Super Bowl XLIII: Do we really need 4,500 journalists to cover this game?
That's the number of media credentials issued for Sunday's Super Bowl, according to Tampa Bay and Co., Hillsborough County's version of the convention and visitors bureau.
It's the second-largest media cattle call in Super Bowl history, drawing representatives from 630 media outlets in 28 countries. Ten percent of those bodies belong to NBC, the network airing the Super Bowl, which will bring a gargantuan amount of resources to bear in covering the nation's biggest sporting event (a few numbers to add perspective: 45 vehicles, 50 miles of camera and microphone cable and 93 microphones will be deployed just for NBC's use).
The newspaper trade magazine Editor and Publisher noted quite rightly that this current total is a step down from last year, when 4,786 credentials were handed out, playing the story as yet another sign of our faltering media economy.
But if a newspaper, radio station or TV station doesn't have a team playing in the big game, does it make sense to send a substantial contingent of reporters to chase stories alongside 4,500 other people? And does this number also perhaps reflect changes in technology that might allow fewer people to produce the same amount of reporting from the Super Bowl?
In other words, the irascible critic in me can't help asking: Do we need this much media?
I get why it's here. In addition offering the most-watched event in television, the Super Bowl is one of the last mass media events left in American culture. It's hard to imagine, given that we've just finished a two-year election covered relentlessly by the news media, but the Super Bowl will cap a year of attention-getting events that are nowhere on the horizon for the rest of 2009.
Last year brought us the Summer Olympics in China, a contentious primary and general presidential election and now a Super Bowl -- all events drawing loads of eyeballs to newspapers, TV shows and Web sites across the globe. But once the Big Game wraps, there's won't be much for revenue-needy media outlets to look forward to, making it important to make the most of what's available.
No outlet may need this game more than NBC, a fourth-place network with a history of expensive failures, now airing its first Super Bowl in more than 10 years. The network lined up everything from an interview with President Obama to a post-game episode of The Office co-starring Jack Black and Jessica Alba.
Raking in $3-million per 30-second spot -- though rumors have surfaced the network is slashing prices by as much as 30 percent to attract recession-battered businesses -- NBC is also filling the show with 16 football-themed ads to promote its own sagging prime time lineup, featuring shows such as Heroes, Chuck and Medium in special promos.
Of course, local media is taking advantage as well, with every major media outlet in town offering its own special sections, special broadcasts, special Web sites and special mobile reports filled with special coverage. Watching the local TV reports Monday, I felt for the anchor crew at WTSP-Ch. 10, plopped in Channelside's entertainment complex next to seriously loud musical performers, shouting over the din while their audio guys struggling with microphone levels and such.
It's only the beginning of the deluge coming from an army of reporters amassed to cover the Last Big Media Event of 2009. Media Day, when most of the hordes get a crack at the players and performers, rolls out today -- expect more nuttiness from a group struggling to cover every nuance of America's biggest party.