University Athletic Websites: An Analysis and Comparison of Revenue Generation Features

Abstract

In an effort to understand the scope of the commercial and revenue generating aspects of athletic websites, this paper examines the quantity of advertising and content on the homepages of all twenty-six schools in two major conferences in Division IA of the NCAA: the Big East and PAC-10. The study also provides a detailed analysis of the different products, services and advertisements displayed on the homepages. An analysis of the variability of the advertisements across the schools was done for various types of the schools.

Analysis

In his 2009 State of the Association Speech, Myles Brand, President of the NCAA, discussed the relationship of commercialism to sports and in particular, “the dramatic changes in the media, including especially the sports media, that have generated new and greater opportunities for commercial activity associated with athletics” (Brand,2009, p.3). In noting that there are now “three different types of screens to watch,” (TV, Internet, and handheld) Brand concerned his remarks with the question of the “balance point” between “too much and too little commercial activity” (Brand, 2009, p.4).

University athletic department websites provide content that serve a wide array of constituencies (current students, alumnae, the press, and perspective student-athletes). However it is clear that athletic departments also see their websites as a revenue generation opportunity as evidenced by the numerous advertisements displayed on many of the sites’ pages. With Brand’s statement in mind, this research seeks to examine the extent of commercial activity on university athletic department websites to see if the “balance point” between commercial activity and content has tipped.

Prior Research

An inventory of major studies of public impressions of issues relating to the media between 1986 and 2006 (Cooper, 2008) found that across all media channels, invasive and excessive advertising was a major concern for a majority of consumers. Further research on online advertising has focused on consumer first impressions and loyalties. McCoy et al. found that “consumers’ first impressions (and loyalties) are made in the opening moments of a Web site visit and the degree to which that visit may be intruded by pop-ups, pop-unders, and banner advertisements” (2007, p. 84).

The sports marketing literature also provides insight into the consumer’s perception of in-arena signage and virtual signage which may relate to websites. A study by Bennet et al. looks at viewers’ attitudes towards virtual advertising (digitally superimposed images in television broadcasts). The researchers found that “virtual advertisements inserted near the score display were less intrusive than all ad locations” (2006, p.77). One reason for this, they theorize, is that sport consumers are accustomed to such placement of signage on the field of play, with advertisements placed on or near the scoreboard or sidelines. However, advertising images superimposed onto the playing field were viewed more negatively. Sport fans may not like their attention distracted from the game (Bennet et al, 2006). Rotational signage in stadiums and arenas has also come a long way in reducing advertising clutter and delivering a more consistent message to the sport consumer. Some arenas now feature an entire façade of upper tier rotational digital signage offering one consistent message over the course of 1,000 feet. Such signage is usually sold as a part of a marketing package which may include smaller signage in the arena. It offers a clean look and avoids sponsor conflicts (Cifareli, 2000).

The few studies of athletic department websites that exist used those sites as a source of data to research other issues in sport. In studying gender equity, Cunningham and Sagas (2002) used word count as a measure of coverage in articles on athletic department websites devoted to various men’s and women’s sports. Sagas et al. (2004) also studied gender discrepancies and media coverage using articles on athletic websites. Cooper (2008) used content analysis and position of content on the websites to study the same gender bias issues.

Data Collection Methodology

The data collected was limited to the homepage of each university athletic website. This decision seemed reasonable as it is most likely that advertisements and links to revenue pages will appear on the homepage. We did find that advertising on team pages is prevalent but what advertising is there is a duplication of that which appears on the homepage.

Each athletic department homepage was printed on the same printer, at the same resolution, and manually coded. One trained coder performed all measurements. Therefore there was no issue of inter-coder reliability. The output of this coding was a page that was segmented into independent areas measured by their square inches. The following classification process was used:

Product / Services

Each area on the page was reviewed to see if the text or image on the area appeared to be a link to a product/service being sold by the athletic department. Each item on the menu navigation bar was clicked and scanned for menu items that were suggestive of being a product/service. In both cases, the linked page was brought up to confirm that there was a product/service being sold by the athletic department or its agent.

Advertisements

Each area on the page was reviewed to see if the text or image on the area was an advertisement from an organization not affiliated with the athletic department. A determination was made if it was from a regional or national company. Our interest in categorizing the advertisements was to see if there was any relationship between national companies and more nationally recognized athletic programs such as football programs. We also wanted to see the variability of advertisements from regional companies across schools.

Calculating the number of advertisements on web pages is complicated by two design ideas that are commonly used. The first is the use of rotating advertisements where multiple advertisements are displayed in the same area at a fixed time interval. Using this technique, the owner of the webpage can sell more advertisements at attractive positions on the webpage. In our calculation, we treated each of the advertisements in the rotation equal to any other advertisement. It could be argued that the use of a changing image on a webpage will draw more attention than that of a static advertisement. A second technique uses tabs to allow the web designer the ability to reuse the same webpage area multiple times. Here a small area at the top of the advertisement is carved out with multiple tabs that have a suggestive heading and are clickable. When the user clicks on a tab, a different advertisement is displayed. Again, in our calculation, we treat each tab equally.

Percentage of Content

The importance of revenue generation on the website was measured by calculating the percentage of the homepage that was devoted to content. To get greater insight into the importance of revenue generation, we also measured the percentage of the homepage devoted to content that is “above the fold.” We use the term fold as an analogy to a fold in a newspaper where stories above the fold have more prominence. In terms of a webpage, above the fold is the area that the viewer sees when the homepage is first displayed. The implications for web pages are that material that is below the fold is less likely to be seen by the viewer. This is similar to Cooper’s idea of “nonscroll coverage” (2008, p.232).

Areas that were either product/services or advertisements were considered to be revenue generators. The other areas on the page were either content, navigation or what we termed community. Our view of what constituted content was broad. We considered the following as content: images, captions of images, video, fan polls, scores, schedules, pictures of athlete of the week and league standings. Space on a webpage has to be devoted to navigation around the website. An example of this would be a menu bar that has a dropdown list of links. Additionally, all of the homepages the authors examined had links/advertisements to non-revenue generating sites. An example of this would be a link to school’s conference homepage. We called these areas community. For our calculation of the content percentage, a page = content + ads + navigation + community. The percentage of content is therefore the content area divided by the size of the entire homepage. For rotating or tabbed advertisements, the area taken up by the entire advertisement is apportioned based on whether it is content, product/service, advertisement, community or navigation.

Schools in Sample

As the thrust of the study was revenue generation, Division IA institutions were selected as the focus. In establishing a representative sample of Division IA institutions across the country, the authors chose to use two Division IA conferences, the PAC-10 and Big East Conferences, as a basis for their research. These two conferences were chosen as they represent a distribution of small, medium and large, private and public institutions ranging across the country. Some of the schools are located in major urban areas, and some in college towns. Some of these institutions have major football programs and some do not. All have major basketball programs and very competitive sports programs for both men and women. All have at least one nationally recognized team. And all are at least 100 years old and have a major athletic tradition.

Results

The following details the results of our examination of the 26 homepages. The products and services sold are first described with Table 1 showing the percentage of schools that had links on their homepage to these items. This is followed by a discussion of data on advertisements found on the homepage.

Table 1: Percent of Schools That Have Links to Products/Services Sold on the Homepage

Product / Service Percent of Schools That Links to the Product / Service
Ticket Sales 100%
Merchandise Sales 100%
Multimedia/Media Guides 39%
Video 92%
Auctions 65%
Photos 61%
Camps 42%
Ringtones for Cell Phones 19%

Products / Services Sold by Athletic Department

Ticket Sales: As the most important source of revenue for most sports, advertisements with links to ticket sales are prominent and, in many cases, displayed in multiple spots on the homepage. On a significant number homepages a large banner advertisement appears at the top of the homepage. Additionally, there is a menu option that provides links to the various ways that tickets are sold. Before a big event, such as a bowl game, many schools display a splash screen before showing the homepage on which a link for purchasing tickets is provided. Finally some schools now provide a link to StubHub, their official site to allow fans to buy and resell tickets.

Merchandise Sales: Another staple of athletic websites is the link to the fan store where hats, shirts and other souvenirs can be purchased online. This link is often prominently displayed at the top of the homepage.

Multimedia/Media Guides: Some schools have traditionally used media guides as a source of revenue which are now being sold via the website. In addition, some schools are selling DVDs of famous teams from the past, bowl games and other video content that would be enticing to their fans.

Video: The Internet now provides schools with an easy to use mechanism to transmit live or taped games that are not being broadcast commercially to their fans. This content is typically of games that are not being broadcast over-the-air or via cable. Some of this content is broadcast for free but the bulk of the programming is sold via either a monthly or yearly contact. All but two schools charged $79.95 annually or $7.95 per month. The outlier schools charged $99.95 annually or $9.95 per month.

Auctions: For many Internet users who know of or have used auctions sites like eBay, the idea of purchasing a piece of memorabilia via a website is common. Athletic departments are now running their own auctions of game-worn uniforms and equipment. In addition, items such as basketball bench chairs, autographs on programs signed by the coach or former players, and autographed plaques are also being auctioned off.

Photos: The sale of both still and action photographs appears on many athletic websites. Typically there are photos for sale for every team fielded. The photos, which are of professional quality, range from the standard team poses to action scenes taken during the game. The photos are of both current and past players.

Camps: Summer sports camps, in a variety of sports, have become a standard product at well known athletic programs. As many athletic departments provide these as a source of compensation for their coaches, it is unclear how much revenue is realized by the athletic department for this product. We have included it for completeness.

Ringtones for Cell Phones: As cell phones allow users to customize ringtones, a market for specialized ringtones has emerged. Athletic departments have added this service to their portfolio of products by offering music that has an affiliation with their school, such as the university fight song.

Advertisements

The values in Table 2 show the number of advertisements from regionally-based companies, national companies, products/services sold by the school and the total of all advertisements on the homepage. Except for the first column, which shows all the schools in the study, the other columns show comparisons of different types of schools: PAC-10 versus Big East, public institution versus private institution and schools with varsity football programs versus those without varsity football.

Table 2: Average Number of Ads on Homepage

Type of Company Placing the Ad All PAC-10 Big East Public Private Football Non-Football
Regional 2.8 2.4 3.1 2.4 2.0 3.0 2.2
National 8.5 9.3 8.0 8.3 8.7 8.7 8.0
School 7.6 8.6 7.0 7.9 7.3 8.2 5.8
Total 18.9 20.3 18.1 19.6 18.0 19.9 16.0

Table 3 displays this advertising data as a percentage of the area occupied on the homepage.

Table 3: Average Percent of Homepage Devoted to Advertisements

Type of Company Placing the Ad All PAC-10 Big East Public Private Football Non-Football
Regional 2.1 1.7 2.3 2.2 1.9 2.2 1.7
National 15.3 21.7 11.3 15.1 15.6 15.9 13.3
School 16.2 19.9 13.8 15.3 17.3 17.0 13.6
Total 33.6 43.3 27.4 32.6 34.8 35.1 28.6

Table 4: Percent of Homepage Devoted to Content

Average Range Standard Deviation
All Schools 33.3 14.3-59.1 10.1
Big East 35.9 19.9-59.1 10.5
PAC-10 29.2 14.3-45.0 8.5
Public 32.8 23.3-59.1 9.7
Private 34.0 14.3-48.9 11
Football 32.6 14.3-48.9 11
Non-Football 35.5 19.9-45.3 9.6

Table 5: Percent of Homepage Devoted to Content Above the Fold

Average Range Standard Deviation
All Schools 43.8 20.6-62.1 10.7
Big East 47.1 29.8-62.1 10.2
PAC-10 38.7 20.6-56.3 10.0
Public 37.0 20.6-57.7 15.3
Private 49.8 32.1-62.1 12.9
Football 42.3 20.6-57.7 10.6
Non-Football 48.9 32.1-62.1 10.4

Discussion of Results

The key finding in our work is that on average only 33.3% of the homepage of the schools in the study is devoted to content. The amount of space devoted to advertising is 33.6% and the balance is either navigation or community. For two reasons we think that the advertising amount is understated. First, a practice of many of the athletic departments in our study is to have sponsored content areas. In this arrangement, area devoted to content will also have the corporate name or logo of a sponsor displayed in a prominent spot. We counted this as content as the bulk of the area is non-advertisement but it is clear that there is some form of commercialism in this area. The average number of sponsored content areas in our sample was 2.4. Second, a common content area on homepages is a video clip window where a user can see video content ranging from game highlights to coaches interviews. In our calculation, this was considered content. However, many times the clip displayed included an advertisement for an upcoming event.

Another consideration in assessing the commercialism of the website is the placement of advertising. In 62% of the schools in our sample, an advertisement was placed at the top of the homepage. In some cases, more than one advertisement was placed at the top, either above and/or beside the school name and logo. In many cases the advertisements were for ticket sales or school merchandise. However, in five cases, the advertisers were national companies. The impact of this idea is reduced somewhat by noting that more of the advertising occurs below the fold than above.

Whether this ratio of content to advertising is consistent with Brand’s “balance point” is impossible to determine. We believe it is not but we leave it to the reader to form their own judgment.

Additionally, we found the number of advertisements from regional companies was markedly smaller than those from national companies. The most likely explanation is that in addition to supplying technical support, CBS Interactive and JumpTV (the largest providers of web services for intercollegiate athletic programs) also sell web-based advertisements to national companies and place the advertisements on their customer’s websites. CBS Interactive and JumpTV have a revenue sharing agreement with those schools where advertisements are placed.

In comparing the characteristics of different schools/conferences, the largest difference between groups occurred between the PAC-10 and Big East in the average percentage of page devoted to advertisements. While there may be many factors that influence this, we speculate that schools with football programs have greater followings and therefore more views of their website. This in turn would cause more companies to place advertisements. Our contention that football is the cause is bolstered by the difference in football versus non-football schools value in Table 2. Note that only 7 of the 16 schools in the Big East have football while all do in the PAC-10.

We observed that the homepages in our study seemed cluttered and busy which is supported by our finding that the average number of advertisements is close to 19. With the addition of area devoted to content and links to other pages, the number of distinct areas on the homepage averages 30. This appears excessive given the size of most computer screens.

Finally the breadth of products and services sold seemed comprehensive. While we anticipated that selling tickets and clothing on the website would be a natural service desired by users, we were surprised that athletic departments would be in the business of selling ringtones and running auctions.

In conclusion, the development of university athletic websites will continue to evolve. In the period from our data collection until the present, most of the websites we reviewed have added, as an example, RSS news feeds and links to Twitter. It seems most likely that athletic departments will continue to seek new ways to use their websites to generate additional revenue. Whether they are mindful of the balance of content and commercialism remains to be seen. Future research should objectively test if the amount of commercialism on the websites is excessive by surveying the impressions of the users of the site.

References

Bennet, G.; Fereira, M.; Siders, R.; Tsuji, Y.; & Cianfrone, B. (2006). Analysing the effects of advertising type and antecedents on attitude towards advertising in sport. International Journal of Sport Marketing and Sponsorship, 8, 1, 62-81.

Brand, M. (2009). The 2009 NCAA State of the Association speech. Retrieved July 3, 2009, from http://www.ncaa.org/wps/ncaa?key=/ncaa/ncaa/ncaa+news/ncaa+news+online/2009/ association-wide/the+2009+ncaa+state+of+the+association+speech+-+1-15-09+-+ncaa+news

Cifarelli, J. (2000, May 15). In signage, what comes around goes far. Brandweek, 4, 20, 38.

Cooper, C. (2008). NCAA Website Coverage: An analysis of similar sport team gender coverage on athletic department’s home pages. Journal of Intercollegiate Sports, 1, 227-241.

Cooper, Tom. (2008). Between the summits: what Americans think about media ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 23, 15-27.

Cunningham, G.B. & Sagas, M. (2002). Utilizing a different perspective: Brand equity and media coverage of intercollegiate athletics. International Sports Journal, 6, 134-145.

McCoy, S.; Everard, E.; Polak, P.; & Galleta, D. (2007). The effects of online advertising. Communications of the ACM, 50, 3, 84-88.

Sagas, M.; Cunningham, G.B.; Wigley, B.J.; & Ashley, F.B. (2004). Internet coverage of university softball and baseball websites: the inequity continues. In D. Rowe (Ed.). Critical readings: Sport, culture and the media, 340-349, Berkshire, UK: McGraw Hill.

An Examination of British Sport Security Strategies, Legislation, and Risk Management Practices

Abstract

Britain faces similar sport security issues to the United States such as terrorism and crowd management problems. In particular, hooligan activities have posed a significant challenge for the British government in the past 25 to 30 years. Major soccer tragedies, such as the Hillsborough disaster, prompted the British government to enact safety and security standards and legislation. Safety and security measures were also implemented to combat terrorist activities and curb illegal behavior at sporting events. This article will examine specific security strategies and risk mitigation measures employed by the English Football (soccer) League pertaining to stadium design, technology, risk management, hospitality, and industry best practices. Lessons learned from the British system may assist U.S. sport leagues in their security efforts.

Introduction

Britain faces similar sport safety and security issues to the United States such as terrorism (Steinbach, 2006) and crowd management problems (Pearson, 2006). An analysis of the English football (soccer) security system will highlight strategies, legislation, and risk management practices effectively utilized to curb illegal behavior at events. Lessons learned from the British system may help U.S. sport leagues deter terrorism and unruly fan behavior. Sports organizations should plan to deter potential incidents because of legal obligations, business continuity, and loss of reputation (National Counter Terrorism Security Office, 2006).

Hooligan activities have posed a major challenge for the British government in the past 25 to 30 years. Hooliganism involves disorderly fans and criminal activity that occurs before and after games, in or around stadiums, resulting in casualties or fatalities (Pearson, 2006). There are two different types of hooliganism: spontaneous and organized. Spontaneous hooliganism is a low level disorder in or around stadiums and is not as violent as organized hooliganism. Organized hooliganism is the more serious form of where violence is the norm and people get injured or killed (Pearson, 2006). These acts are sometimes pre-arranged by gangs who meet to fight other gangs before a football match. Hooliganism has been known as the “English Disease” because of its origination in Britain, but it is prevalent elsewhere in Europe (Pearson, 2006).

The 1980’s was known as the “Decade of Disaster” in England when two separate stadium crushing incidents resulted in over 200 injuries and 100 deaths (“Heysel Disaster”, 2000; “football fans crushed at Hillsborough”, 1989). The Heysel disaster occurred on May 29, 1985, in Brussels Belgium during a European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus that drew over 60,000 fans. A stampede ensued before the game and police forces failed to stop the rush of fans and maintain order resulting in 39 people dead and many more injured. This tragic event led to the five year ban of any English club to exist in European football competitions. Inadequate seating arrangement at the Heysel stadium was the main cause for this disaster (“Heysel Disaster”, 2000).

The Hillsborough disaster occurred on April 15, 1989 and is known as the worst sporting disaster in British history (“Football fans crushed at Hillsborough”, 1989). During a match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool over 2,000 people tried to cram into a section that already had 1,500 spectators. As thousands of people rushed into the stadium, the spectators in front were pinned against the fence that guarded the fans from the field and players. More than 200 people were injured and 93 died (1989). Hooliganism declined in the 1990’s due to the passing of the Taylor Report (1990), which forced all stadiums in England and Scotland to implement all-seated stadiums. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also threatened to ban the sport of football because of hooligan acts (Pearson, 2006).

Besides the threat of hooliganism, British football stadium managers face the risk of terrorist attacks. After the Madrid train bombings in 2004, terrorism expert Police Chief Constable Barbara Wilding warned of an attack on the high profile Millennium Stadium in Britain because of its international exposure (BBC, 2004). This was the first warning issued of an attack that could occur at a high profile sport stadium in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, a thwarted terrorist attack during a soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester United in April of 2004 was reported. According to intelligence gathered by British authorities, suspected Islamic terrorists purchased tickets in many different areas of the stadium (Steinbach, 2006). Officials were able to prevent the attack by making 10 arrests the morning the match was originally scheduled to be played. The match between the two teams was played nearly a week later in front of 67,000 fans and an international audience (Steinbach, 2006). In 2007, a senior Liverpool police officer claimed that Liverpool Football Club’s new proposed iconic stadium at Stanley Park could be a significant target for a terrorist attack. Chief Constable Simon Byrne insisted that planners design the stadium to minimize openness to attack, specifically suicide bombers. The planning committee is to impose design standards set forth by the Association of Chief of Police Officers (ACPO). These standards set parameters for construction and design of the ground to reduce the likelihood and impact of an attack. The planning scheme already includes a high level Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system, fully equipped control room, and its own on-site mini-prison (or custody suite) (Neild, 2007).

Proactive British Principles

Regulatory and Administrative Changes

The British government enacted legislation and security measures to combat hooliganism, crowd control, and terrorism incidents. The Football Disorder Act (1989); Football Spectators Act (1989); Football Offenses Act (1991); Football Act (1999); Football Disorder Act (2000); and Football Disorder Bill (2001) was enacted by government. These pieces of legislation prohibited hooliganism, categorized the different offenses that a person would be charged with, covered both domestic and international terrorist threats to sport stadiums, and assured that individuals who were banned would be prevented from attending matches inside and outside of Britain. Additionally, the Football Intelligence Unit was created to collect and disseminate information and intelligence about domestic and international issues that occur at or near sport stadiums (Football, 2007). Most significant, under new safety legislation each football club is required to hold a stadium ‘Safety Certificate’. The government produced and published a set of safety requirements in the ‘Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds’ for every club playing in the top four divisions in England. The local government authority (municipality) is responsible for issuing the safety certificate and ensuring the stadium complies with the requirements issued in the safety guide. In addition, each football club is designated a Safety Officer to assist facility management with safety strategies on match day. Safety officers are responsible for the recruitment and training of all stewards (Stadia Safety and Security, 2005).

Overview of Legislation and Regulatory Administration
Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987 Football Act 1999
Safety at Sports Ground Act 1975 Football Disorder Act 2000
Football Disorder Act 1989 Football Disorder Bill 2001
Football Spectators Act 1989 Football Licensing Authority
Football Offenses Act 1991 Football Intelligence Unit

English Football Safety and Security Measures

Stadium Design

New design methods controlled stadium accessibility by restricting the size of grounds surrounding the stadium to provide limited space for loitering and less space to patrol for event management staff. This measure also limited vehicle access to the stadium as parking was limited to players, staff, and officials. Another important design element removed bleacher seating to all-seated stadiums; this in turn led to better control and organization of ticket sales for fan placement. Stadiums have homogeneous fan sections and empty buffer zones to segregate fans (Goss, Jubenville, & MacBeth, 2003). The British Association of Chief of Police Officers (ACPO) developed stadium design standards to set parameters for construction and design of the ground to reduce crowd management issues and the likelihood of a terrorist attack (Neild, 2007).

Technology

Command and control centers are located inside stadiums allowing police to monitor areas inside and outside the stadium. This control room possesses fire alarm and voice activation systems, turnstile monitoring capabilities, access to public address system, a door access control system for restricted areas, and a fully integrated Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system. Additionally, a mobile command center is also established at football sites. What is known as the “Hoolivan”, this vehicle is equipped with CCTV for surveillance operations and maintains radio contact with officers inside and outside the stadium. Technological security measures, such as CCTV, Photophone, and FaceTrac are used to identify fans, run database searches, and send images to security personnel on the ground (“Tackling Football Violence”, n.d.).

Risk Management

British football stadium authorities conducted extensive risk assessments to determine specific risks, threats and vulnerabilities of respective venues. Categories of risk include strategic risks, operational risks, and financial risks. Strategic risks include planning failures, operational risks include human and process errors, and financial risks include financial control failures as well as disruptions in the flow of resources (Cotton, Wilde, & Wolohan, 2000). Football authorities also conduct a match assessment by “grading” each event individually, taking into consideration relative intelligence for the event, historical intelligence of the event (i.e. city rivalries, derby’s), capacity of stadium, and expected attendance. This type of assessment allows stadium authorities and local police to adjust security plans accordingly, thereby pre-determining resources, costs, and level of management needed.

Hospitality

Football clubs have marketed themselves to corporate businesses for specialized hospitality experiences to generate additional revenue. The desire by middle-class citizens to emulate the leisure pursuits of the more affluent created a more upscale football customer, thereby limiting the desire and appropriateness for violence (Winter, 2002). Stadiums have also incorporated leisure and entertainment experiences through unique stadium dining options and shopping venues that creates an atmosphere that discourages hooliganism. Furthermore, alcohol consumption can be governed in hospitality suites and club seating areas. Restricting alcohol distribution and encouraging responsible consumption reduces the likelihood of public drunkenness and disorder (Johnson, 1998).

Best Practices

The U. K. National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) issued rules, regulations, and procedures for event security staff at British stadiums and arenas, including a risk management plan guideline. The NaCTSO also provided best practices in the following areas: access control, screening/searches, traffic and parking, CCTV, and managing event staff. Table 1 provides a summary of the best practices under each area (National Counterterrorism Security Office, 2006):

Table 1: National Counter Terrorism Security Office Best Practices

Access Control

  • Employees wear credentials at all times when entering the stadium.
  • Vehicles parked close to the stadium posses a parking pass and are inspected for suspicious materials.
  • Individuals seek permission to gain access to restricted areas of the stadium. These individuals may need an ID card to gain access.
  • Event staff receives awareness training in dealing with suspicious persons entering the stadium.

Screening / Searches

  • Individuals entering the stadium comply with regulations that would include bag checking. Fans are denied entry upon refusal to comply with regulations.
  • Event staff divides spectators into two groups for stadium entry: one with bags and other items, and those who do not. This allows for better traffic flow into the stadium.
  • Event staff normally works in teams of two and conduct fan entry searches together. Depending on the security threat, one staff member performs bag checks and the other can conduct pat downs.

Traffic and Parking

  • Vehicles are requested to park more than 100 feet away from the stadium.
  • If a vehicle needs to be parked close to stadium, permission is granted ahead of time from the head officials of the stadium and the driver is identified to the Stadium Safety Officer.
  • Vehicles parking close to the stadium are searched.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)

  • CCTV operators are certified.
  • Stadium entrances and exits are monitored, as well as other critical areas of the stadium.
  • Spectators and employees are monitored for suspicious behavior.
  • Monitor individuals standing in prohibited areas, taking pictures of the stadium without consent, drawing maps, or appearing in large groups outside the stadium during the event.

Managing Event Staff

  • Manager’s train and exercise event staff on emergency and evacuation procedures, including responding to bomb threats and identifying suspicious vehicles and persons.
  • Conduct background checks during staff recruitment: individuals are required to provide their name, date of birth, insurance (SSN) number, and proof that they are permitted to work in the country.
  • Staff members from outside the U.K. provide a passport and a Home Office document that permits them to work in the country.
  • Observe staff members exhibiting strange behavior.
  • Employees wear ID tags on them while working.
  • Contractors or agency staff wears credentials at all times.
  • Stadium Security Officers communicate with local police and the Counter Terrorism Security Advisor (CTSA) assigned to the respective stadium.

Lessons Learned: Application to the United States

Training

U.S. sport programs should consider training stadium ushers and event day staff in crowd control methods and spectator safety. Additionally, the sporting organization should conduct a continuous training and exercising program for event staff and evaluate staff members after each game to identify problems and address issues before the next event. Event staff members working stadium security should be certified and backgrounds checks conducted to prevent unwanted personnel gaining access to the venue. Furthermore, staff members should have permission to work within the United States.

Crowd Management

Sport programs experiencing illegal fan behavior or reoccurring crowd control issues may consider utilizing fan placement and ticketing strategies to divide opposing fans. Sport event managers may also utilize ticket taking and screening strategies by dividing fans into groups before they enter the stadium by establishing two entry lines – one group consisting of fans with tickets only, while the other group consists of fans with bags or other items that may need to be searched dependent upon the facility’s prohibited items policy. Management may also consider adopting Britain’s Football Officers Staff program, in which the sport leagues employ staff members to patrol not only the perimeter of the stadium, but also at any train, subway, and rapid transit stations, where fans meet to go to a game. Alcohol management is also critical. Alcohol consumption should be restricted to curb public disorder. Further, the sport organization may wish to ban any person who is arrested or ejected from a stadium and any person receiving a banning order could be prevented from attending games at home or away for a designated period of time, i.e. three years.

Security Management

Major sport stadia should have established a command and control center inside the stadium with surveillance capabilities, such as CCTV, and technological advanced tools, i.e. FacTrac. Management should designate a stadium security officer at each venue to coordinate security efforts and communicate with local police, fire, medical services, and emergency management. The stadium security officer should also collaborate with the noted agencies to conduct venue and event-specific risk assessments in order to determine threats and vulnerabilities. Conducting game/event assessments by “grading” each event individually will help take into consideration relative intelligence for the event, historical intelligence of the event, capacity of stadium, and expected attendance.

Best Practices/Standards/Legislation

Understandably, it would be very difficult to implement sport-specific safety and security legislation in the U.S. given the nature of the federal and state government systems; however sporting governing leagues should consider implementing safety and security standards and/or operational acceptance guidelines to ensure consistent safety and security practices across all venues. Furthermore, they can develop stadium design standards to set parameters for construction and design of the ground to reduce crowd management issues and the likelihood of a terrorist attack (similar to the Guide for Safety at Sports Grounds – Stadium Safety Certificate).

Conclusion

Due to major sporting disasters and loss of life, British sporting authorities and government implemented necessary safety and security standards and legislation to combat hooligan activities and terrorist threats. The U.S. sport industry should take a proactive approach to sport safety and security before a catastrophic incident occurs. Proven safety and security methods in the English Football League system have been highlighted for consideration. U.S. sport venue owners/operators should focus on mitigating risks and developing the most effective safety and security plans, policies, procedures, and protective measures.

References

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Stop the Presses!

Abstract

As professional athletes become increasingly frustrated with journalists, they are bypassing them with more than just statements of “no comment.” Instead, they are posting their own messages and updates on personal websites and Twitter accounts. And athletes are not the only entity demonstrating a decreased trust and reliance upon traditional journalism.

To begin with, technological advances have severely altered the manner in which information is communicated. The rapid growth of internet sites and other networking platforms is at the center of this change, offering immediate access to information for anyone who can type the word “google.” Further, blogging, texting, and tweeting have created a plethora of sources from which one can gain access to sports information. This has created major challenges for anyone working in the field of sports journalism.

Unfortunately, increased accessibility does not always lead to increased accountability. In fact, this enlarged market has led to decreased reliability as journalists feel augmented pressure to provide breaking news and headlines to gain public attention and revenue. Consequently, journalists are increasingly sensationalizing and dramatizing the personal lives of athletes in an effort to stay competitive.

As a result, this has caused a noticeable breakdown in the relationships between journalists and professional athletes; what was once a harmonious association is now caustic. As the trust between the two continues to dissipate, professional athletes are taking matters into their own hands, literally. They are tweeting and texting, updating their blogs and websites, all from the access of a phone in the palm of their hand. They are increasingly bypassing the need and desire to talk with journalists. As this battle rages on between journalists and professional athletes, technological advances will continue to aid the fight of the athletes.

Unfortunately, the express emergence of innovative, technological methods of communication have caused undocumented pressure to deliver a fresh, innovate story that will sell, which ultimately affects the sound principles of journalism – ethics, accuracy, and professionalism. As the presses start rolling to a halt, it is clear that any sports journalist refusing to follow the road of technological advances will ultimately fall behind the curve.

Introduction

This paper will examine the rapid evolution of traditional sports journalism. It will begin by suggesting a variety of driving forces fueling the shift from traditional journalism of pen and print, to click and internet. Then, it will discuss the implications this shift has upon the realm of sport; for it is not only journalists who are affected, but also professional athletes, sports organizations, and fans alike. As technological advances progress, and trusting, ethical relationships between journalists and athletes regress, there is danger that the presses may indeed come to a complete stop.

Definitions of Terms

Blog
a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.
ESPN
Entertainment and Sports Programming Network
Facebook
Website for people to create personal pages on which they can post pictures and all manner of personal information and communicate with others.
TMZ
“Thirty Mile Zone” A term which originated in the 1960s due to growth of ‘on location’ shoots in Hollywood. A “thirty mile zone” was established to monitor the regulations of these shoots. Now, the acronym is used as a celebrity news source compromised of paparazzi who will report every minute detail of celebrities’ personal lives.
Twitter
Twitter.com is a social networking and “micro-blogging” website which enables users to write short messages to each other.

Review of Literature

Traditional, old-fashioned sports journalism highlighted the events of a game and the individual performances of athletes. People eagerly awaited the delivery of the morning paper to read the game summary and analyze the box scores; however times have changed. Not only are people no longer waiting for the newspaper to be delivered to their front door step, they are not even purchasing the paper at all. “Following an average drop of 10.6% in the last 12 months, daily newspaper circulation has fallen to a pre-World War II low of an estimated 39.1 million; which means only 12.9% of the U.S. population buys a daily newspaper,” (Mutter, 2009). The main reason for the decline is due to technological advances that allow instant access to every score, highlight, and play-by-play via internet websites, postings, and blogs. Certainly, the dying reliance upon the newspaper and printed word is causing a major change in the field of sports journalism; and there are a number of forces causing the presses to come to a halt.

Increased Accessibility & Immediacy

The most influential impetus behind the change in the field of sports journalism is the evolution of technology. There is no doubt we are living in a society bombarded by an explosion of mass media, and a demand to access information at a faster pace. This is proven by the fact that as newspaper and magazine sales continue to decrease, there is an immense increase in internet sites. The internet has revolutionized the world of sports journalism by providing immediate access through blogs, instant messaging, tweeting, Facebook, and a plethora of other platforms. Ultimately, the factors of increased accessibility and immediacy have forced traditional newspaper journalists to conform to a new system, or lose their position.

Further, due to the increased access of sporting events via the internet, satellite, and other advances in technology, a mere review of sporting events and scores is no longer as important to audiences. As Greg Bowers, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism stated, “The old reason for buying the paper is gone. What journalists are trying to do is create a new reason for buying the paper,” (Brown, 2008). This shift in focus, caused by pressure to compete with the immediacy and accessibility of the internet has caused the traditional newspaper presses to stop rolling.

Increased Competition & Pressure

To begin with, the increased market of media outlets has significantly increased the level of competition among journalists. In order to stay competitive, journalists began reporting on a variety of aspects that were only loosely, if at all, connected to the professional sports game. They began intruding upon aspects such as the owner’s hiring decisions, manager’s coaching decisions, and most importantly the personal lives of professional players.

In addition, in an attempt to stay competitive, newspaper and magazine editors began placing increased pressure upon journalists. In order to compete with the internet culture of reporting, journalists are increasingly being encouraged to look for stories outside the lines and boundaries of which they were traditionally accustomed. As Michael Rand, sportswriter for the Minneapolis Star, stated, “The 24/7 nature of news, an evolutionary trait that’s ossified over the past 20 years, compels reporters to dig ceaselessly for novel information, rather than hone stories,” (Rowe, 2008). In addition, many sports editors are forcing journalists to operate in a different manner by requiring them to create blogs online in addition to their traditional reporting. Further, to show the importance of these blogs, the success of the journalists is often evaluated by the number of “hits” or responses the blog incites. Due to the fact journalists are evaluated by this measure, they feel increased pressure to report on controversial issues that will attract the greatest audience. As a result, the pressure upon sports journalist to be the first to report breaking news began to cause a trend of irresponsible journalism.

Irresponsible Journalism

The simplicity of the concept of sports journalism is that it should be focused on sport; on the athletic talents of professional athletes, not their personal lives. Unfortunately, the increased competition and economic pressures have led to decreased ethics in reporting, as journalists are forced to develop the most controversial stories that will sell. Too often these stories are laden with sensationalism and scandal, and have the potential to tarnish an athletes’ reputation. Further, with the inception of numerous sport specific television stations, radio shows, magazines, and internet sites, a personal situation involving a professional team or athlete can be spread across the nation in a matter of seconds. “What has changed is the omnipresence of the technological mass media. What used to be whispered or spread through word-of-mouth is now available instantaneously to millions of people,” (Silverman, 1999). Therefore, the affects of irresponsible reporting on the personal lives of professional athletes can be extremely damaging.

For example, one newspaper, The News & Observer, did more harm than good in its coverage of the Duke Lacrosse scandal. Instead of focusing on the facts of the case, the newspaper caused additional conflict and controversy as it indulged in speculative information. Worse, the newspaper then blamed the players involved for not being available for interviews so they could print the truth. “We were hampered early on by the unwillingness of the players, their families or other representatives to speak with our reporters,” (Ham, 2007). Further, they went on to admit, “some of our coverage played to stereotypes, and a couple opinion columns drew sweeping conclusions too quickly.” This irresponsible reporting has been more and more widespread, as journalists compete with each other for the best story to attract attention and make revenue. Unfortunately, this type of journalism results in more sensationalized, opinionated stories rather than fact-filled reporting.

Just the Facts

Another problem with the current trends of sports journalists is that instead of focusing on providing necessary information, they take provocative stances on issues, speculate details, and share more opinions than facts. One example is the case with NFL player Sean Taylor, who after being shot, journalists decided to focus on his negative past and rap sheet to fill time until more information was made available about the investigation of his death. Despite the claims of ESPN senior vice president and director, Vince Doria, who stated, “I don’t know how you could have ignored his past offenses, but the directive to shows was to take steps not to link that behavior to this incident,” (Schrieber, 2007). Apparently, no one received that memo. Instead, in the absence of facts, journalists filled the headlines with all of his past illegal behaviors, speculating the cause of his death. In the process, they tore apart the reputation of a dead man. One has to wonder how that reported negativity affected his family, and if the actions of journalists in this situation were truly responsible and ethical.

Societal Demands

Certainly, society is also to blame for the alteration of focus in the field of sports journalism. For, as a society, we yearn most for two types of media stories; those involving celebrities and those involving drama. Therefore, the arrests, club brawls, domestic violence, and extra-marital affairs by professional athletes are certain to peak our interest and draw our attention. As proof of the desire for this trend in journalism, it is these controversial stories that are given the most attention, never failing to make the front page headlines and nightly highlight reels. According to a study by Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity an Ethics in Sports, “What we’ve seen is about 100 athletes a year, on average, arrested for violence against a woman and 75 for some form of recreational drugs. So roughly three times a week, you pick up a paper or watch TV, see something like that, and it creates an impression in people’s minds that there’s a pattern,” (Litke, 2006). This creates a negative image of athletes in the minds of society, and a distrust of journalists in the minds of athletes.

Professional Athletes Fed Up With Sports Journalists

Due to the reasons discussed above, an increasingly contentious relationship is developing between sports journalists and professional athletes. The recent situation with Tiger Woods serves as a poignant example of the conflict, as journalists bombarded into his personal life. Since the Woods predicament began, journalists have been shouting for Tiger to come forward, talk to them, and present his side of the story. Woods, however, has chosen to take a different approach and remain hidden and quiet; a move that has seemingly infuriated the media. In fact, Woods shared more information with the public through his own methods than he did through journalists. While he told reporters he was unavailable and had no comment, he communicated through posts on his Web site. Despite his silence, journalists have fought hard to create stories and report on Woods’ transgressions, as evidenced by reports from the News Coverage Index that report 6% of the entire world news was dedicated to Tiger’s situation the week the story broke. Further, journalists continue to follow Woods’ personal life as he admitted himself to a sex addiction recovery program, certainly a private matter, and none of the public’s business, but that has not stopped the published stories, and the continued invasion into his private life.

As Tiger quietly made a statement that he refuses to play into the media game, society must understand that this all is just a game; a game driven more by profit than ethics. This is evidenced by the fact that photographs of Tiger with another woman were first discovered over a year ago, but the media made a deal that in exchange for not publicizing the pictures Woods would do a cover story for Men’s Fitness magazine, (Goldstein, 2009). Therefore, if it were simply about reporting what is right instead of making a profit, the Woods story would have been leaked long ago. It seems all but perhaps one journalist understands and agrees. Jason Whitlock, reporter for FoxSports.com, was one of the few journalists to admit the media was in the wrong. “It’s important for the public to know that the media act dishonestly all the time. We’re far more phony than Tiger Woods ever could be,” (Whitlock, 2009). He further admits, “This whole affair highlights why the mainstream media have lost the public’s trust. We don’t deserve it. We’re controlled by hidden agendas,” (Whitlock, 2009).

Effects of the New Game Plan

The two most detrimental effects of the changes occurring in the field of sports journalism are the decrease in accuracy of sports journalism, and the deterioration of the relationship between journalists and athletes.

Accuracy in Jeopardy

One result of “searching for a story that will sell,” is that journalists often report more opinion than fact. A recent survey confirms an “observed trend in the media around the world of almost a race to the bottom in terms of superficial content in sports coverage focusing on personalities, events and gossip rather than much if any serious content, and almost nothing on the political, economic and social aspects of sport,” (Davies, 2002).

An additional problem is the lack of concern by journalists when they report incorrect information. “In the olden days of newspapers, if you were wrong, you had to write a correction in the next day’s paper and go to the editor’s office and explain why and how you screwed up. That correction also showed up on your annual review. The only repercussions today is a lack of credibility,” (Davies, 2002). Ultimately, there are many concerns causing feelings of resentment and caution when it comes to the recent trends of mass media sport reporting. Even if journalists report erroneous information, the more sensationalized, the greater audience attracted. Therefore, journalists are rewarded for reporting quickly, regardless of the accuracy.

In addition, accuracy will continue to be compromised as journalists now have to compete with a whole new beast of independent bloggers. As almost anyone can post a blog, the lines have become blurred as to who is the reporter and who is the audience. Ultimately, the influx of bloggers impacts the accuracy and credibility of traditional, professional journalists. In fact, major problems with accuracy have already begun to appear, as evidenced by the erroneous, premature Twitter message that stated NFL player Chris Henry had died, when in fact he was still alive at the time. Compounding the problem is that “Gossip Web sites that don’t reveal their sources and tabloids better known for stories on extraterrestrial sightings have apparently become reliable sources of information,” stated Chris Zelkovich, writer for the Toronto Star. Further, as new sites begin to emerge, such as the innovative TMZ sports specific gossip blog, sports journalists will have to fight even harder to keep a sense of trust and accuracy in reporting. “This new TMZ publication could be an “industry game changer that could somewhat destabilize ESPN’s complete dominance over the field of the sports blogosphere,” (O’Keefe).

Declining Ethics

Another aspect that has been affected by the shifts in sports journalism is the level of ethics among sports journalists who report upon the personal lives of professional athletes. While sports journalists continue to report negative stories about professional athletes, they neglect to understand the affects of their reporting. As a result of their pursuit to be first to report a story, or gain publicity, journalists end up tarnishing the images of professional athletes forever.

Surely, it would be considered irresponsible reporting if a sports journalist did not disclose an athlete’s negative behaviors that directly affected his sports performance. For example, when an athlete has admitted to using steroids, or other performance-enhancing drugs, the action directly affects their professional skills or job. However, if it has nothing to do with their sports-performance, then is it ethical to report it to the rest of the world? For example, the adulterous behavior of Tiger Woods is mortifying to many, but it does not directly involve, nor affect, his performance as a professional athlete. Regardless that one would be hard-pressed to find someone to condone his behavior, it is still part of his personal life that is none of the public’s business. However, as a result of the media continually reporting every detail of his private situation, sponsors were forced to cease their endorsement deals with Woods. They could not afford the potential negative publicity associated with him. As a result, Tiger will lose an estimated $110 million a year in endorsements, (Park, 2009).

Therefore, in the end, the media intrusion not only cost him his privacy, it also caused him to lose his reputation, his endorsements, and subsequently millions of dollars. It is hard to easily accept this, as the other side of the coin is that sports media and journalists profited millions off of their reporting. This further proves that journalists are more interested in profit than ethics. Tiger Woods’ golf swing earned him a number one rank in the world for all but 32 weeks of the past decade; however, due largely in part to the over-involvement of journalists, ironically the swing his wife took with a nine iron served as the impetus for landing him in the largest sand-trap of his life.

Severed Relationships

One major affect of the increased personal reporting of journalists is a breakdown in what was originally a harmonious relationship with professional athletes. It was a simple process – professional athletes played games, journalists reported on games, and fans were informed. In fact, it has been a well-known fact that journalists have developed unique, personal relationships with professional athletes. So unique, an unspoken agreement has been conjured in which journalists usually agree to turn a blind eye to extra-marital affairs, gambling, or other unethical behaviors. As explained by Tom Jolly, The Times’ sports editor, “The general policy is that we try to limit what we report to whether it affects on-field play,” (Calderone, 2007). As long as the action had nothing to do with the performance of the athlete on the field, it was off the record. Unfortunately, as times have changed, so has the focus of journalists and their relationship with professional athletes. One of the first examples to illustrate the change was a situation that occurred with MLB player, Alex Rodriguez. In 2007, a newspaper published a picture of Rodriguez out on the town with a woman who was not his wife. “When I saw it and heard it, it was like ‘Wow!’ This was very, very different from my own experience in covering teams. It felt like the line had been moved,” stated Buster Olney, a former Yankees beat reporter for The Times, (Calderone, 2007). Some reporters suggested the Rodriguez story broke the mold because he was generally not well-liked by reporters. Others propose it had to do with the fact he was the highest-paid player in baseball, yet not living up to team or fan expectations. Regardless of the reason for publishing the story, the information had nothing to do with his athletic performance or ability. Sports journalists invaded his private life simply to make a profit, with no concern for how it affected him. As evidenced by a spokeswoman from the newspaper that printed the story, Suzanne Halpin, “It was the biggest story in town last week, and we’re proud to have broken it,” (Calderone, 2007). As journalists find ways to rationalize and defend reporting of this nature, it is clear the lines of ethics are beginning to be crossed and the relationships between journalists and athletes will ultimately sever.

While it seems it would be advantageous for sport journalists and professional athletes to work with and depend on each other, the level of mistrust between the two only seems to increase. “Sports journalists are in the proverbial know, and they dispense with incredible vigor their judgments against the personal character of players and coaches,” (Rowe, 2008). Due to the fact that many journalists are increasingly crossing the lines with their content and level of reporting as they dig for stories, many athletes fear being misrepresented. An invasion of personal lives, characterized by false accusations, sham allegations, and rampant sensationalism create skepticism by athletes. As a result, the relationship between journalists and athletes begins to deteriorate. As Sports Illustrated states, “The clubs and the media, as if stuck in a bad marriage, have grown apart,” while Kansas City Royals’ pitcher David Cone said, “We feel like targets; a lot of times the media is looking for a reason to get on you. Negativity sells.” As journalists incessantly and greedily search for controversial issues, players become increasingly frustrated and furious at the invasion of their personal lives. Ultimately, this is leading to athletes taking matters into their own hands through the use of social networking sites.

Summary and Conclusions

Increase of Social Networking Sites

Ultimately, as the credibility of journalists continues to decline, a new generation of sports coverage is developing. Certainly, one of the most influential changes in the field of sports journalism is the increase of social networking. Social networking sites such as blogs, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are surging among all spheres of the population, and emerging as a powerfully influential trend in sports. In fact, frustrated athletes are utilizing these high-tech platforms as their own, more controlled, means of communication in order to avoid the traditional sources of implausible media. In addition, as these technological advances afford professional athletes greater access to audiences than traditional news sources, they continue to complicate the process for journalists.

First and foremost, social networking sites allow athletes to share their thoughts and feelings first-hand without having to go through traditional methods such as journalists. Some recent examples of athletes using the non-traditional media are Denver Broncos player, Brandon Marshall, who refused to talk to the media, but instead posted a blog on his website informing fans that it was time he left Denver. Likewise, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling used his blog to announce his retirement. In addition, NBA player Shaquille O’Neal reported most of the surrounding news of his trade through Twitter instead of using a traditional journalist.

In fact, Twitter is perhaps one of the most popular sites among professional athletes. Twitter acts as a type of social media database, allowing people to share brief messages and information; and its popularity is evidenced by the 1,382 percent increased visits between the years of 2008 and 2009. Further, while the service does not release numbers on how many people have signed up for the service, the media estimates put the number at around 6 million, (Valade, 2009). These numbers make Twitter the fastest growing member community destination. This increase in the use of networking sites will undoubtedly continue to decrease the use and need of traditional journalism.

Additional examples of the use of Twitter can be found through a variety of athletes. Fed up with drug allegations, Lance Armstrong did not want to talk to the media anymore. Instead, he sent out real-time messages on Twitter, including a time-sensitive post that French anti-doping authorities had dropped charges against him for failing to follow testing protocols, released before journalists had a chance to report it. In addition, NBA player, Kevin Love, used Twitter to announce his coach had been released. He was the first one to make the announcement, before any other media source.
Further, professional athletes are even using Twitter to promote their own personal websites. This can attract and lead fans to their sites where they have increased control as to the manner in which information is presented. It also affords athletes a chance to reply or refute stories journalists may present. In addition, professional athletes are increasingly able to expose themselves in a positive manner, attract fans, and gain publicity, which can lead to increased popularity and lucrative contract deals, something for which they used to rely upon traditional journalists. Ultimately, publicity sells, and professional athletes are making smart business moves with these new social networking platforms.

Even the professional leagues are using these new social networking sources. The NFL used Twitter to announce draft selections; the NHL used Twitter to reach over 234,000 people on opening night of the playoffs; and the NBA team, the Portland Trailblazers, credit Twitter to drawing more than 10,000 fans to a playoff rally, (Whiteside, 2009). In fact, most professional sports teams now have their own Twitter accounts which they use to promote ticket giveaways and other marketing campaigns. Even college programs are beginning to utilize Twitter as a major form of communication. “Social media presents a range of new opportunities and a complete increase in control of coverage for universities and professional sports teams,” (O’Keefe, 2009). This will ultimately affect the manner in which traditional journalists are used to report both professional and college athletics. As these organizations engage in their own forms of promoting themselves through social media, they can even gain increased revenue by selling ads on their own sites. Ultimately, this furthers that amount of competition journalists have to face, and pushes them farther into being obsolete.
Certainly, one of the main concerns among traditional media sources is that as the popularity of these social networking sites increase, the need for traditional media sources may decrease. “Celebrities are using social media and bypassing media gatekeepers,” (McCracken, 2009). This is especially true as the audience of Twitter has been proven to consist of a majority of adults. “Use of social networking by people aged 35 to 54 grew 60 percent in the last year,” (Miller, 2009). While traditional newspapers may not be hit as hard when teenagers, who never bought their newspaper, use these forms of technology, they do feel the impact when adults start blogging and tweeting instead of flipping the pages of a newspaper.

Conclusion

The profession of traditional sports journalism is on the brink of extinction. In fact, Fox Sports analyst, Jason Whitlock, recently made the claim that “ESPN killed sports journalism.” He believes the corporation was responsible for overpaying and showering the most talented sports writers with fame to the point in which they became more concerned about appearance than content, (Whitlock, 2009). Indeed, his analysis of the death of sports journalism is abundantly supported. Increased accessibility, competition, and pressure are at the core of the collapse of traditional sports journalism. In addition, irresponsible journalism, societal demands, and the increasing frustration of professional athletes have helped fuel the negative image of journalists. As a result, there has been a decline in ethics and professionalism, which has ultimately led to severed relationships with professional athletes and sporting organizations.

In addition to the driving forces mentioned above, technological advances continue to impact the field of sports journalism. The almost incalculable increase in the use of social networking sites allows anyone and everyone to post information, which is accessible 24/7. This saturated market impels an immense level of competition among journalists, forcing them to conform or become a nonentity. “The traditional game story died years ago. Offering depth and analysis and telling the behind-the-scenes stories is where sports journalism has gone. Whether it’s the right direction has yet to be determined,” (Brown, 2008). There is no doubt the business of sports journalism has been altered, and unless traditional journalists and newspaper organizations conform to the changes, the presses will undoubtedly roll slower and slower until they come to a complete stop.

References

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A Choke-Up Grip Facilitates Faster Swing and Stride Times Without Compromising Bat Velocity and Bat Control

Abstract

This study investigated the relationship among hitting components and bat control during the normal and choke-up grip swings. Fourteen intercollegiate and professional baseball players were randomly assigned into five hitting groups. Within each group, the following four hitting components were computed to determine the relationship between bat control in two grip conditions (normal; choke-up): (1) Swing time (bat quickness), (2) stride time, (3) bat velocity, and (4) bat-ball contact accuracy. Results indicated significant differences (p =0.01) between choke-up and normal grips in swing time, stride time, and bat velocity. Players using the choke-up grip swing had significant less swing time and stride time than the normal grip swing. Results also indicated significant greater bat velocities (p = 0.01) with normal grip swings than the choke-up grip swings. In addition, further results indicated no significant differences (p = .90) between choke-up and normal grips in bat-ball accuracy. These findings suggest that the choke-up grip facilitates faster swing time and stride time without compromising bat velocity or contact accuracy.

Key words: bat control, bat quickness, stride time, accuracy.

Introduction

Historically, since major league baseball established its modern day roots in the early 1900’s, the best hitters in the game have studied hitting mechanics to improve their performances (Cobb, 1961; DeRenne, 2007; Gwynn, 1998; Lau, Glossbbrenner, & LaRussa; 1980; Williams, 1970). Though the early day great hall of fame hitters didn’t have the advantages of present day high-technology and research-generated information, the majority of those hitters and those of present day agree that by studying and applying swing kinematics will create greater bat control during competition (Alston & Weiskopf, 1972; Cobb, 1961; DeRenne, 2007; Gwynn, 1998; Williams, 1970). From the one of games early great hitters TyCobb (1961), to modern era hall of famer hitter Ted Williams (1970), to eight time major league batting champion and hall of fame hitter Tony Gwynn (1998) and finally to major league home run king great Barry Bonds, these great hitters share in the belief that increasing bat control is essential for successful hitting (Cobb, 1961; Gwynn, 1998; Williams, 1970).

As intercollegiate baseball evolved in the 29th Century mainly from major league influences, hall of fame intercollegiate head coaches such as Rod Dedeaux (Division I Coach of the 20th Century), John Scolinos (Division II Coach of the 21st Century), Skip Berkman (Division I NCAA Coach of the 1990 Decade), Ron Polk (1978), Jerry Kindall (2000) and Tony Gwynn (1998); and intercollegiate hitting coaches Dr. Coop DeRenne, (2007), All-American Jerry Kindall (2000), and Tony Gwynn (1998) also recognize the importance of increasing bat control in various offensive situations (e.g., two-strikes on the hitter, hit-and-run play, hit to opposite field) (Delmonico, 1996). Yet, ask any of these great managers or hitters to define bat control, and there would no common answer. Furthmore, when these highly successful intercollegiate hitters and coaches discuss the topic of bat control, the majority agrees that choking up on the bat will increase bat control (Berkow & Kaplan, 1992; Delmonico, 1996; DeRenne, 2007; Gwynn, 1998; Kindall & Winkin, 2000; Polk, 1978; Stallings, J. & Bennett, B. [Eds.], 2003). If in the opinion of these intercollegiate coaches that choking up on the bat is a hitting technique used specifically in various game offensive hitting situations to increase bat control, then it is important for all collegiate hitters, coaches, and hitting coaches to understand what is bat control and how is it improved.

Anecdotal opinions from intercollegiate head coaches and hitting coaches, suggest that increased bat control is a result of choking up on the bat that may or may not aid in increasing bat speed, or bat swing time (“bat quickness “) (Delmonico, 1996; DeRenne, 2007; Gwynn, 1998; Kindall & Winkin, 2000; Polk, 1978; Stallings, J. & Bennett, B. [Eds.], 2003). In addition, intercollegiate hitters believe that as the bat travels through the swing’s range of motion with a choke-up grip, the bat feels lighter and more controllable (a potential psychological factor beyond the scope of this study) (Adair, 1990; Bahill & Karnavas, 1989; Delmonico, 1996; DeRenne, 2007; Gwynn, 1998; Kindall & Winkin, 2000) as compared to the normal grip swing with hands held down at the end of the bat.

Limited hitting research studies has been conducted over the past twenty-five years to determine bat control and associated factors (DeRenne, & Blitzbau, 1990; Escamilla, Fleisig, DeRenne, Taylor, Moorman, Imamura, 2009; Fleisig, Zheng, Stodden, & Andrews, 2002; McIntyre, & Pfautsh, 1982; Messier, & Owen, 1985; Messier, & Owen, 1986; Szymanski, D.J., DeRenne. C., & Spaniol, F.J., 2009). Based on limited research on bat control, the primary purposes of this study were to explore the relationship among hitting components (stride time, swing time, bat quickness, bat velocity, and bat-ball accuracy), and bat control during the normal and choke-up grip swings.

Method

Participants

Fourteen adult baseball players (eight college and six professional players one year removed from college) volunteered to participate and were informed of all risks, hazards and benefits for this study. All participants provided written informed consent as approved by the university’s Office of Research Service’s Committee on Human Studies and the federally mandated Institutional Review Board. All participants were required (1) to be injury-free, (2) have a career batting average of least .300, (3) have choke-up grip hitting experiences at the youth, high school and collegiate levels, (4) and possess good hitting mechanics as determined by the players’ respective hitting coaches (DeRenne, 2007; Race, 1961; Welch, Banks, Cook, & Draovitch, 1995). The subjects had an average age, weight, and height of 22.2±2.3 y, 84.8±6.6 kg, and 180.6±3.7 cm, respectively. The college and professional participants were statistically equivalent to each other with respect to age, body mass, body height, bat characteristics, and temporal and kinematic parameters (Escamilla et al., 2009).

Apparatus

Radar gun

Pitched baseballs were assessed during the batting practice session by an electromagnetic radiation radar (CMI Model JF 100) with a transmission frequency of 10.525 GHz + 25 MHz (DeRenne, Ho, Blitzblau, 1990). Pitched ball velocities were recorded as the ball left the pitching machine. This radar gun has been reported to be a valid and reliable instrument to determine ball exit velocities and is accurate within ± 0.22 m/s (DeRenne et al., 1990).).

High-speed cameras

Two synchronized gen-locked 120 Hz video cameras (Peak Performance Technologies, Inc., Englewood, CO) were optimally positioned to view the hitter. To minimize the effects of digitizing error, the cameras were positioned so that the hitter was as large as possible within the viewing area of the cameras.

Computerized motion analysis system

A 3-D video system (Peak Performance Technologies, Inc., Englewood, CO) was used to manually digitize data for all subjects. A spatial model was created, comprised of the top of the head, centers of the left and right mid-toes (at approximately the head of the third metatarsal), joint centers of the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows, mid-point of hands (at approximately the head of the third metacarpal), and proximal and distal end of bat. All points were seen in each camera view. Each of these points was digitized in every video field.

Total body swing kinematics was calculated representing 59 measurements. The three most important swing kinematics that represented the total swing effects to be analyzed for swing grip differences were as follows: stride time, swing time (bat quickness), and estimated linear bat velocity at bat-ball contact.

The swing definition

The swing was defined by four events and three phases. The first event was “lead foot off ground”, which represented the beginning of the stride phase and was defined as the first frame in which the lead foot was no longer in contact with the ground. The next event was “lead foot contact with ground”, which represented the end of the stride phase and was defined as the first frame when the lead foot made contact with the ground. “Lead foot off ground” to “lead foot contact with ground” represented the time duration of the stride phase of the swing. The third event was “hands started to move forward”, which was defined as the first frame that both hands started to move forward towards the pitcher in the positive X direction. “Lead foot contact with ground” to “hands started to move forward” represented the time duration of the transition phase of the swing (transition between the stride phase and acceleration phase). The last event was “bat-ball contact”, which was defined as the first frame immediately before bat-ball contact. “Hands started to move forward to bat-ball contact” represented the time duration of the acceleration phase of the swing. Therefore, the “swing” was defined as from “lead foot off ground” to “bat-ball contact”, and consisted of stride, transition, and acceleration phases.

Procedures

Familiarization session

During the initial familiarization session, all players were given a preliminary choke-up questionnaire to provide background evidence of choking up on the bat during their respective youth, high school and collegiate careers. In order to participate in the choke-up hitting study, all players must have had answered the first three questions with a YES, indicating a substantial history of choking-up during their baseball careers. On question four, the players were asked to list the two top reasons why they decided to choke-up on the bat in competitive games. Bat control was listed by all 14 players (100%) as the number one reason for choking up in the games. The second highest reason was a tie: 50% indicated bat-ball contact accuracy was their second choice; and 50% indicated increased bat speed and bat quickness.

In addition, all players received batting practice instructions. At no time did the investigators reveal the purpose of the study to the players. They were told only that the study was a biomechanical hitting study to determine the mechanical commonalities of the 14 adult swing mechanics.

Batting practice sessions

Bats were self-selected, and average bat weight was 8.5±0.3 N (30.6±1.1 oz) and average bat length was 84.8±1.3 cm (33.4±0.5 inch). The same bat was used for both grip swings. The players were randomly assigned into five hitting groups (4-groups of n =3; 1-group of n=2). Each group was randomized as to the order of group hitting and which bat grip to use. During warm-up, each player had two to-three rounds of hitting with each grip swing to become familiar with the speed and locations of the pitched balls, and the timing of the pitches from the pitching machine. Once the warm-up session was completed, the batting practice sessions commenced.

The first batting session was to determine the kinematic and temporal effects of the normal grip and choke -up grip swings. Each hitter rotated within his respective group until he completed 10 hard, full effort swings with a normal grip (hands as far down as possible on the bat); and 10 hard, full effort swings with a choke-up grip (hands 6.35 cm above the normal grip) as a pitching machine “pitched” baseballs to them. In each group, half the group were randomly assigned to hit with a normal grip first and the other half a choke-up grip first, to eliminate a potential timing confounder. The first three normal grip swings and three choke-up swings that met the following pitch and swing criteria were digitized for each hitter.

Pitches and swings were standardized according to the following criteria: 1) all pitches were between 32.6-33.5 m/s (73-75 mi/h); 2) the pitch had to be a strike on the inner half of the plate from waist to chest high on the hitter; and 3) all swings digitized and used as trials had to be a line drive hit to left-center outfield that carried in flight beyond a 68.6 m (225 feet) marker positioned in left-center field. From pilot data, hitting kinematic and temporal parameters from multiple swings by a hitter that met the above pitch and swing criteria were found to be remarkably similar between swings, typically varying less than 5-10% for each kinematic or temporal parameter.

The second batting practice session was conducted 48-hours after the first batting practice session in order to control fatigue. The purpose of this second batting practice session was to determine bat-ball contact accuracy performances of each player as the hitters executed normal and choke-up grip swings during a live practice simulated game. Along with the first batting practice session, this accuracy batting practice session represented a bat control measure. Specifically, each hitter was instructed to swing at ten acceptable strikes over the entire plate, (inside, down the middle and outside part of the plate; from knee to chest high) with each swing grip as to execute successful hits. Two rounds of five swings were performed by each hitter to control fatigue. A successful hit was defined as “putting the ball in play” with at least a normal or routine (1) groundball, (2) fly ball or (3) line drive. Unacceptable hits were as follows: (1) A swing and miss, (2) foul ball, (3) a weak pop-up, and (4) a weak groundball. As each hitter attempted to “put the ball in play”, they were instructed to swing accordingly with a “full” count of two strikes and three balls as live base runners were moving. In addition, if the pitch was a ball, they were instructed to take the pitch and swing only at acceptable strikes. Only swinging strikes counted against acceptable pitch strikes until each player accumulated ten acceptable swings from each grip. Again, the accuracy goal for each swing was to successfully put the ball in play. The four-man investigative team determined the following: (1) the first investigator determined if the pitch was acceptable within the 73-75 mph range and if the pitch was a strike or ball; and (2) the remaining three investigators determined the degree of accuracy and degree of hardness (e.g., no hit, weak hit, routine hit, hard hit) of each swing. The mean accuracy average of the three investigators was determined for each player’s swing. The mean average was then converted into percentages, which were described as either a YES, successful; or a NO, unsuccessful swing/hit. Therefore, the resultant percentage describes the percentage out of ten swings that each player put the ball in play (see Table 1).

Table 1. Paired Sample T Test for Hitting Parameters in the Normal and Choke-up conditions (n = 14).

Normal Grip Choke-up Grip p value
*Stride Phase
(Time from Lead Foot Off Ground to
Lead Foot Contact with Ground) (s) (% of Swing)
0.375±0.075
64.0±10.5
0.336±0.072
62.8±10.2
p = .01
*Swing
(Time from Lead Foot Off Ground to
Bat-Ball contact) (m/s)
0.586±0.078* 0.535±0.083* p = .01
Bat (distal end) Linear Velocity at
Bat-Ball Contact (m/s)
31±4 28±5 p =.01
Contact Accuracy Acceptable Hits Out Of
Ten Pitched Strikes (%)
.63±.15 .64±.18 p = .90

Statistical Analysis

All data analyses were performed using SPSS, version 14.0 (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, 2005). Kinematic and temporal data were averaged for the three normal swings and for the three choke-up swings and used in statistical analyses (Escamilla et al., 2009). Dependent (paired) t-tests were employed to test for differences in kinematic and temporal parameters and bat-ball accuracy between the normal grip and choke-up grip swings. In order to minimize the probability of making a type I error without increases the probability of making a type II error, the level of significance used was set at p < 0.01, resulting in an experiment-wise error of 0.31.

Results

Temporal stride and swing parameters are shown in Table 1. The results of the dependent (paired) sample T-tests revealed no significant differences in bat-ball contact accuracy t(- .12) between the normal and choke-up conditions. Significant differences were found between stride time t(2.88) with the mean choke-up grip swing .039 seconds (10%) faster than the normal grip swing. Similar significant differences where found between swing time t(2.56) with the mean choke-up grip swing .051 (9%) seconds faster to the bat-ball contact. In addition, similar significant differences where found between bat velocity t(.289) with mean normal grip swing 3.0 m/s (10%) faster than the choke-up grip swing.

Discussion

This study investigated the relationship among hitting components and bat control during the normal and choke-up grip swings. We found the choke-up grip facilitates faster swing and stride times without compromising bat velocity and bat control.

Swing time (bat quickness) and stride time

Two important findings in the present study were the significant reduced swing time (increased bat quickness) and stride phase time when using a choke-up grip swing.  These results support the belief of many intercollegiate hitting coaches and players (Delmonico, 1996; DeRenne, 2007; Gwynn, 1998; Kindall & Winkin, 2000; Polk, 1978; Stallings, J. & Bennett, B. [Eds.], 2003) that using a choke-up grip results in a “quicker” bat during the swing (DeRenne & Blitzbau, 1990). When choking up, the hitters adjusted their swing mechanics for more bat control resulting in less stride time and increased bat quickness while not sacrificing a significant loss in bat velocity. In addition, the choke-up hitter may have better control the bat due to the smaller moment of inertia of the bat about the hands that choking up on the bat creates (Adair, 1990; Bahill & Karnavas, 1989; Fleisig et al., 2002).

Based on the results, the choke-up grip bat controlled swing may give hitters 0.039 seconds or 10% more time to decide whether or not to swing at a pitch. This may help the hitters to see the ball longer, due to the trunk being in a more open position and a smaller moment of inertia of the bat allow the choke-up hitter to have more time to “wait on the pitch”. Furthermore, the decrease in stride phase time using a choke-up grip may result in less total body movement for greater balance and possibly improved visual clarity (DeRenne, 2007), while maintaining the same stride length compared to the normal grip.

Linear bat velocity

Choking up on the bat for more bat control allowed the hitters to reduce the moment of inertia of the bat about the hands (Adair, 1990; Bahill & Karnavas, 1989).  That is, more of the bat mass was closer to the hands, so the summation of mass times distance squared (Σ (m·r2)) was reduced. Similarly, in golf, to increase club control and maximize the accuracy of pitching and chipping shots, professional golfers choke-down the grip-handle toward the shaft to produce a lower grip on the club and a slower/shorter backswing (Hume, Keogh, & Reid, 2005). In addition in assessing putting kinematics of low-handicap golfers versus high-handicap players, Paradisis and Rees (2002) reported that low-handicap players positioned their leading hand ~8cm further down the shaft of the club than the high-handicap players. In the present study, while the smaller moment of inertia in the choke-up group may lead to faster movements and to a diminished force production in accordance with the force-velocity relationship for muscle. This may be an important factor in helping to explain why linear bat velocity at bat-ball contact was less using a more controlled choke-up grip swing compared to a normal grip swing. It also may be that while choking up, the bat is “shorter”, thus, the distal endpoint of the bat is closer to the axis of rotation and traveling slower compared to the a normal grip swing. Therefore, the slower bat linear velocity at bat-ball contact when using the choke-up grip compared to the normal grip could be related to either or both of these factors.

Tennis racquet control

Similar in tennis, (Chow, Carlton, Lim, Chae, Shim, Kuenster, and Kokubun, 2003) compared the pre-and post-ball and racquet kinematics of professional adult men and women (n=8) tennis players’ first and second serves. The results indicated a 24.1% decrease in post-impact ball speed from the first to the second serve. This finding was expected since the second serve is considered to be more accurate than the first serve because players are successful on a higher percentage of the second serves (Chow et al., 2003). More importantly, the second finding revealed that there were no significant differences between the pre-impact racquet head speeds of the first and the second serves. On the typical second serve, most elite players will use a sidespin “slice” serve increasing racquet control as a trade-off between ball speed and accuracy (Chow et al., 2003). In others words, it might have been expected that elite tennis players would have slowed down their racquet speed on the second slice serve to ensure greater accuracy. This did not happen. Therefore, there was a speed-accuracy trade-off between ball speed and accuracy, but not racquet movement speed and accuracy. Elite tennis players do not slow down their racquet swing when transferring from the first serve to the second serve. The authors also found no differences between racquet speed and accuracy as typically observed in motor tasks (Fitts, 1954).

In the current study, the choked-up bat velocities declined by a significant 10%; yet, the players’ swing times decreased by a significant 9%, which produced a quicker bat. Hence, as elite baseball hitters and tennis pros seek greater bat control when the hitters choke up and tennis pros serve the second serve, interestingly, both hitters and tennis pros swing just as hard and fast as with their normal swing respectively, with no trade-off between bat and racquet speeds and accuracy.

Furthermore, the current study is similar to the results of the pilot baseball swing study comparing the kinematic and temporal parameters of normal and choke-up grips swings reported by DeRenne & Blitzbau (1990). The result reported by DeRenne & Blitzbau (1990) of greater linear bat velocity at bat-ball contact using the normal grip may appear surprising to many collegiate head coaches and hitting coaches. Most collegiate coaches believe that a “quicker” and controlled swing using the choke-up grip equates to greater bat speed (Delmonico, 1996; DeRenne, 2007; Gwynn, 1998; Kindall & Winkin, 2000; Polk, 1978; Stallings, J. & Bennett, B. [Eds.], 2003). Although linear bat velocity was significantly less in the choke-up grip swing compared to the normal grip swing, and although the mass of the bat is the same between normal and choke-up grips, there are data that imply that choking up on a bat may affect the “effective mass” of the bat, resulting in less momentum (mass x velocity) with the choke-up grip (Fleisig et al., 2002). Therefore, using a choke-up grip for more bat control may result in decreased ball flight distance after bat-ball impact, which should be the focus of subsequent hitting studies.

Major league hall of fame hitters, hitting coaches, and managers (Alston & Weiskopf, 1972; Cobb, 1961; Lau, et al., 1998; Williams, 1970), and intercollegiate head coaches and hitting coaches believed that more bat control would produce greater bat-ball accuracy ((Delmonico, 1996; DeRenne, 2007; Gwynn, 1998; Kindall & Winkin, 2000; Polk, 1978; Stallings, J. & Bennett, B. [Eds.], 2003). ). This belief was supported in theory by Bahill’s and Karnavas’s (1989) baseball bat weights study. These investigators suggest that as hitters choke-up on the bat they will make the bat effectively shorter, move the center of mass closer to the hands thereby reducing the moment of inertia, in essence making the bat act like a lighter bat with greater accuracy. In contrast, the results of this study indicated that choking up on the bat did not increase bat-ball contact accuracy. Yet in essence, the hitters were as accurate choking up as with their normal grip swing.

In summary and most importantly, the results of this study suggest that choking up for greater bat control may increase the hitter’s confidence and execution knowing that is able to wait longer for the incoming pitch because he is quicker to the ball, and he is as accurate as his normal grip swing.

Conclusions

In conclusion, although time was not significantly different in the acceleration phase between normal and choke-up grips, the total time of the swing (from stride initiation to bat-ball contact) was significantly less with the choke-up grip, which supports the belief of many coaches and players that using a bat controlled choke-up grip results in a “quicker” overall swing. This “quicker bat” implies that with the bat controlled choke-up grip, a hitter can wait longer in order to determine how to handle the incoming pitch. In addition, because linear bat velocity was significantly less in the choke-up grip compared to the normal grip, there may be less momentum with the choke-up grip because of the differences in mass distribution of the bat with choking up, which may result in decreased ball flight distance after impact. A decreased flight distance (power) may not be so negative, since the hitter’s main goal is more solid contact accuracies.

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Investigation of Recruiting Criteria of Leading NCAA Division I Softball Coaches

Abstract

Purpose of this investigation was to determine the recruitment criteria of the 50 winningest active coaches in NCAA I collegiate softball. Twenty-seven of the NCAA Division I head coaches completed a survey designed to assess their recruiting evaluation standards and measures. The survey 15 items based on the evaluation of a recruit including statistics, use of recruiting tools, measuring intangibles and tangibles, the preference of a multi-sport high school athlete or a multi-position player, when to begin recruiting, most desired positions recruited, and the important elements of a successful recruiting athletic program. Based on the analyses of the survey date, most of the coaches use similar criteria. Results indicated similar explanations and findings in current talent identification, recruiting techniques, and applications.

There are 400,000 student-athletes enrolled in 1300 universities playing 23 sports under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA, 2009). According to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), of the 1300 universities, approximately 1100 sponsor softball programs, and of those 1100 schools, 262 are Division I schools (NFCA, 2009).

Coaches must act as athletic recruiters, who scout and enlist new members to play on their team. Recruiting in collegiate athletics is a dominating factor in facilitating success of an athletic team, program and university. “Recruiting drives team performance, but recruiting is also affected by prior team performance” (Langelett, 2003). Championship athletic seasons bolster enrollment, funding, donations, reputation, pride, exposure and advertising in universities (Humphreys & Mondello, 2007, Letawsky, Schneider, Pedersen, & Palmer, 2003, Smart & Wolfe, 2000).

Recruiting Criteria

At elite sport levels, the most skilled players are often the most athletically talented and possess the strongest work ethic (Smith, 2003). Ten NCAA Division I coaches from male and female sports other than softball listed the following as essential elements of success: a positive attitude, motivation, competitiveness, coachability, and willingness to improve athletic skills (Giacobbi, Roper, Whitney, & Butryn, 2002). “Multidimensional and dynamic talent identification and development models need to reflect both performance dispositions and the capacity of an individual to develop” (Abbott & Collins, 2004, p. 401). Athletes who are driven and open to learning are more likely to make significant improvements. Important athletic determinants of developmental capacity are motivation and appropriate learning strategies (Abbott & Collins, 2004, p. 401).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study was to identify the criteria used by the elite coaches of NCAA Division I softball programs. The recruitment of athletes is vital to the success of a sport program. Identifying recruiting criteria used by many of the elite coaches may be important information to both collegiate coaches and athletes interested in being recruited by a Division I program. By systematically examining the criteria of a successful program for recruiting athletes, a recruiting foundation may be established to build a successful collegiate softball program.

Method

Participants

All participants in the study were volunteers selected from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA, 2009). The top 50 winningest (by percentage) active Division I softball head coaches’ in the nation were asked to participate. Of the 50 coaches, 27 (54%) returned the completed recruiting survey. The range of college coaching experience was 6 to 29 years (M = 17.6) and 59% of participants were female.

Survey Instrument

A 15-item recruiting survey was developed. The survey was based on the researcher’s review of 22 NCAA Division I university recruiting player questionnaires located online through collegiate softball web pages. Each survey item was based on the evaluation of a recruit including defensive and offensive statistics, the use of recruiting instrument such as a skills video or webpage, measuring intangibles (i.e. hustle, coachable, teamwork) and tangibles (i.e. speed, quickness, power, throwing), the preference over a multi-sport high school athlete or a multi-position player, when to begin recruiting, what are the most desired positions recruited, and what are the important elements of a successful recruiting athletic program. Survey items included two questions rating criteria importance by percentage or rank and 13 open ended questions. Throughout this study, confidentially and anonymity of all participants was protected.

Procedure

Each of the top 50 winningest active coaches’ of NCAA Division I softball were sent both by email and the United States Postal Service (USPS) a packet of the following material (a) cover letter with an explanation and purpose of the study, (b) recruiting survey, and (c) a self-addressed stamped envelope. Once the surveys were completed, coaches were asked to seal their responses in the self-addressed stamped envelope provided and return the envelope to the researcher. Participants also had the option to return the survey as an attachment via email.

The data from each survey item were combined and grouped based on emergence of themes and repetition. Participants were allowed to respond with more than one response to each open question; for this reason, results tallied may exceed 100%. Survey responses were analyzed for similarities and differences with top responses compiled based on the data variance for each question.

Results

Coaches’ rank of importance in recruit characteristics placed “athletic” as most important with 37% of coaches’ responses (see Figure 1). Second ranked criteria of importance with 31%, was the Other option. This option was a write-in submission by coaches and included the following varied characteristics; “character, athleticism, and mental toughness.” Third ranked criteria of importance were the recruit’s attitude with 19%.


Figure 1. Recruit Characteristics Rank of Importance (N = 27)

What top three intangible characteristics describe a top recruit? To the coaches responding, being a team player and possessing a strong work ethic were the top two responses for 33% of the coaches. Other responses included “character and values, athleticism and talent” with 15%, “hustle, hardworking, mental toughness, drive, determination and desire” with 11%, “loyalty, commitment game sense, confidence and leadership” with 7%, and “first impression, how well pay attention, heart, intelligence, ability to adjust, ability to invest or believe in something, (vulnerability) effort and academics” with 4% of the responses.

What top three tangible characteristics define a top recruit? The top three responses (505) were “power and strength, basic skills or athleticism, and speed”. Other top tangible characteristics of recruits included “bat speed, hand-eye coordination, skills, program need based athlete” with 7%, “size, the five tools of our game, mechanics, left-handed, hard work, attitude, range, reaction time, database (level of competition played), throwing, coachable, defensive, and running ability” with 4%.

What top three statistics best define a top non-pitching recruit? On-base percentage, (OB%), runs batted in (RBI), and batting average (BA), were the top three definable statistics (Figure 2). Other responses included “walk to strike ratio (BB:K), extra base hits”, and the response of “we don’t recruit based on stats” by 11% of coaches, “homeruns (HR), batting average with runners in scoring position (BA w/RISP), number of strikes (K), power stats, stolen bases, and hitting” with 7%.


Figure 2. Top Statistics of a Non-Pitching Recruit (N = 27)

What top three statistics best define a top pitching recruit? The highest response (70%) was, “earned run average (ERA)”, followed by “walk to strike ratio (BB: K)” and “number of strikes (K)”.

Do you prefer to recruit multi-sport athletes? Top response was Yes with 74%. The reason provided was that multi-sport athletes were “more athletic, they can think, are challenged on several levels, balanced, well rounded, don’t burnout, improve more once focus on softball, are versatile, all around athletes and they possess carryover skill and better court [field] sense or awareness.”

Which sources provide recruit statistics most reviewed and reliable? The most reliable and reviewed statistics came from travel ball and travel ball playoffs, both with 52% of the coaches’ responses. In second, the above average statistic source was travel ball, with 40% of coaches’ responses. Statistics from high school playoffs were considered moderately reliable and less often reviewed.

Do you pursue multi-position players? Eighty-five percent responded “Yes.” The following explanations on why were provided by the coaches: “the addition of depth, versatility (invaluable), flexibility; many infielders become outfielders.” “They are multi-skilled and more likely to find a way to contribute to the team.” Other responses noted on multi-sport players also help with “high admission standards so coaches need versatility since they only get 12 scholarships, get more for the money.”

What is the importance of a recruit’s skill video/DVD as a recruiting tool? The top two responses were between its value in “eliminating or sparking interest in a recruit” and the “necessity to see a player live.” Other coaches’ responses included referring to the recruit skill video as a “point of reference, starting point only”.

What are the top three variables most reviewed when watching a recruit in a live practice or game? Athletic ability, attitude, and hustle were the top three variables provided by the coaches surveyed. Other responses included hitting, with 15% and speed, clutch performance under pressure, passion, intensity, and aggressive style with 11% of the responses.


Figure 3. Most Desired Positions Recruited (N = 27)

What are the top three most desired positions to recruit and why? Pitchers were indicated by 81% of coaches’ (Figure 3). Shortstops and catchers were second with 48%. Some of the written responses were “pitchers are the most important aspect of our fame”, “keeps team in the game”, “there is necessity of one to be successful”, “the game starts in the circle”, “they are the cornerstone of a team”, “without great pitching a team will not go anywhere.”

Related to shortstops some of the quotes were “can be placed anywhere on the field”, “are often the best athletes”; and catchers “are leaders of the team and necessary to help the pitcher.”

Do they administer any other form of recruitment evaluation other than the standard information sheet? What is it, and how does it impact their general recruit assessment? Almost all the coaches (93%) stated they did not use other assessment instruments.

Have they used and/or recommended recruiting web pages. Most stated that they did not use or recommend the use of recruiting web pages (85%). The major reasons why they did not use or recommend these services included “most webpage services are not very effective for level of athlete we are trying to recruit”, “companies are usually not credible services”, “not respected”, “are money making operations to sell to kids”, and “ they are a waste of money for kids involved”. Other coaches responded “athletes should take accountability”, “do not need to pay for these services they can do themselves”, “parents can put together a resume and info without need of these services.”

What is generally needed for an athletic program to be efficient and successful at recruiting? Most coaches’ (48%) responded “financial resources, and budget.” Other coaches’ responses included “organization and hard work” with 11%, “networking, relationship with summer ball coaches, administrative and compliance support” with 7%.

Discussion

Of the 27 top 50 coaches surveyed with over 475 years of coaching combined, themes were developed concerning recruiting criteria. The first theme related to intangible criteria is mental toughness. “Being able to perform consistently toward the upper range of one’s ability regardless of competitive circumstances,” is a major intangible psychological element of the successful collegiate athlete (Mack & Ragan, 2008). Work ethic, one of the top intangible characteristics defining a recruit, is crucial in excelling throughout an athletic career.

Establishing a good connection and exhibiting a strong work ethic with teammates are two major designated qualities of leaders in sport (Wright & Cote, 2003). Coachability came in as the second top intangible characteristic. Coachability has been designated the strongest measure in evaluation of athletes of 82 Division I coaches spanning 14 sports (Solomon, 2008). Hustle, hard work, drive, determination, and desire are proven keys in the development of successful individuals (Abbott & Collins, 2004).

The quality of being a team player; unselfish and making those around them better, was noted as a leading intangible characteristic of a recruit. Attitude also came in as a top intangible characteristic among coaches’ responses in this study. Attitude towards coaches, team, and officials was a strong reference point for coaches when observing a recruit in a live game or practice evaluation.

Specialization of a high school sport has increased due to increased chances of collegiate recruitment and athletic achievements. One third of coaches in this study preferred recruiting softball players who played more than one sport in high school. However, playing more than one sport is a main goal of high school athletics to promote development and interaction (Hill, 1991). Experiencing early sport diversification as children proved beneficial in the athletic development of elite athletes (Abbott & Collins, 2003).

Exploring personality and psychological facets of athletes is an area often overlooked or unexposed by even experienced coaches’ (Stewart & Meyers, 2004). Ninety-three percent (93%) of coaches in this study responded they did not use any other forms of evaluation other than a player information sheet.

When observing games or practice, coaches stated they evaluate athleticism and talent more than any other evaluation criteria. Coaches noted middle infielders and catchers set the tone for the team, fill a leadership role on the field and are key motivators to pitchers. This finding supports the suggestions by Grusky (1963) that the central positions on the field such as infield and catcher combined with high interaction develops leadership qualities.

Another theme from the study was the influence of increases in athletic funds for recruiting, designed to produce success in athletic competition (Humphreys & Mondello, 2007). With nearly half of all coaches responding, financial resources or budget came in as the number one necessity of a successful recruiting program. Because of the influx of money, power and respect generated from bringing in the elite talented athlete into an athletic team, recruiting athletes becomes a critical role in the success and prestige of an athletic program, and 4-year institution.

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