Boston sports are covered like nowhere else in the country. In addition to the double-digit number of newspapers that cover the New England professional sports teams on a daily basis, we’ve also seen multimedia outlets jump into covering the teams with reporters and columnists.
Sports radio powerhouse WEEI was the first to really jump into the written/online side with their revamped WEEI.com website back in 2008, stocking themselves with former newspaper reporters such as Rob Bradford. They quickly established themselves as a go-to destination for sports fans with quality, in-depth articles and breaking news to compliment the on-air side of things.
ESPNBoston.com launched last September, snatching Boston Globe NFL reporter Mike Reiss as their prize, and giving a local presence to ESPN. They feature daily Boston oriented “SportsCenter” video segments on the site, with highlights and news from Boston.
Comcast SportsNet also wanted in on this niche, and put together their own solid stable of print reporters for their all-new CSNNE.com website which debuted last fall. They also reorganized their on-air side of things, adding new sports reporters for new TV shows, and they also have Boston sports video updates on their site, updated several times throughout the day.
NESN also has a web presence, with a bunch of blogs and written material on NESN.com, but it is not nearly on the level – content wise, I mean - of the above three outlets. (Check the comments section below for a link that shows NESN beating WEEI and CSNNE.com handily in terms of traffic.)
So of these three relatively new sites, which is the best online destination for Boston sports fans?
As when comparing most things, each outlet has their strengths. We’ll look at each by team, and then by multimedia capabilities.
WEEI.com has the combo of Rob Bradford and Alex Speier covering the Red Sox. ESPNBoston has Gordon Edes and Joe McDonald on the beat. CSNNE.com uses Sean McAdam and Joe Haggerty over at Fenway.
As the Red Sox are the number one game in town, fittingly this is the deepest area of talent for the three sites. Each site is establishing their own style of Red Sox coverage. WEEI.com tends to come up with longer, analytical pieces, especially when Speier is writing. ESPNBoston seems to focus more on the “people” and their stories. Recently, they’ve been mixing in Boston-slanted stories from Jeremy Lundblad from ESPN Stats & Information to give them some of that new-age statistical analysis which is becoming more popular. CSNNE.com puts out more of a traditional newspaper-type coverage, with a game story, side story and notebook. They also mix in quite a few video posts from their TV side.
Which one is better? I personally enjoy what Speier and WEEI have been doing. It’s a little outside of what everyone else is doing, and more in-depth. Being on-line, they’re not limited in their word count and space that they can devote to a particular story, and they take full advantage of that.
What I like about ALL these sites is that they typically stay away from the Red Sox soap-opera storylines so popular among their newspaper competitors.
WEEI.com has Christopher Price as their main Patriots guy, and DJ Bean has been doing a lot of draft-related stuff for them. ESPNBoston has Mike Reiss, and he has been supported by Chris Forsberg. CSNNE.com uses Tom E. Curran to cover the Patriots. It’s another strong group.
Price brought over his popular “10 Things We Learned” post that he had used when he was at the Boston Metro. To an extent, WEEI.com also uses that format on their other sports (5 things for Red Sox, The Three-Pointer for the Celtics and “The Hat Trick” for the Bruins). Price is also the assistant site editor for WEEI.com. He also is busy on the blogs, and passing along Patriots press releases. The Mike Reiss model is all over ESPNBoston.com. He brought all the things he did at the Globe to this position – the weekly chats, the weekly mailbags, the countless blog entries, the “first impressions” blog posts, and in-game updates as well. ESPNBoston is using these techniques on their other coverage as well, particularly Forsberg when he covers the Celtics. On CSNNE.com Tom E. Curran mixes in humor in his coverage, and uses video more than the other two above. Curran’s national experience with NBC serves him well in calling on contacts for information on national stories. They’ve got Michael Felger in the stable, who also occasionally weighs in with a column on the Patriots.
You really can’t lose with any of these outlets on the Patriots. It’s all good. But…
Comcast SportsNet New England is the TV home of the Boston Celtics. They have A. Sherrod Blakely and Rich Levine covering the green for CSNNE.com. Blakely has been solid in his first season in Boston, but I get the sense he is still sort of looking to find what his “voice” should be here, coming from the outside. But overall he was a very good hire by CSNNE. WEEI.com uses Paul Flannery and Jessica Camerato on the beat, and they’re both very good. Interestingly the station doesn’t always send either one to road games, but I’ve come to the conclusion that that isn’t always such a negative. My theory is this…if a reporter is on press row, or in the press box, they’re going to be influenced by those around them. That’s why a lot of what you read when going over the various stories is repeated among reporters. When watching the game remotely, you’re forced to think on your own, to come to your own conclusions, and the coverage is likely to be a bit more original. ESPNBoston doesn’t have an official Celtics beat writer, Chris Forsberg the “roving reporter” has been handling the duties, but again, isn’t on the road with the team. Forsberg does a good job, and tries to incorporate a lot of the “Reiss-style” of coverage to the beat, which certainly isn’t a bad model to imitate.
So who has the edge? I’m going to have give it to the WEEI.com combo of Flannery and Camerato. They’ve always got in-depth coverage, and come up with new angles on stories that make it worth checking out.
The fourth team on the Boston totem pole has gotten something of a boost from these outlets, which have provided new, fresh coverage of the franchise. ESPNBoston recently added Joe McDonald to it’s Bruins coverage, which had been anchored by freelancer Matt Kalman, who continues his solid work on the beat. McDonald splits time on the Red Sox beat, and has been a good addition for the outlet. WEEI.com’s Bruins has recently been provided by Dan Rowinski, and he’s been doing good work for them, especially in the three-part “Hat Trick” columns. CSNNE.com stole Joe Haggerty from WEEI’s Bruins beat, and he’s really blossomed with Comcast. His Bruins coverage has been very, very strong for them, with descriptive game stories, insightful commentary, and interesting tidbits. When the Bruins season is over, he’ll be spending his time next to McAdam on the Red Sox beat.
WEEI.com has done a very good job getting their on-air audio loaded up to the website, integrated with their content, and arranged so that it is easy to find. They’ve done some experimentation with original videos, but most of their current videos consist of locker room interviews. They were using Kristine Leahy for a daily video segment called “The Five,” but have discontinued it.
ESPNBoston.com has the daily “Boston Sportscenter” video, and the ability to integrate video from the ESPN networks into their stories and content. I like the Boston Sportscenter segment, and the clips they use usually compliment the material pretty well. I also like that when there is a video, there is usually also a written summary of what it is about, in case the reader doesn’t want to load the entire video and sit through and watch it.
CSNNE.com has a ton of video, and one of the best things they have going is their SportsNet Central updates throughout the day. They record about four per day, as things happen, and post them to the site, giving them a jump on other outlets. They’re well done, and make great use of their expanded staff and facilities. Elsewhere on the site, they make use of video by grabbing segments from their various TV shows and put them into posts. My only complaint on these is that many times, they’re standalone, meaning the entire post is just the video. It would be nice to have a summary of the video, possibly even a partial transcript of the noteworthy stuff.
EDGE: CSNNE.com – they make the most use of their on-air side, and unlike ESPN, their videos are always locally produced.
Boston fans can’t really go wrong with any of these outlets. They all crank out good content combined with audio and video material, letting fans experience sports coverage in a new, modern way. It’s a tough call, but in the end, I’m giving the nod to:
EDGE: WEEI.com. Perhaps its just because they’ve been around the longest and have had time to work out what is going to be effective and how they want to do things, but they are solid in their coverage of all four major professional sports teams, and their blogs and multimedia elements are very good as well. ESPNBoston falls a little short in its Bruins and Celtics coverage, and CSNNE.com in some ways is too similar to newpaper coverage.