the quick, easy format of video over the process of writing blogs.

In the end the goal of participating in these new online mediums is not just to be seen.  But to be seen as relevant.  Sports fans are constantly demanding information.  More information and quick information.  And information when and where they want.  Whether it be on the 11pm sports highlights on TV or every 20 minutes on the radio.  Maybe it’s on the way to work inside the sports pages.  Today, however, the fan may want her sports fix during lunch.  Or maybe the jock wants to read a blog during coffee break.  Whatever the format and whenever the time content needs to be available.

Therefore, people like Eric Smith, who can be found on multiple online and off-line channels, will continue to be seen.  And be relevant.