We are forever being reminded that baseball and its coverage by newspapers are businesses.
No matter how much we speak of sport, in the final analysis nearly everyone who runs the game views baseball as “entertainment” and understands job one is to assemble the best product and compete for the public’s “entertainment dollars”. One of the biggest issues facing baseball for many years running has been how to re-establish the game’s central position as America’s pastime. There are many people, myself among them, who believe that status has been permanently usurped by football. Moreover, with basketball and hockey playoffs extending deep into the spring if not early summer and soccer an ongoing enterprise around the globe, baseball can no longer rely on its traditional seasonal exclusivity and concomitant claim on the public’s entertainment dollars.
The newspaper business isn’t any different when it comes to economic objectives. No matter how much we speak of information and opinion, at bottom the people who own newspapers want to sell their product and make a profit for their owners and shareholders. The biggest issue confronting the people who run newspapers these days is how to expand advertising in and readership of its print editions while exploiting the internet, which is draining off the former in the form of Craig’s Lists and Ebay (among other sites) while attracting the latter in larger, unpaid numbers. The main story in today’s Business section of the Inquirer addresses these issues in depth.
Despite my recognition of these operating principles, it was with particular dismay that I opened my Sunday Inquirer only to discover that Jon Lieber’s gem in Cincinnati the night before, easily the most impressive performance by a Phillies’ starter this season and entertaining to boot, was relegated to page 7.
Instead, the lead story was the Eagles’ mini camp. Other stories making page one were the Dad Vail regatta and the decision by some St. Joseph University seniors to forego graduation and row for the gold, and the upcoming Preakness. I have to conclude the editors of our only seven-day-a-week newspaper determined it was in their best business interests to bury the Phillies deep within the Sunday edition convinced as they were that their morning toast was best buttered by the ongoing obsession of Eagles’ fans with Donovan McNabb and the post-T.O. Birds.
Plenty has been written and spoken about the Phillies’ failure to capture the hearts and minds of the local citizenry after years of on-field failure and disappointment. The most frustrating residue of those years of dashed hopes is that when they finally put together an exciting team, too few people seem to notice. Even following The Catch by Aaron Rowand and its aftermath, precisely the kind of story fans relish and, frankly, public relations people exploit, the Phillies can’t get much respect in their own backyard. Undoubtedly the story and accompanying pictures sold a lot of newspapers, but a few days later it was back to, well, page seven.
What do the Phillies have to do? Win twelve out of thirteen games?