On Press Row- Connecticut Sun

Women’s sports deserve more press coverage than it gets. Really. The level of competition of women’s athletics is at a level comparable with men. So why do they get less media attention? I would think ESPN would be all over creating ESPN-W.

I gained added respect for women’s athletics by attending a game recently from the press area at Mohegan Sun Arena, home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

Press inquiries for the Sun are handled by Media Relations Manager Bill Tavares. He gets help from Publicist Jennifer Hildebrad and three to four part-time employees who work on game days. Tavares and his staff were more than cooperative in granting me access to the team.

The game I attended took place on August 5th as the Sun battled the Indiana Fever. This late season game was significant, as both teams were jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The teams were destined to meet in the first round of the playoffs with the one with the better record in line for home court advantage. (Note: At season’s end Indiana secured the second spot in the East and held home court advantage over the Sun in the opening round.)

The Mohegan Sun Arena is a perfect venue for basketball. It’s a medium sized arena with a seating capacity of around 10,000. Like new areas of its ilk, there’s not a bad seat in the house.

The media center at the arena is a bit off the beaten path. To access it, you need to make your way near the locker rooms, through the cafeteria to a room tucked behind it. The room itself is not that large. It consists of table space along two walls where reporters can power-up their laptops and gain access to high-speed Internet connections. About 10 to 12 reporters can fit comfortably within this space. Even though there is wireless Internet at the press tables near the court, surprisingly the press room is not within range, thus the need for the Cat 5 connections.

The media center is also where the press can access all the material about the game and the two teams. Pre-game materials include team notes, league information and statistics, and a packet of local news clippings previewing that day’s game from newspapers that cover the Sun.

The Sun establishes three primary press areas for game day. There are two press tables located on each end line near the team benches. Each of these tables holds up to 10 spaces for print media and representatives from other WNBA teams on hand to scout the game. There is another press area just behind section 27, along the walkway that separates the lower bowl of the arena and the balcony. This section is reserved for electronic media. Each area is equipped with telephones and small LCD monitors which display in-game statistics directly from the scorers’ table.

Tavares says press coverage of the team varies from game to game. He says the team receives consistent coverage from local papers out of Hartford, Norwich, New London, Waterbury, Manchester, and Willimantic. There’s also a representative from the Associated Press at each game. More high profile games often means coverage from papers out of the Providence and Boston media markets. The Sun will also receive coverage from basketball-specific journals. The local papers and wire services will also often send photographers to shoot the game..

Sun games are broadcast locally on radio over WXLM-FM out of Stonington, CT. Many home games are also telecast on the local Fox or CW affiliate. This game was telecast on CW with Boston Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman handling the call along side former UConn and Sun star Rebecca Lobo.

I was amazed to see that not one member of the electronic press was on hand to cover the game. Hartford is a little less than an hour from the arena, and with the Sun the only professional sports team located in Connecticut, you would think that there would be consistent coverage of the team, especially at home. I guess because the game was televised there was no need to be on hand to gather highlights of the game for the late local newscast. I still found it puzzling.

The Sun pre-game buffet consisted of chicken and rice, lasagna, and pizza. There was also a well stocked fridge with soft drinks and water. A platter consisting of a variety of cookies served as our desert.

One thing I noticed as the game began was that even through there was ample room and the availability of wireless Internet access, just about all of the print media decided to leave their laptops in the media room during the first half. At the break they retired to the media room to work on their stories. At the beginning of the second half, most of the reporters did choose to work on their stories from press row.

The game turned out to be uneventful as the Sun opened up a huge halftime lead, trouncing the Fever 84-59. The Fever played the game without star forward Tamika Catchings and the rest of the team could not overcome the fast start by the Sun.

The game was a sellout, the Sun’s first of the year. As much as the team would have liked to attribute the big crowd to their stellar play, the fact of the matter is that most were there to also take in a post game performance by teen recording artists, the Jonas Brothers. (If you have a young girl who watches the Disney Channel, you can understand the attraction.)

Sun head coach Mike Thibault held his post-game press conference in a dedicated interview room located near the locker rooms. Like all professional teams, the Sun’s interview room is equipped with a dedicated backdrop with the team logo sponsored by, who else but, Mohegan Sun. There are also audio hook-ups for the electronic media. There were about a dozen reporters in the room to get the coach’s comments. Because of the blowout, there was not much for Thibault to say other than the obvious…that the win was a total team effort.

The locker rooms are available to the press for about 10 to 15 minutes after the game. Once the locker rooms closed, the press made its way back to the media room to finish their game stories. By that time the team had assembled a post-game packet, featuring complete and quarterly statistics and play-by-play. Tavares and his staff also compile game summaries and statistics for the league and team websites.

As part of the NBA, the WNBA runs its operation with the same professionalism as its male counterparts. Because of the male dominated nature of sports and sports media, it’s too bad that more people aren’t exposed to it.

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