August 22, 2005

Box Scores and Bylines

Topics Covered

Topics Covered

If the schedule dominates front-page sports coverage, what are the schedules followed the most closely? The big three sports – baseball, basketball and football. Two of every three stories on the front of the sports page were focused on these games. Of the big three, basketball led the way as the topic of 29% of all stories. Baseball was next with 20% of the stories. Football stories garnered 16% of the coverage.

To a certain extent those numbers may be explainable. Basketball season is lengthy (82 games and seven months) and basketball teams were the most common pro sports franchise in the cities we covered – eight of the 16 cities had pro teams. Major League Baseball with 162 games and its close to game-a-day, six-month schedule, had teams in seven of the cities. The National Football League has franchises in fewer cities, six, and the NFL’s shorter schedule – 16 games and five months – may have led to fewer stories.

Sports Story Topic
 
Large Circ.
Medium Circ.
Small Circ.
Total
Basketball
32%
32%
22%
29%
Baseball
19%
19%
24%
20%
Football
12%
18%
15%
16%
Golf
6%
5%
5%
5%
Hockey
5%
6%
3%
5%
Olympics
7%
3%
2%
4%
Auto Racing
*
2%
3%
2%
Other Sports
4%
7%
17%
9%
Sports Issues
6%
3%
3%
3%
Other Topics
9%
5%
6%
7%

After the big three sports, the smaller sports battle pretty fiercely for that remaining space on the front of sports. The National Hockey League had franchises in only five of the cities and didn’t play games in the fall of 2004, and hockey only got 5% of the coverage. Golf also received 5%. Auto racing, which is popular but has no “home town” since the venue moves from city to city, received only 2% of the stories. The Summer Olympics is Athens was the topic of 4% of the stories. Other sports got 9% of the coverage.

Which topic area was the hardest to find? “Sports issues” coverage, such as those on the impact of Title IX or doping or crime and athletes, was limited to just 3% of stories overall. Even among the biggest newspapers where bigger staffs and national readerships would seem to argue for different kinds of coverage, issues only made up 6% of all the sports stories.