Serving the Grand Slams and Its Fans When it Comes to Media Reporting - The Influences, Dilemmas and Huge Role of Twitter Today with Matt Cronin
By: Natalie Mikolich
Things are heating up down under, and on Monday, the first Grand Slam of the 2014 tennis season swung into action when the Australian Open got underway in Melbourne!
Serving-up things first for Sports Publicity Spin in 2014 is award-tennis reporter Matt Cronin who has been listed three times with Sport Illustrated as one of their top 100 sports tweeters of the year (including 2013). Also a contributor to the Reuters wire service, the main news reporter for Tennis.com, a regular contributor to USTA.com and a reporter for numerous other tennis publications, Matt shares with us why even the biggest tennis events in the world such as the Australian Open and US Open need media coverage and just what kind of influence media reporting can have on the Grand Slams and their fans.
Matt also reveals what tennis fans really want to know about during the Grand Slams when it comes to the players, the huge role social media plays in real-time reporting and the challenges some of the other larger tennis events and tennis media are facing today.
For more insights from Matt, here is our Q&A with him:
1.What kind of information do tennis fans want to know most about during the Australian Open?
Other than scores, I would say information about whether their favorite player is playing at his/her top level, what that player’s thoughts are on his/her current form, the state of his/her career and any breaking news related to that person, such as the hiring of a new coach, his/her opinions on another relevant player, and yes, sometimes the state of his/her romantic life.
2.What kind of things are you looking to report on during Grand Slams like the Australian Open?
Anything that that is relevant to the tournament, the state of the game, the players’ past, present of future, the state of the industry as a whole and again, any breaking news such as why a particular star player has parted ways with a star coach (like my story on why Sharapova and Connors separated which I broke just before the US Open began), or a star players current states of mind (like my recent piece on the struggling Caroline Wozniacki or the Brisbane revivals of Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt).
3.How does your reporting and information differ depending on the different media outlets you are reporting for (i.e. online/radio, etc.)
I write hard news for Tennis.com so very little if any of my opinion is in there, but if I am writing features or columns for Tennisreporters.net, Tennis Journal or AustralianOpen.com I will express at least some of my own opinions, unless it is a straight-up profile. I will say almost anything about anyone and anything on radio, which I will do on Australian Open radio, but I always try and be respectful and make sure that I have my facts straight.
However, I did a new ½ hour show on US Open radio that was sponsored by AMEX last year and felt like I needed to play it a little safer than I do when I am doing nightly match analysis. Maybe I didn't have to, but I was very careful about staying on point (which in this case would be their ‘trending topics of the day’) and not go off on many tangents, even if at times I thought there were issues that were more exciting to be discussed.
4.How do the media features and reporting affect the Australian Open and other Grand Slams as an event? How do they affect tennis fans?
Certainly a lot, but whether the reporting, writing and broadcasting are good or bad, the coverage is so enormous that the tournament benefits anyway because it appears to be, and really is, so relevant. The tournament can be affected by articles/broadcast pieces that discuss how good or bad of an experience it is to attend the event, and players can certainly be affected by positive or negative press during the event, so that at times the reaction of on-site fans has clearly been influenced by heavy reporting on a certain topic (such as the negative reaction to Novak Djokovic in 2009 after he reacted publicly in a strong way to Andy Roddick’s comments about him allegedly faking injuries or illness).
5.As a media reporter, what role do you think media coverage plays in the overall big picture of the US Open as an event and why do you think media coverage is important for the Open?
There is no doubt in the case of the US Open that certain segments of the media harping on the lack of a roof over Ashe Stadium had a substantial amount of influence on pushing that project forward. You could also say that about the Australian Open agreeing to a heat rule, where if the temperature and humidity reached a certain point they suspend play. That is how the media can affect the big picture in a big way, in the case to the tune of $100 million plus in the US Open, and to the occasional frustration of broadcast media in Australia when matches are suspended to intense heat and they have to run tape or come up with other material to fill the holes.
Overall, I think good, comprehensive media coverage of any tournament is a must for an event’s survival. The Grand Slams have yet to face a lack of coverage dilemma because they are so seen as by far the four most important tournaments on the planet, but few other tournaments have that luxury and in my 21 years of reporting on the sport I have seen a substantial decline in the amount of ‘real’ media – or any media -- covering what are supposed to be large, important events on the tour. I traveled for over five months last year covering events and fans would be shocked if they knew how many press conferences I conducted the interview by myself, or nearly by myself.
Even though that it not necessarily the tournaments fault in general (although some do a horrible job of promoting their event) as the newspapers industry has shrunk, in my opinion it has really negatively affected attendance over all.
6.In your opinion, what makes a good sports story?
One that is real, contains a very human element, explores the success or failure of an individual or team in great depth, and has some drama, comedy, action or tragedy. A story that makes you feel you are at an event or know the person/people who are being discussed. One that makes you feel like you want to read more.
I think it’s important to note that there are now only a handful of writers in the U.S. who make their living entirely writing about tennis. That was not the case say 20 years ago when many of the major dailies had tennis columnists. When it comes to U.S. newspapers, there are no reporters who solely focus on tennis. The same with the major sports web sites such as ESPN and Fox. Sports Illustrated has one person who works full-time on tennis online.
This year, there were two U.S. reporters in Brisbane, myself included for an event that contained Federer, Serena, Sharapova and Azarenka, there is one in Sydney (me) and educated guess is that print and internet wise there will be about seven at the Aussie Open – a Grad Slam!
However, there are many more web sites and blogs that are devoted to pro tennis than there once was, which is positive, but since so few of them make money, they are very inconsistent when it comes to coverage and many are inaccurate when it comes to discussing players’ personalities because they have never met them and are for the most part writing from their couches.
Social media now plays a huge role in reporting of any kind. There are days when I feel like I am a slave to Twitter, but I feel like if I don’t break something almost immediately there that I will get beat. What has been frustrating on this Aussie trip has been the tournaments live tweeting press conferences, even when they don't have anyone asking questions. Essentially, they are taking our expertise and using it for their own purposes, which is a bit unfair.
In regards to Twitter, I also feel like I need to be reading my news feed to watch out for others breaking stories, or players announcing something important.
If I was in PR and was trying to get someone to write about a product or player, my challenge would be much greater than it was in 1990s. Sure you can create your own social media campaign, but you also have to find folks who have the reach and influence to help that campaign along and there just aren't as many “heavy hitters” anymore, at least stateside.