On the sidelines of professional sports events around the nation, there's a less-discussed competition that can get more heated than the games themselves: the epic battle for press credentials. Over the past year, sports bloggers have been prying open the doors to press boxes, particularly within the NFL and the NBA. But Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger — who last week denounced sports blogs as contributing to the dumbing down of America — can rest easy for now. Amateur sportswriters have had little success winning over the gatekeepers of America's pastime — at least here in the Bay Area.
Dave Nemetz is one of the founders of the S.F.–based Bleacher Report, a seven-month-old citizen sports journalism Web site. He has been schmoozing the San Francisco Giants' marketing department over partnering for promotions, hoping it might eventually lead to press credentials (which he hasn't yet formally asked for).
But Jim Moorehead, the Giants' associate director of media relations, doesn't sound keen to give credentials to Nemetz or any other bloggers. Moorehead says he gets weekly calls from so-called online journalists. Some, he assumes, are probably just trying to score free tickets. Others may have nobler motives, but no credentials. "If we allowed access to every blogger out there, we'd fill the ballpark," he said. "If the blogger is with a major newsgathering site like ESPN, we give them access. Otherwise, we do not."
Bleacher Report features the work of unpaid, fledgling sportswriters from around the world, who cover anything from college basketball to mixed martial arts. It includes features similar to those found on Wikipedia, such as social networking and peer editing, and brags that its writers will "reinvent sports media."
Of course, first it has to get in the game. Nemetz isn't taking Moorehead's negative comments about bloggers as a final answer. "If you build up a track record of getting access elsewhere, and a name-brand value to what you're doing, and other types of relationships, then those policies only go so far," he says.
While Nemetz won't give up his quest for credentials, other sports Web sites have. Tyler Bleszinski, the president and CEO of an Irvine-based blog network, SportsBlogs Nation (which includes Athletics Nation), says his writers don't even want media privileges. "You can't cheer in the press box," he explains.
Bleszinski raises an interesting point. His bloggers and the Bleacher Report writers are fans — in some cases, very starstruck ones — before they are journalists. If they actually score interviews with top athletes or coaches, it seems unlikely they would write critical stories, particularly if they want to keep their access.
So for a sports team, inviting bloggers to the press box maybe isn't such a bad idea after all. Hey, they might even write something nice about Barry Zito.