Thursday afternoon at the SABR 41 convention there was a very interesting “Where we’re going to be getting our baseball information a decade from now” media panel moderated by SABR President Andy McCue.
The panel was Bill Squadron, head of Bloomberg Sports, who is developing real-time analytic tools for fans. Russ Stanton, editor of the Los Angeles Times, where they are pushing more online content. Sean Forman, the founder of Baseball-Reference.com, the premier site for baseball statistics. And Dave Cameron, the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.com, one of the most dynamic websites for analysis of contemporary baseball.
Here is a paraphrased version of what was discussed…
Question: Habits for getting baseball information has changed, how will we get our information ten years from now?
Squadron: If you just look over you shoulder at what has changed over the last 30 years, it’s extraordinary. We didn’t know those advances would happen, and we don’t know what else will be developed. The world of mobleitis will only increase and we will get what we want, where and when we want it.
Stanton: If anyone can tell you the answer to that question is not honest. Three years ago, Twitter was not a force. But two things: one, the move to digital media and the decline of print will only continue. Two, we have to own the areas people expect us to own like the Dodgers and Angels. We have to be the experts. But I don’t think we’ll be able to get info any faster than we do know.
Forman: There’s programs out there that will someday keep record of the every single pitch, millions of pitches and billions of defensive statistics by taking a picture of a player every tenth of a second, so the information will be different, but what is the source. Mark Cuban started sending his own reporting group to write for his team’s site. We could see more teams doing that.
Cameron: Ten years ago how did we get ideas out there? Maybe call sports radio and talk for seven seconds before they hang up on you or write a letter to the editor. Now, regardless of credentials, if it’s a good idea you can dispense it on blogs or comments. You can judge an idea on its merits, not who said it. We’ll see more democratizing of ideas. Objectivity has been devalued with Twitter being as good for an update as a MLB beat writer.
Question: Why not consolidate all the different ways to get baseball information into one site or company?
Forman: I’m not sure what role the newspaper model would play. For me it would be an adventure to produce that much content.
Stanton: The newspaper approach is still popular. You need people to get information from the clubhouse and the injury report. That’s different than just a box score. We don’t even call it the newspaper, we call it the newsroom. Our web traffic has quadrupled in the last three years and 1/3 of that was tot the sports page.
Squadron: There are benefits to a one-stop-shop but this country doesn’t want one view. There is a great tradition of multiple sources and competition. But we can’t lose the expertise. Great ideas can get lost in all of that and no matter how broad, expertise is needed to bring good ideas to the forefront. There is also the economic model and I don’t think newspapers can afford to do it all.
Question: How will the new type of writer (online) get the old jobs (in print)?
Cameron: I was actually denied an All-Star credential because we’re online, but I was approved for one when I sent the request from the Wall Street Journal. Same person, different source. There is a definite resistance to the non-traditional journalists, but they can add value that wouldn’t come from your classic writer.
Question: Why are games online blacked out?
Squadron: There will come a day when that problem is gone. Like the music industry and books with the Kindle, there will be a Napster of video and MLB will push the envelope.
Question: How will the media industry adjust to make revenue?
Stanton: We get 20 million views worldwide a month that otherwise can’t get a paper. But still, 80-90% of our revenue is from the paper. (The LA Times) is working on a few ideas I can’t really talk about right now, but it could be announced as early as the Fall.
Cameron: People will provide economics for something they really want. If there is value, they’ll pay to keep it around.
Question: Predict how long newspapers and books will be around?
Squadron: 25 years. There will be things that make Kindle look like Model T.
Stanton: Most of us will be dead before that happens.
Forman: 2018 for major papers, and 2025 for major publishers.
Cameron: 40 years. Papers like the New York Times will always be around.