PtG Article 31.10.2005

The sports press: The world's best advertising agency

Sports editors of daily newspapers all over the world allow the sports industry to set the agenda and the priorities for coverage of sports events.

That is the main conclusion of the biggest survey ever of sports journalism which has been undertaken by the Danish think-tank on news, the House of Monday Morning, on commission from the world conference on sport and society, Play the Game, and the Danish Institute for Sports Studies. It has been carried out in co-operation with research institutions in 10 different countries.

Full report:

Read Monday Morning's journalistic summary and analysis of the survey results (pdf-file)

The survey based on 10,000 sports articles in 37 newspapers from 10 different countries shows that the sports pages in daily newspapers are dominated by the particular types of sport, sports stars and international events which create the biggest turnovers on parameters such as advertising, sponsorship, numbers of television viewers and spectators in the stadium.

The sports press may function as a marketing branch of the sports industry but not for want of professionalism on the part of sports journalists.

"The commercial game of sports is exerting such pressure on journalism that it has become impossible to work according to classic ideals of journalism," says Knut Helland, professor at University of Bergen in Norway and an expert on sports journalism.

Academic experts and sports editors point to other factors that hamper the ability to do critical and problem-oriented sports journalism. Many clubs and sport stars attempt to exclude critical journalists from getting interviews and try to convince editors to remove critical journalists from their beat. At the other end of the spectrum, newspaper readers are incredibly conservative and resist attempts to change the way sport is covered.

Newspapers fail their duty to monitor sports industry

"The survey documents that the newspapers are failing one of their key responsibilities in a democracy: To carefully monitor sports organisations and the sports industry which has amassed enormous economic and political power in the last 30 years," says Jens Sejer Andersen, director of Play the Game.

He continues: "The editors and publishers - not the sports journalists - carry the main responsibility for newspapers electing to play the tune of the entertainment industry and not challenging the sports industry. So it is also their responsibility to ensure a revival of the journalistic ideals which should apply equally to sport as to all other powerful sectors in society."

Key findings from the survey

The survey shows remarkably few differences in the way that newspapers in different countries cover sport - when you exclude sports with a specific national interest. Instead the survey documents that sports journalism is a global culture - just like sport itself.

The priorities in sports journalism are more or less the same and it does not matter whether the newspaper is based in Washington, Bergen, Vienna or Bukarest.

  • Match reports, results and previews dominate: 58 per cent of the articles on the sports pages deal with current events.
  • Stories about money and politics are few and far between: Approximately one article in 30 includes political aspects of sport and only one article in 20 deals with the commercial aspects of sport.
  • The focus on doping is waning: On average 1,5 per cent of the sports articles deal with doping which is less than in a previous survey.
  • Marginal exposure of social aspects of sport: Only 2,5 per cent of all sports coverage deal with the social impact of sport.
  • Women are invisible: Men are the focus of 86 per cent of all sports coverage and only one in 20 sports articles is written by a female journalist.
  • Journalism without sources: 40 per cent of all sports articles refer to only one source in the text. 20 per cent of the articles do not refer to any sources at all.
  • The sources come from within the sports world: Athletes, coaches and representatives of clubs dominate completely as sources for sports journalists.
  • Increasing globalisation of sport: Compared to previous studies, this survey indicates that sports coverage is becoming less focused on national interests and in European countries stories with an international focus make up more than half the coverage.

Results from the survey will be introduced and discussed by the 300 journalists, academics and sport leaders from around 50 countries who will participate in the Play the Game conference in Copenhagen next week.

Newspapers surveyed

Australia: The Australian, Herald Sun, Sydney Morning Herald, The West Australian

Austria: Kleine Zeitung, Kronen Zeitung, Salzburger Nachrichten

Denmark: B.T., Politiken, Berlingske Tidende, Jyllands-Posten, Fyens Stiftstidende

Germany: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bild Zeitung, Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Hamburger Abendblatt

Norway: Aftenposten, VG, Nordlys

Romania: Evenimentul Zilei, Libertatea, Adevarul

Switzerland: Der Tagesanzeiger, Blick, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

United Kingdom, England: The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, The Daily Mail

United Kingdom, Scotland:The Herald, The Daily Record, The Scottish Sun

USA: USAToday, The New York Times, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nashville Tennessean