The Dubious Decline of TV Sports

With the glory days of TV sports reporting long gone, Philadelphia’s local sports anchors swagger on.

AT THE CIRCULAR bar inside El Vez, Harris recalls a line from his sports director in Huntsville, who was arguing with their news director about what was more popular, highlights or forecasts. “Well,” the sports guy said, “after the show, you can join us at the weather bar and watch some weather.” Of course, it’s easy for Harris to defend his profession now; he’s not fighting with his boss to get a few more seconds or trying to keep a hot new meteorologist from cutting into his time. Though Clark won’t cop to it, it appears what he’s really doing these days is auditioning for a job at CSN, once that perhaps-inevitable future merger takes place. As for the other stations, their sports departments aren’t moving the needle, either; there’s no buzz, no breaking stories, no impact. If they’re not headed toward the grave, they’ve moved into the TV news retirement home, shuffling around on walkers and getting by on tales of the good old days.

Still, as long as there’s television, anyone on it will be a Philadelphia celebrity. That’s where the bar has been set for fame here, a place where losers from The Apprentice and Survivor live out second lives as VIP guests at steakhouse grand openings. As Harris finishes his second pink margarita, he laughs at the idea that he’s much different from anyone else. “I don’t really have much of an ego,” he says. “I’m just a regular guy living the dream. A bad day at work for me is better than a good day at work for 95 percent of the general population. Think about that. A bad day for me is better than a good day at work for 95 percent of the general population. We all complain sometimes, because it’s a job. But what am I really complaining about? Really? Really?

Single and ever-mingling, Harris checks his smartphone for texts from his pals and heads out the door on his way to Del Frisco’s and wherever else the night might take him. Any perks he’s getting as a star on CSN, he’s earned them. It’s doubtful that free drinks and autograph requests will help his colleagues at the local stations keep their TV sports dreams alive.

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  • Kevin K

    Let’s not forget the producers, photographers, and editors who actually do all of the work behind the scenes.

    • Troy

      producers, editors, photographers? must be nice. 75% of local stations don’t have these things for sports.

      Even if we weren’t being squeezed as this article suggests (which is all true) in order to do this job anymore, you have to be young and willing to bend over backwards physically and with your time in order to stay relevant.

      There will be no more legends in this business because – even if they don’t burn out – station groups don’t want to pay someone for 10 years of experience when they can get someone to fill the black for half (or far less) the cost. Hell, a station in my market cut a guy after 5 years because they didn’t want to pay him.

  • Jay

    Can’t help but notice the writer’s cautious yet consistent backhands at Harris. Those of us who enjoy the city nightlife know how small this major market can actually be after 10pm. Clearly this story displays an internal battle within the writer who scribes a very interesting topic for debate in the rise and fall of local sportscasters. Their presence on tv will always create a buzz among fans due to recongnition. However, the personal shots without any sort of foundation at the character and ego of Harris seems out of place and quite frankly, unnecessary. What tv can also create is an element of envy, clearly exhibited by the writer who felt the need to travel irrelevant tangents away from the matter at hand. In what could have been an otherwise solid piece, I’ll be sure to overlook this writers next entry as I for one could care less about his personal opinion of people. In efforts to be transparent unlike the author, my motive to comment here is due to the fact that I know Harris personally. The writer is unprofessional and displays emotional baggage that readers simply don’t need to enjoy an article. Your opinion has little merit and it’s a shame that you chose to defame a man who is genuine and represents what is good in Philly with his involvement in various charities and organizations formed with good cause. Had you decided to do more research and comment on relevant data, you might have been on to something quality here. Yawn…this article was a waste of time.

    • Richard Rys

      I’m curious about all of these “personal shots” you claim I’ve taken at Marshall, since you don’t mention anything in particular throughout your lengthy diatribe. I don’t consider talking to a pretty bartender or enjoying the single scene in town to be anything disparaging. Your remarks are also especially odd since to me, Marshall has the job that just about everyone else in town at the local stations would want–he covers sports with a depth that the 11 o’clock news doesn’t allow for. I also show that he paid his dues in local TV before arriving here, which I respect. Where’s the problem here?

  • sam schachter

    As a former local TV sportscaster I will tell you that local TV news, in general, is where newspapers were 10-15 years ago. Struggling to find an identity and relevance in a digital age. Sports is the first casualty.

    Fifteen years ago, local news managers gave up to ESPN and never put up a fight. But the fact is ESPN and SportsCenter can be a huge beating. Who knows when you’ll get your team’s highlights? The regional sports nets are so much better for a local fan. And now as technology transitions your computer into your TV, the world is smaller and local has no chance.

    Additionally, sports news quit being about journalism and telling great stories. It became about personalities. Let’s get athletes to anchor. Let’s get more women (who may or may not be sports nuts) to attract female audiences. Local news and journalism, in general, has become about profit and not the truth. It became more about ratings than telling great stories. Sports has become about analysis. Analysis that is cliche’ at best. Sorry, I’ve been watching and playing sports (maybe not college or pro) for 40+ years I know what happened. Most sports fans do too.

    Ultimately, that’s why traditional journalism today is getting everything they deserve. In the late 80s, early 90s local news was at the top of its game. Great reporters, technology allowed even the smallest stations to go live anywhere and look as good as the networks.

    Today they all, for the most part, just look silly. It’s really pretty sad.

  • Tyronne

    Local Sportscasters:

    adapt or die.

  • promdress

    oh,just see how many people follow you can know that your article is very popular.
    since i have the computure i see the TV at less time.
    maybe we should go back to the Tv