By: Lucia Moses
Sports investments by media companies aren’t new. The Walt Disney Co., parent of the ABC TV network, owns the Angels baseball team and the Mighty Ducks hockey team, both in Anaheim, Calif.; the Tribune Co., which publishes the Chicago Tribune, has the Chicago Cubs; and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Why? Media companies, which for years have profited from readers’ and viewers’ lust for sports, are no longer content just to deliver the news. Now they want to own the content, too.
Companies get the most mileage out of the arrangement when they operate TV stations because sporting events guarantee many hours of programming, a station’s biggest cost.
“If you have broadcast operations, you don’t have to bargain for the broadcast rights,” says Ben Bagdikian, dean emeritus of Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and author of “The Media Monopoly.”
Ethical shadows hang over such deals in an industry that’s increasingly scrutinized and whose companies are diversifying by investing in related interests. Owners of sports teams, because of their high-profile nature, are especially open to scrutiny.
Bagdikian says newspapers can minimize the appearance of conflict if they have a strong tradition of evenhanded coverage, but can’t eliminate it. “I think it’s always a problem for a journalism organization to report on itself,” he says. “The less they do it, the better.”
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