Daily Miracle 2.0: Changing the Game on Sports Agate

By: Peter Marsh
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Major League pitcher Jim Bouton once said, “Statistics are about as interesting as first base coaches.” Bouton’s book, Ball Four, helped to revolutionize baseball journalism and caused fans to view the national pastime in an entirely new way.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren had a more positive—but equally cynical—perspective when he said, “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports page records people’s accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

Whether you side with Bouton or Warren, it’s fair to say that newspaper sports page readers are creatures of loyalty. We love our box scores, our standings, our listings, our lineups and our leaders. We expect to find our sports agate in the same place—print or online—every day, and we look forward to checking the daily statistics of our favorite leagues, teams and players.

Our habits and loyalties help make sports agate one of the most engaging sections of the newspaper. Editors and publishers understand this obsession well. So, imagine their surprise when the Associated Press announced in late April that it was changing sports agate providers, and as a result, “AP’s sports agate lineup will be temporarily scaled back effective Monday, May 2.”

Scaled back? What does that mean? The announcement went on to say, “AP will continue to work with the new provider to distribute as many of the remaining files as soon as possible, however some may not be available for days or possibly weeks.”

Days or possibly weeks? Even worse, during this vital NBA and NHL playoff season, the AP announcement casually said that some agate “files will be suspended through the remainder of the NBA/NHL playoffs but resume with the next regular season.”

No postseason NHL stax. No NBA playoff game long box scores. No basketball individual leaders. No hockey goalie leaders, streaks or scoring leaders.

The AP responded: “Nearly all AP sports agate has been delivered without interruption throughout the transition to the new provider, especially the most popular game statistics for all major sports, including MLB, NBA and NHL. Some daily agate files were interrupted during the first week of May but for only a few days before being restored. Most weekly agate files were not interrupted.”

James Warren highlighted the problem in a recent article for The Poynter Institute. He spoke with Chris De Luca, deputy managing editor for news and sports at The Chicago Sun-Times, who said, “I get more calls about sports agate and our sports calendar than anything. That’s especially true for older readers who won’t, say, go to ESPN.com or elsewhere online for the information about last night’s ball game. For them, a missing box score is a crime.”

While Jim Bouton is probably laughing out loud, Chief Justice Warren is likely rolling in his grave, while many of us in the industry are frantically flipping the pages to find an alternative.

Fortunately, for publishers looking to serve their avid and habitual sports page readers, there are options available other than AP for receiving sports agate content.

STATS (stats.com)

Disclosure: Newscycle and STATS entered into a partnership on May 2.

STATS is the company that provided the Associated Press with sports agate content for many years, right up until the May 1 switchover. In fact, FOX Sports and AP jointly owned STATS from 2005 to 2014.

Publishers looking to receive the same set of sports agate files they had been getting from AP can now contract directly with STATS for their agate feeds. STATS provides detailed sports data feeds for over 600 leagues around the globe, including more than 90 professional sports covering over 4,300 games per year. Data feeds can be delivered in several different formats, which means the sports department agate workflow can stay the same as it is today.

In addition to newspapers that had been receiving STATS agate content via AP, other STATS customers include the Dallas Morning News, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the Washington Post. These customers get STATS sports agate for print, as well as a range of hosted STATS digital products for online sports pages.

STATS also helps publishers cater to the growing fantasy sports market, and has been recognized by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association as the top-ranked service for accuracy of its football and baseball projections among more than 100 industry leaders.

SportsDirect (sportsdirectinc.com)

SportsDirect provides scores and statistics for more than 2,000 teams and 40,000 games each year. The content is delivered to newspapers via the web in XML format or as a hosted solutions.

Based in Emeryville, Calif., SportsDirect was acquired by Gracenote in 2015, along with the Dutch company Infostrada Sports. The combined organization, which is a subsidiary of Tribune Media, now covers over 250 sports worldwide, including eight different international soccer leagues, the FIFA World Cup, Formula One racing, and the Olympic Games.

SportsDirect customers include USA Today Sports and Thomson Reuters, as well as Covers Media Group, a rich media portal also owned by Gracenote to provide statistics, articles and information for sports gaming enthusiasts.

XML Team (xmlteam.com)

XML Team provides agate feeds for 12 professional sports, including American football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, golf, and tennis. Using an open, standards-based file format called SportsML for all agate listings, the company delivers feeds to syndicators and directly to publishers.

XML Team offers two pricing options, including monthly subscriptions and on-demand. With the on-demand options, publishers can download agate listings individually and pay for them via account credits.

For delivery, XML Team provides an API that allows publishers to pull agate files are scheduled times. The API also allows agate listings to be written to a file system for handoff to publishing systems.

XML Team customers include Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports, the BBC and ESPN. XML Team also provides agate content for Leaguestat, a service used by Canadian publishers to provide statistics and updates for global ice hockey enthusiasts interested in minor league and junior hockey teams.

Outside the Box(score) Solutions

In addition to these options, some media companies are providing sports agate as a service to other publishers. The Gatehouse Center for News and Design offers daily agate pages in both 6-column and 4-column formats, as well as “Best of” pages, and full- and partial-page baseball content during the MLB season. On a weekly basis, Gatehouse also provides full NFL pages during the football season.

In closing, there aren’t many items in a printed or online newspaper that generate more interest and passion than sports agate. With this in mind, it’s nice to know there are alternatives available for publishers considering the switch from AP to another service.

And, as my colleague and longtime newspaper sports editor, Ronnie Willis, points out: “Even though Jim Bouton held statistics and first base coaches in equally low esteem, he was very careful to include in the appendix to Ball Four a very beautifully formatted table with his game-by-game stats from that memorable 1969 season.”

Editor’s Note: This column has been updated to include the AP’s response and the Newscycle/STATS disclosure.

Peter Marsh is the VP Marketing, Newscycle Solutions. Daily Miracle 2.0 discusses the challenges, opportunities, trends and technologies impacting news media companies in the evolution from daily ink-on-paper products to round-the-clock digital offerings delivered in print, online, on tablets, and across mobile and emerging channels.

Published: May 23, 2016

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