The Death of the Media Guide: 3008 to Your 2000 & Late

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By Melissa S. Wollering

Statistics crunched in 8,469+ ways—sometimes over more than a century—always encompassing a team’s entire existence.  Can you live without it?  As of the 2009-2010 season, you’ll see the beginning of the end of this desktop reference guide. You’ll be driven to the Web. The University of Wisconsin’s Athletic Department is part of the trend; will your team follow?

On Thursday, three Big 10 schools announced they will stop printing their beloved media guides. Michigan and Ohio State have already stopped production of the guides for all of their sports and say the information will be available on the Web. Michigan and Ohio State estimate they will save a combined $250,000 per year as a result of the decision. That’s enough to purchase approximately 416 Fergie-inspired Hewlett-Packard notebooks to make their athletes smarter.

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University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez says his department will stop printing media guides for all UW sports.  He says the move will save the school $200,000 and the trend doesn’t stop at the collegiate level. In February, Major League Baseball ceased printing its green and red guides to the National and American leagues.  PDF versions of the information were made available to all media.

At a PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) luncheon that I attended at the Hilton in downtown Madison last week, featured speaker and UW Associate Athletic Director for Communications Justin Doherty addressed the death of the media guide.  He says UW will cease production of the books no later than the 2010-2011 season, possibly sooner.

Doherty says more fans and reporters are turning to his department’s website, uwbadgers.com, for the same information printed in media guides. It sounds simple.  But if you think sports organizations won’t make the leap to marketing themselves as AP-like wire services, you haven’t fully assessed the impact of the media guide’s passing.

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Badger fans can now access live streaming press conferences, player and coach post-game interviews, live game blogs, articles, analysis, pictures and even virtual tours of UW athletic facilities.  Barry Alvarez himself ‘walks’ onto your screen and greets you as enter the UW’s new multimedia experience. Doherty says it all started with an intern and one camera.

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“I asked one of our interns to capture the gameday experience one Saturday,” says UW Assistant AD for Communications Justin Doherty.  “All I gave him was a camera and he came back with this great visual story from his photographs. He took pictures of fans tailgating before the game, players on the field and students jumping around in the 3rd quarter.  We had a huge response.”

Doherty himself began to live-blog from the stands at Camp Randall. Soon he had fans and alumni from around the world following along during the game, responding with questions and checking out other parts of the website. UW’s Athletic Department now has pages on both Twitter and Facebook. It sends fans and friends updates on everything from season tickets to travel packages to breaking news.

“We have the advantage,” says Doherty. “We have full access to our own locker rooms and our coaching staff.  We are the best-equipped to provide fans with information.”

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Could the end of your favorite media guide signal the end of your traditional sports reporter? Will athletic departments eliminate the need for a ‘middleman’ if consumers trust their websites as primary sources? Will consumers fully understand that athletic departments still control the message and will proactively and strategically release information for their benefit? Have communications and public relations professionals found a way to put traditional press releases to bed along with media guides? What if WE create the news before it becomes news with our own podcasts, streaming news conferences and online articles?

Remember when your friends left journalism and reporting for the PR world?  Remember when they came back and urged you to join the ‘dark side’?  This TSB contributor is pretty glad she’s done both. My new job may become my old job faster than you can look that stat up in the ‘08 media guide on your desk. Boom, boom, boom. Let me hear that…

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