The evening of Sunday, September 7, wasn't a banner night for the Rams or their fans or, it seemed, their broadcasters. Our local football squad had traveled to New York, absorbing a 23-13 loss to the Giants, crystallized by a variety of mental and physical errors by the players and a couple of questionable, late coaching decisions. Needless to say, that night's extended sports broadcasts on Channels 4 and 5 featured multiple segments of post-game analysis.
Most surprising that night was a snippet on KMOV's "Sports Sunday": a testy exchange between sports director Steve Savard, back in the studio after traveling from New York, and reporter Tim McKernan, reporting via satellite.
McKernan's analysis was tough, including his introductory note that a prominent sports website had headlined its homepage "Martz the Moron," in reference to head coach Mike Martz and his hotly debated fourth-down choices. He also challenged Martz's assertion that the team was out of timeouts when he decided to not kick a field goal with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was the kind of point-by-point, edgy analysis that you sometimes get via the radio, but seldom see and hear on television, especially in a "team-friendly" sports atmosphere like St. Louis.
Savard's reaction was intense and quick, dressing down his younger colleague in such a way that McKernan was visibly taken aback by Savard's response. Within the hour, local Internet bulletin boards were speculating on the incident, noting that Savard is the play-by-play voice of the Rams radio network; his reaction, to critics, was a transparent way to uphold his relationship to the Rams.
The KMOV sportscaster has a high-profile moonlighting gig with the Rams, but his case is more the rule than the exception. Interesting intersections exist all through the local sports media. McKernan, himself, shares a radio show microphone with Channel 5's Frank Cusumano; the latter, meanwhile, serves as the TV voice on Saint Louis University Billikens basketball games. Dan McLaughlin is a TV voice for the Cardinals, while providing radio spots for KTRS; his TV partner, Al Hrabosky, meanwhile, works for KFNS. Dan Eassa, Rich Gould, Mike Claiborne, John Hadley, Howard Balzer, Jim Holder, Bryan Burwell, Kevin Slaten, Bernie Miklasz, Brian McKenna, Bob Ramsey...most of the town's prominent sports reporters have direct, working relationships with either multiple media outlets or the teams themselves.
Continuing to blur the more traditional views of reporters vs. presenters, a good many of these folks also handle advertising voice-overs during broadcasts, particularly during game broadcasts and on talk radio. Seamlessly blending sports reporting with product pitching, hosts are shooting the breeze with fans one minute, then selling sandwiches, tires and gutters the next.
Stations, too, become part of the blended mix, signing on exclusive deals with individual players in effect, buying extra interview coverage. Kurt Warner has a deal with Channel 5, while Marshall Faulk has done work with Channel 2, the "official" Rams station. KFNS has signed regular segments with Cardinals like Fernando Vina and Mike Matheny. Rams players have had signature programs inked to KFNS and KTRS. In true '00s synergy, some of these spots are live remotes from restaurants, sponsored by liquor advertisers, bringing together a host of cross-marketing opportunities.
While a number of the names listed above never pull punches, critics of the "synergy" between teams, advertisers and media outlets have never had more ammunition. When Savard made his caustic comments to McKernan, it should be expected that those critics would seize on his dual role.
Others may suggest that this is all just talk about fun and games. Sports, after all, aren't real life. But in a region like St. Louis, many development decisions surround the teams and their stadia. If reporters on the sports desk are questioned on their allegiance to either their broadcast outlet or their team, it can impact wider perceptions about the local media and their real or perceived biases.
Right or wrong, these relationships are now becoming a natural pattern of how sports reporters work, especially on the local level.
Thomas Crone is a fan of many local sporting teams, and is currently recovering from his own dramatic sports injury.