Thursday, July 18, 2013

Washington Post Sports Watch: They sent two writers to Europe and none to the Stanley Cup Finals?

The primary reason I started writing "Washington Post Sports Watch" was because of what I think are deficiencies in the way the Washington Post cover the Washington Capitals and the NHL in general. Actually, the Washington Post doesn't really cover the NHL--they cover the Caps, put any other NHL news in a paragraph in the Digest section and run wire stories on the playoffs after the Caps are eliminated. Other than a Game 7 during one or two of the Detroit-Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Finals series in 2008 or 2009 that Tarik El-Bashir covered, I'm pretty sure the Washington Post hasn't sent a writer to cover the Stanley Cup Finals in at least a decade (they sure haven't done it in the last four years.) Meanwhile, the Post covers the playoffs in MLB and the NBA much more extensively--and even golf and tennis.

When it came to the baseball playoffs this past year, the Post sent staff writers to both of the League Championship Series and then the World Series, with Tom Boswell also writing columns from Detroit and San Francisco during the Fall Classic. As for the pro basketball playoffs, Michael Lee covered at least one game of the Pacers-Knicks second round series, some of the Heat-Pacers semifinal series and all of the finals--while Mike Wise joined in at the end of the Heat-Pacers series for a couple columns after games 6 and 7 and wrote columns after games 1-5, before Jason Reid took up the slack for games 6 and 7 in Miami (and Wise still wrote two more columns about the NBA finals after he returned home.)

As for the Stanley Cup Finals? No staff writer covering the games on site, no columnist, nothing but wire service articles, other than this Katie Carrera piece analyzing what the Bruins and Blackhawks have that the Caps don't--a piece I was happy to see--but pales in comparison to the dozens of staff-written articles and columns on the playoffs in the other two sports.

(I'm leaving aside the NFL because it's far more popular than any other sport, and thus I can't in any way argue with the Post choosing to send staff writers and/or columnists to any and every NFL playoff game, as well as multiple writers to the Super Bowl.)

Now I'm not going to argue that the Stanley Cup Finals are as popular to the mass audience as the World Series or NBA Finals. But do those other two sports' playoffs--particularly in the city where the Caps are without question more popular than the Wizards and until the Nats started winning last year more popular than the baseball team--really warrant THAT much more coverage? No, according to a poll the Washington Post conducted less than two years ago. When it asked local sports fans which sports they cared about, 37 percent said the NBA and MLB and 31 percent said they cared about the NHL. So a six percent difference in interest is the difference between no staff coverage and a staff writer and a columnist?

What really got me mad, though, was when I saw that Barry Svrluga was in Scotland this week. Not that I have anything against Barry Svrluga (he's a great writer and should be a columnist for the sports section), but because the same Post editors who couldn't send a reporter to Boston to cover Game 6 of a great Stanley Cup Final sent him all the way to Scotland for a week to cover the British Open--just a couple weeks after they sent Liz Clarke to Wimbledon for a week. Why are these events deemed worthy of coverage while the Stanley Cup Finals aren't? I really have no idea, and it doesn't really make much sense.

Post editors have said in the past that television ratings are one metric for how they decide whether to cover a particular event. If that's the case, then there's not much defense for covering Wimbledon at the expense of the Stanley Cup Finals. This year's hockey championship garnered a 3.3 average rating for its six games, while the Wimbledon men's final this year had almost half that at 1.7. (The women's final was even lower at a 1.3). But I know what you're saying--you're saying weren't the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals the highest-rated in years? Yep, they were, so let's look at the 2012 ratings--they were the lowest ratings a final had received in five years, but at 1.8, they were still higher than the men's Wimbledon final this year. In fact, the better number to use for SCF ratings is the four years from 2008-2011, when the finals all rated between a 2.6 and 2.9--which was still better in every year than the 2.5 that the Federer-Murray final received in 2012.

As for the British Open, last year it earned a 3.6, the year before a 2.3--certainly not much different than hockey, and a much farther and more expensive plane trip for a reporter.

So, you might ask, why do I care so much? Do I really think that the Post is going to provide me with insight on the SCF that I can't find elsewhere? No, probably not. But by basically ignoring the league whenever the Caps aren't playing, it's almost as if the Caps, to Post readers, play in some kind of odd vacuum. Readers are rarely given any perspective on how the Caps compare to other, more successful teams in the league because they never hear about the other teams in the league unless they're playing the Caps. (The Carrera piece linked above was a nice start, but the piece didn't even mention things like talent and personnel differences between the Finals teams and the Caps and failed to even contain the name of the team's general manager.) It is one example of the lack of media pressure on the Caps in this town to get better--outside of the day after they lose in the playoffs every year--and, I believe, plays a small part in the fact that the Caps over the past five years seem to always fall short. Even if you don't believe that, though, it's still a coverage decision that doesn't make any sense when you look at the numbers.


Post a Comment

<< Home