On Press Row

On Press Row- NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Tournament, Kingston, RI

KINGSTON, RI- When a big event such as the NCAA Basketball Tounemanet comes to town, conventional thinking is that the NCAA has total control over all parts of the operation.  But when it comes to managing the local, regional, and national media contingent covering the event, the NCAA is relatively hands off.  That responsibility falls upon the educational institution hosting the tournament.

The University of Rhode Island (URI) and its sports information department were given the task to organize the media needs of those attending the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Regional in Kingston, RI.  In only his third month on the job, URI Coordinator of Sports Communications Shane Donaldson was tapped to be the point man for all media needs.

“This event was so big…so keeping it organized was a challenge for me.” said Donaldson.

Even though requests for media credentials for the women’s tournament do not normally rival those of the men’s championship, a regional featuring four teams attracts more media attention than a typical URI men’s or women’s game.  Donaldson said more than 160 credentials were issued for the two-day tournament, 96 of which were to reporters and photographers.

“For a typical men’s game total media is around 30-40 on a given night, so you’re talking more than double than what we typically have.” said Donaldson.

Special attention is given to ESPN, which has exculsive television rights to telecast the women’s tournament.  Donaldson said the NCAA sets the number of credentials issued for the television production team, while other ESPN personnel, like those writing for ESPN.com or espnW.com, are credentialed along with other journalists.  A total of 75 passes were issued to ESPN personnel.

URI’s Ryan Center, which hosted the tournament, was shut down a full two weeks leading up to the opening tip-off.  The specially constructed floor needed to be installed and the customized backboard assemblies did not arrive on site until late last week.

Even though URI had control over most media needs,  the NCAA required special accomodations for tournament services and staff.  Parts of the lower level of the Ryan Center were transformed to handle operations not typically required during the URI basketball season.

A section under the north stands of the Ryan Center, which is typically used as a storage garage, was converted as the media work room.  That room had approximately 75 seats for journalists and photographers.  The normal media work room was taken over by ESPN for its interview needs, while the regular season URI interview area served staff coordinating NCAA’s statistics and media relations .  The URI football locker room, which is also located in the Ryan Center, was transformed as the general interview room.

On the court URI had a total of three media locations totaling 105 seats.  Most of the seats were dedicated to media, with just over 20 set aside for representatives of the schools and the leagues they represent.  ESPN occupied a total of 10 seats on press row. Photographers were issued spots under the two baskets.

Meeting the technology needs of the press was another challenge for Donaldson and URI.  The school installed an extra 60 wireless internet modems just for the tournament.  Each reporter was given a spefic username and password to ensure that no more that two or three users would be occupying each modem.  Internet speed for me anywhere in the Ryan Center was never a problem.  Ample electrical outlets were also made available for all media members.

NCAA Tournament rules played a role on how local and national radio broadcasts were handled.  During the regular season, radio outlets covering URI games are located on same side of the arena as the team benches.  NCAA regulations stipulate all radio broadcasts must be stationed on the side of the court opposite the benches.  URI was required to install or move ISDN lines to accomodate all local and national radio broadcasts.  Donaldson said those moves appeared to go off without a hitch.

The interview room was set up in a manner typical of large sporting events.  The NCAA controls all aspects to how the interview room is organized and managed.  No local video cameras are allowed to record press conferences.  Instead video and audio feeds (both analog and HD) are made available to the electronic media wishing to record any press conference.  Along with video restrictions there was also a ban on flash photography in the interview room.

As is typical for most NCAA competitions the size of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, there is never a lack of information on the teams participating or the leagues they represent.  Printed statistics are made available during each television timeout and all media members have access to a dedicated NCAA statistics website.

The presence of ESPN at this event was undeniable.  As is the case when any network comes to town, there appeared to be more than 75 people donning ESPN press credentials.  The network implemented at least two cameras high above mid court, three on the floor, and one high near the main Ryan Center scoreboard in the southwest corner of the arena.

The announcing team of Dave O’Brien and Doris Burke were located, as usual, on the floor at mid-court across from the scorer’s table.  Dial Global Radio with Dave Ryan and Ann Shatz were along side ESPN while local radio stations were set-up a row behind the national television and radio teams.

ESPN reporter Holly Rowe could be seen roaming the sidelines during the game but had an assigned seat, with a producer, at the very end of the press row behind the team benches.

My expereince at the Regional Tournament was a positive one.  I was not issued a seat courtside for the Regional Semifinals but was issued a spot for Tuesday’s Regional Final.  I was at the Ryan Center early enough to secure work space in the first-come, first-served media room.

Just by observing the media at the event I did hear a few complaints.  Since the UConn campus is a mere 1.5 hour drive to URI the media contingent was domintated by those covering the Lady Huskies.  That made the media room cramped at times and some media members did voice concern over the lack of space.  Photographers, who routinely are given separate media quarters during an event as big as the NCAA Tournament, were more vocal than others about the working conditions.  Photographers were also concerned about the dim lighting conditions at the Ryan Center.

Food for the media was not available at the lower level but in the arena’s Alumni Club located on the main concourse.  Restroom accomodations were also restricted in the lower level so many media members were forced to navigate to restrooms located along the main concourse.  To me this was not a big deal.  It gave me the opportunity to explore the Ryan Center.

Donaldson said the concerns expressed to him from media members were no different than any regular season game. A large majority of the media at the tournament appeared satisfied with the accomodations at the Ryan Center.  Myself included.

On Press Row- Fenway Park, Boston

For the life-long baseball fan, a visit to Fenway Park is a must stop.  For the baseball journalist, an assignment in the Fenway press box is also something special.

I had the opportunity last month to cover a baseball game from the Fenway press box.  Before you jump the gun wondering how a sports blogger was able to invade the domain reserved for the Baseball Writers Association of America, the game I was covering was not part of the Red Sox’ schedule.  It was this.  Why I was there will be part of a future feature story here at SMJ.

Like the park, the Fenway press box has gone through many renovations over the years, and its current configuration fits well into the historic nature of the stadium.

The Red Sox have made their intentions known of their goal to be more environmental friendly, and one of the first things I noticed as I reached the top of the ramp leading to the press box was the placement of solar panels on the roof.  I’m not sure if this is a recent development, but a good gesture nonetheless.

On the wall just outside the press box you will see the following quote from former Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti…

Entering the press area you walk through a hallway with its walls decorated with copies of local and national newspaper pages chronicling the Red Sox’ World Series Championships of 2004 and 2007.  The Red Sox are not shy about sharing their successes with all.

The working portion of the press box consists of four levels that can serve a little over 100 reporters.  From this location, your vantage point of the game is quite distant, but it does give one a great view of the Boston skyline.

On both ends of the front row are microphones where the official scorer and Red Sox officials sit and make rulings and announcements to all the press throughout the game.

The press box is fully equipped with high-speed wireless Internet access.  On the right wall of the press box is a flat screen television tuned in to all the action.

There is an overflow area behind the press box area for other members of the media not assigned a seat to take in the game. The room is sponsored by Funai, and also has its walls covered with newspaper accounts of Red Sox teams past.

In the press box hallway the rules of the work area are clearly displayed.  (Good thing no one saw me violating #5). The MLB media regulations are available in English, Spanish, and for those from the Far East, Japanese.  I guess the regulations are unchanged since last year.

The press box houses seven electronic media booths for radio and television broadcasts.  The booths are labeled A through G. The entrances of many possess a photo of a Red Sox broadcast legend. What was most fascinating is the sign that adorns Booth F.   It doesn’t appear to be the booth for either the Sox’ flagship radio station WRKO or NESN television.  If anyone knows the back story on this, please drop me a line.

There is a separate large booth to the far left of the press box which houses the stadium’s in-house audio and video equipment.

For the games I attended, notes and information were provided by the minor league teams in action.  Because they were regular season games for these clubs, much of the official staffing for the games were handled by the Red Sox minor league affiliates, from the official scorer to the pubic address announcer.  So it wasn’t just a thrill for the players to take in the Fenway experience, the game day staff of the teams also got a taste of the big leagues.

Also part of the Fenway press box area is a self-service cafeteria.  For Red Sox games the press is charged $10 for that day’s buffet.  The day I was there the fee was only $5 and the meal consisted of an extra long hot dog, chips, Caesar salad, soft drinks, and ice cream.  Not gourmet press box fare but still affordable compared to the food available to the fans.  There is also a small food counter area behind the working press box where reporters can access free soft drinks, coffee, and popcorn.

The doubleheader featured wins by both Red Sox minor league clubs.  What made the experience a little more difficult for the press was that none of the four teams had access to the Red Sox or visiting clubhouses.  All teams were sequestered in a make-shift clubhouse located in a private reception area behind the bleachers in centerfield.  Post game interviews were held on the field immediately after the game.

The Red Sox ownership has made upgrades to Fenway Park with the wishes of the fans in mind.  With their state-of-the art press box, the media is also well served.

Post 101- Looking Back and Ahead

What a coincidence that in 2007 we published exactly 100 posts! I know Fanhouse, Deadspin, and others reach that number everyday, but it is a milestone nonetheless.  

I understand the arguments about page views, etc…but I believe posting for the sake of posting does not necessarily equal blogging success.  I never felt the need to comment on everything being done in the sports media.  I’ll leave that for others.  Besides, as much as I love writing for this blog, the other aspects of my life sit much higher on the priority scale.

So what was 2007 like here at Sports Media Journal?   My goal has always been to try to do more than just comment on the work of those in the sports media.  There are plenty of sites that are complaint clearinghouses.  That’s OK.  Being critical is one thing.  Offering constructive solutions to those criticisms in my opinion gives our work a level of credibility.

That was our approach this fall when we took a look at the perceived problems at ESPN. Not only did we comment on some of the problems that ailed the World Wide Leader, but we felt an obligation to come up with a solution to solving some of them.  These solutions may not be revolutionary, but at least we did more than just complain.

We also wanted to use the site to interview those in the sports media.  These professionals not only tell great stories, they have great stories to tell.  Expect more of these profiles in 2008.

In 2007 we took stab at live blogging.  Even though we are still not convinced of its effectiveness, tools like the one from CoveritLive will keep us interested in its development.  Who knows…we may try it again.

We also thought it would be a good idea to show you what it’s like to cover sports.  Our “On Press Row” features will continue in the new year. 

Late in the year we produced our first podcast.  My personal longing to return to my radio roots ensures that there will be more of these throughout the course of the next 12 months.

We look for your input into what you would like to see at SMJ in 2008.  Send us your ideas.

Thanks for your support and Happy New Year!