Are Good Phillies Teams Good for Newspapers?

It’s not just the working class that’s hurt by losing. It’s journalism.

Our pal Randy LoBasso has an interesting cover story this week at Philadelphia Weekly, suggesting that when the Philadelphia Phillies play poorly — as they are this season — there are economic ramifications:

For many of Citizens Bank Park’s workers, it’s simple trickle-down economics: pay rises and falls with the team’s fortune. These workers, who vend beer section-by-section, aisle-by-aisle, are paid based on tips and commission. Poor teams mean fewer fans. Fewer fans means less product moved. Less product means less pay—and as the team gets worse, for lots of these workers, their wallets get emptier.

Makes sense. And you know who else seems to suffer when the Phillies play poorly? The city’s newspapers.

Here’s a chart featuring the circulation revenue at the Inquirer and Daily News over the last decade or so. (The chart is drawn from the document reported in this story.) After 2004, that revenue dipped below $100 million for the first time and kept dipping — seemingly never to regain its former highs. Except for one thing:

The circulation revenue spiked back above $100 million in 2008 and 2009. What happened those years? The Phillies played in the World Series. The crazy thing is: These were the same years in which the newspapers’ revenue streams were otherwise taking a beating: Advertising declined 17 percent in 2008 and 25 percent in 2009, setting the stage for the newspapers’ bankruptcy in 2009. The spike in circulation revenue contradicted every other trend going on at the papers during those years. So it’s probably more accurate to say that good Phillies’ years benefit the newspapers, rather than suggesting that bad years hurt them. The papers were going to be in pain no matter what.


Now: Correlation doesn't equal causation. Maybe something else happened in the newspapers' business that year to help the spike. But experience suggests the Phillies had something to do with the jump: I was at the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World from 2000 to 2007, during which time our hometown college basketball team — the University of Kansas — made several Final Four appearances during that time: The presses ran overtime during those victorious runs. Other newspapers in big sports towns have noticed the same trend.

Why should this be? Put it this way: One of my colleagues at Philly Mag has, in his office, a framed copy of the Inquirer's "WORLD CHAMPS!" front page from 2008. I've seen this kind of thing all over town, and so have you. Funny thing: Nobody's printed out that day's screen shots from Philly.com for framing and display.

world-champs-inquirer-940

 

Now: You can't build a business model out of making the World Series every year, though that would be nice. And even those great circulation years didn't really slow the march to the "death of print" that seems to be inexorably coming.

But there's probably a future out there where the Inquirer doesn't get printed except for Sundays — and on very special occassions. Even in a digital age, people sometimes want to see and touch history as it appeared when it was made.

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