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Sandomir: Press Boxes Become an Afterthought...

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Speedway, Jun 11, 2007.

  1. Speedway

    Speedway Member


    June 11, 2007
    Press Boxes Become an Afterthought, After the Thought of Luxury Seats
    CHICAGO, June 6 — The original press box at the 16-year-old U.S. Cellular Field was a fine place to cover a White Sox game. From their nest behind home plate, reporters could easily discern the spin of a curveball or hear the thwack of bat on ball.

    But this year, the White Sox gutted it and remade it into the Jim Beam Club, with 200 theater seats and barstools that cost $260 to $315 each; when sold out, the club could generate $4 million or more in revenue.

    “We were giving the press the best real estate in the building, slightly elevated behind home plate, which they don’t need,” said Jerry Reinsdorf, the real estate investor who is chairman of the White Sox.

    When asked why he moved the press to a much worse vista two levels up and along the first-base and right-field line, Reinsdorf unhesitatingly said, “Financial.”

    Reinsdorf is far from unique among team owners looking at the extra money that can be made in arranging, or rearranging, their home facilities to accommodate more luxury suites or club seats.

    At the same time, baseball reporters (usually print and radio) have been shifted to higher spots, as in PNC Park in Pittsburgh, or inferior aeries like the one at the year-old Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The Cardinals improved the habitability of the press box before this season as part of renovations needed to play host to the 2009 All-Star Game; the press box is higher than it was in the old Busch Stadium, a design that gives preference to luxury boxes.

    “Last year, it was a gulag,” said Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    After years of resisting his owners’ cries to expand their inventory of courtside seating, N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern relented this season, permitting teams to move reporters into the lower bowl of arenas.

    N.F.L. reporters are used to inconvenient press boxes. They have been relocated to the corners of, or behind, end zones — as they are in the renovated Soldier Field in Chicago, FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Or to higher altitudes, as they are in Giants Stadium. John Mara, a co-owner of the Giants, said the press box problem would be rectified in the stadium to be built with the Jets.

    “Pampering the press used to be more important than taking care of your highest-paid customers,” said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant. “Now it comes down to the old real estate maxim: location, location, location.”

    In the Jim Beam Club during the Yankees-White Sox game Wednesday night, the privileged packed the tables in the club’s indoor restaurant to dine on smoked turkey with apricot and pineapple chutney, and bay scallops with orzo.

    Pres Harris sat with his two sons in the front row outside, marveling at his good fortune because someone had given him three tickets to the club while he was standing in line at the ballpark to buy reserved seats.

    “It’s fantastic,” he said of the view from the front row, which last year was the domain of reporters.

    Becky Roppolo, who works for a local steel company, came dressed in a Paul Konerko replica jersey, and was elated that her boss had given her his tickets for the second time. The sweet seat, she said, “kind of spoils you.”

    Joe Varan, a real estate investor from Hinsdale, Ill., was in one of the four front-row, center-of-the-club seats that he splits with a friend.

    “There’s nothing like this,” said Varan, who then compared the club to the “scout seats” on the field level behind home plate; they cost $220 to $285 each. “You can call the balls and strikes and see the outfield plays develop.”

    None of the fans said they much cared that they had displaced reporters who now depend more on TV monitors than they once did. It is a sentiment they share with Reinsdorf.

    “It doesn’t matter if Dave van Dyck can see how much the ball breaks,” he said, referring to The Chicago Tribune’s national baseball writer.

    Van Dyck said his former view mattered greatly; now he cannot see plays developing or the “full scan of the field.”

    “It’s like watching TV from the side,” he added, still irate that the team did not consult reporters about the change.

    Joe Cowley, who covers the White Sox for The Chicago Sun-Times, said he did not mind the view, and he was not surprised about the White Sox’ move. “They sold out the start time to 7-Eleven,” he said, referring to a sponsorship deal with the chain of convenience stores to shift the starting time of night games to 7:11.

    In N.B.A. arenas, reporters in some cities have been moved out of earshot of the repartee among players, coaches and referees.

    “You could tell what Jerry Sloan was thinking by hearing how much he was swearing,” said Phil Miller, who until recently covered the Utah Jazz for The Salt Lake Tribune, referring to the team’s longtime head coach. “His reactions really guided your knowledge of what was going on on the floor.”

    The Denver Nuggets, for example, added eight new courtside seats at $750 apiece by moving the press elsewhere. At Quicken Loans Arena, the Cleveland Cavaliers added 16 courtside seats (at $1,600 each) that flank the scorer’s table by moving reporters to comparatively distant locations. Similar changes have been made by the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, and by the Jazz and the Golden State Warriors.

    For next season, the Los Angeles Lakers have sold 15 new courtside seats, at $2,300 each, at Staples Center, moving reporters 20 rows back, said John Black, a team spokesman.

    Paul Andrews, executive vice president for Kroenke Sports Enterprises, the Nuggets’ parent company, said the team tried to balance its goal of raising revenue with respecting the news media, even as it moved reporters to a low corner at the Pepsi Center.

    Some of the Nuggets’ new courtside seats, which are similar to others in the league, allow fans to sit behind the scorer’s table as the press once did, beside the team bench, with a television monitor and waiter service to augment their experience.

    This season the Knicks moved the last of the reporters who were still working courtside at Madison Square Garden to a press area behind a basket. That let the team sell 20 new seats, some of which cost $2,000 or more.

    “Fans will pay a premium to experience the game in a way they haven’t before, and to separate themselves from Joe Average,” said Dan Migala, the publisher of a sports-marketing newsletter, The Migala Report.

    The N.B.A. has left it to the teams to determine whether they would move reporters and where they would put them, while keeping TV broadcasters at scorer’s tables. Brian McIntyre, a league spokesman, said the change was not made because of the weakening influence of newspapers.

    “It was strictly a way to get revenue,” he said, “and some people closer to the game.”

    But in doing so, said Brian Windhorst, who covers the Cavaliers for The Akron Beacon Journal, the presence of nearby reporters working on deadline “has upset a lot of fans, and there’ve been some, and caused some nasty incidents.”

    He added, “We’re trying to do our job, and they’re trying to have fun.”

    At U.S. Cellular Field, the relocated press box prompted a demand by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to meet with Commissioner Bud Selig to receive assurances that a similarly drastic change would not occur at other ballparks. (The Kansas City Royals are moving their press box up a level, but still behind home plate, next season.)

    “We’re paid to do the job to the best of our ability,” Mark Gonzales of The Chicago Tribune said as he watched Wednesday’s game from high above first base. His new sightline hindered his ability to best describe, with his own eyes, Mark Buehrle’s no-hitter on April 18.

    “I just feel hopeless,” he said.
  2. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member


    What the press needs is access to the locker room and press conferences. But I've rarely read a newspaper story or watched/listened to a game where the reporter's seat in the press box helped make it a better story. Hell, half the time I think the TV announcers are announcing the game off the monitors in their booth anyway.
  3. henryhenry

    henryhenry Member

    you make it sound like sportswriters function as consumer reporters.

    they should, but rarely do.
  4. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    TSP, would you just suggest a windowless, soundproof conference room for reporters, with TV's and a tunnel to the locker room? I mean, all we need to see is the TVs, right? Their view is the one that counts. ::)
  5. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    Lupica was ahead of the curve in covering games from his recliner watching hi def tv.
  6. Flying Headbutt

    Flying Headbutt Moderator Staff Member

    Maybe you aren't reading enough then.
  7. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    There are plenty of reporters who already cover events this way. There have been any number of championship events or large press conferences where overflow reporters are put in such a room where they watch TV monitors of the event and then write about it.
  8. Smallpotatoes

    Smallpotatoes Well-Known Member

    One boxing promoter around here has taken to putting the press tables in a corner of the arena, behind an area where people tend to congregate during fights. You constantly have to ask people to move or get security to move people.
    It would be better if we could sit at ringside, but the promoter has never seen a penny from me and never will, so I understand.
  9. goalmouth

    goalmouth Well-Known Member

    Many newspapers are clearly showing that they don't care about the working conditions of their employees; why should anyone else?
  10. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    I don't think that giving reporters a place to work that just happens to be farther away from their original vantage point is bad working conditions. You have all the exact same things, just not where you want it to be.
  11. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Yes, and it's dreadful. There's no substitute for being able to hear the crowd and see things away from the ball or whatever else TV is showing. You won't find a journalist worth a darn who actually enjoys this setup.

    Some readers won't care about this issue and think it's a matter of journalists being whiny, others will realize that journalists are professional observers and need the proper environment for their craft. Sticking them in the right-field corner, the corner of the end zone or 20 rows off the court among the fans hinders their ability to perform, and in turn the product. No, what's missing might not always be evident in a story, but that's not the point.
  12. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    Yes, those setups where you're trapped in a room watching the game on TV and covering it are dreadful. But reporters have been dealing with it for awhile.

    I have been stuck in the end zone for an outdoor NFL playoff football game without any protection from the elements, and I've been stuck in the "auxiliary" press box for baseball events at Jacobs Field (which is really the right field stands), and I've been in the "geek media" section at Gund Arena, which is basically a couple rows of tables put over some stands in one of the corners.

    However, I don't feel that being in those areas made my stories about the game any less than someone who was sitting closer to the action. And that's likely more due to the fact that they really don't use those locations to their advantage. They're still writing about the same game that everyone else sees.

    Now, access to the participants before and after the game, that could make a difference.
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