Monday, July 13, 2009

You say you want more coverage?

One of wrestling’s best writers is looking for work today. Last week The Des Moines Register announced the layoff of 36 employees, including sportswriter – and wrestling maven – Dan McCool. Dan covered wrestling for the Register for 25 years. He wrote unique stories about every level of the sport. I hope he finds a new venue soon. Wrestling needs writers like Dan.

The announcement of Dan’s layoff led to a couple of online discussions – one about the extent – or lack thereof – of wrestling coverage and the other about the state of print journalism in general.

“Wrestling doesn’t get enough coverage”. That’s a common complaint among fans, wrestling board posters and even many of the sport’s leaders. Really? Have you been on the internet lately? Web coverage of wrestling began in 1995 with and InterMat (see Mark Palmer's interview with InterMat founder, Tom Owens). In the time since then we’ve seen the addition of sites like Flowrestling, The Wrestling Mall, The Wrestling Talk and RevWrestling – along with dozens of state-specific sites and hundreds of high school and college team sites.

Live interviews and podcasts are becoming a staple of internet coverage. Wrestling 411 and Scott Casber’s Takedown Radio air lively, informative and entertaining discussions with wrestling’s biggest names.

Internet coverage of wrestling is still growing. Eric Betterman and Ray Brinzer recently launched The Open Mat. In their mission statement Eric and Ray say, “The Open Mat is developing the internet’s most comprehensive web-based wrestling/MMA news and social networking site. This web-based system will allow users to view and contribute news on all aspects of wrestling and mixed martial arts.” – and later – “Our number one goal is to expand the reach of our sport and bring wrestling back to the front page.”

Here’s my question – Does internet coverage really “expand the reach” of the sport? I honestly don’t know. Does the wealth of online videos eventually get more kids on the mat? Does college wrestling attendance increase because of message board discussions? Have the recent internet articles on the addition of teams at Grand View University and Baker University inspired anyone to lead a movement to bring wrestling to a school near them? I wish I knew. But – as the old saying goes – it can’t hurt.

As a long-time marketing professional, I do know this – if our desire for more exposure is to sell the sport – we need a mix of media. There are at least three magazines dedicated to amateur wrestling, WIN, Amateur Wrestling News and Wrestling USA. All provide in-depth analysis that exceeds what is typically provided on the internet. They all face multiple threats. Publishing costs like paper and postage continue to rise. Free internet content is forcing them to provide even stronger value differentiation. Will they all rise to the challenge? I hope so. A well-read fan is a stronger fan.

There are still many wrestling fans who rely on their daily newspapers. That’s too bad. The newspaper publishing business model no longer seems to work. As the overall size of most papers shrinks, wrestling must fight even harder for space on the sports page. If The Des Moines Register is willing to reduce wrestling coverage to cut costs, think what dailies in other parts of the country might do.

Let’s look at this strictly as a marketing problem. Every new kid who takes up the sport is one “sale”. Every person who attends his or her first wrestling meet is another “sale”. Every new donor to a wrestling-related cause is another “sale”. Recent research by AdWeek Media and Harris Interactive found that television still influences buying decisions more than any other medium. So – if our desire is to make more wrestling “sales” – we need more television exposure.

Television coverage of amateur wrestling is better now than at any time in my memory. It still isn’t enough to really help the sport grow. How do we get more wrestling on TV? Well first of all – watch it when it’s on. Except for public television, networks are in business to make money and they make money by selling advertising. Advertisers buy time based on the number of projected viewers. The more you watch, the more it will be on.

Secondly - support those who are fighting to get more wrestling on the air. Wrestling 411 has a great concept – a weekly Sports Center-like highlight show. We all know that some wrestling matches can be pretty boring. If a prospective fan’s first exposure to college wrestling was the 2009 NCAA 125 pound championship match, he might never watch again. Let’s show the public the best that wrestling can be first. Right now Wrestling 411 is live on the internet and then podcast, but Kyle Klingman, Jason Bryant and the rest of the team are working to get it on the air. However, they need financial support and you can help. Do you want wrestling on TV badly enough to do something about it? You do? Then click here.

Television might have been the most influential MEDIUM on buying decisions in the AdWeek/Harris study but it wasn’t the most influential FACTOR. Nothing beats “word-of-mouth” (and personal WOM is twice as powerful as internet recommendation). That’s you. You - talking about wrestling to anyone who’ll listen. You - taking kids to wrestling events. You - organizing clubs. You - convincing alumni and administrations of the value of the sport.

You want more coverage? Join in.

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