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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, March 6, 2005


Sports journalism is no longer just about games

By Anne Harpham
Advertiser Senior Editor

On Feb. 6, readers of the Sunday Advertiser learned of a University of Hawai'i plan to significantly increase premiums for preferred seats at several sporting events and create a "high-roller" section for football games at prices up to $15,000 per seat.

For season ticket holders, even those with seats in the loge area destined to be priced at thousands of dollars a seat, it was the first they had heard of the plan.

Advertiser sports writers got a tip on Feb. 5 that this was in the works and found most of the basic information on it that day on the UH Web site, posted seven days in advance of a hearing on the proposal.

UH officials whom our sports staff were able to reach that day would not elaborate beyond what was on the Web site. Only several days beyond that, according to sports writer Ferd Lewis, were they willing to offer more information or to clarify information.

Response from fans and readers, however, was quick.

And fan reaction was a major part of the story. It takes extra effort, but sports editor Curtis Murayama said he considers it important "to get fans' perspectives instead of just printing a statement from a UH official. Outraged fans have the right to be heard."

Lewis said he got some 40 e-mails and phone calls from readers, about 80 percent opposed to the plan.

Editorial page editor Jerry Burris also received a number of letters to the editor on the issue. Most of those also were from those opposed to the plan.

There was a pattern, said Burris, of longtime fans who feel that despite being loyal through thick and thin, they are now being neglected. A few, he said, have recognized that favoring ticket buyers who have the money to pay premium pricing is the way things are now going in sports, both professional and college.

And that is a large part of why this story has played out on Page One and the cover of the Sports section.

It is an important story, of course, because University of Hawai'i sports are widely followed.

But in addition, anyone who has watched what has been happening in college athletics could see that costs of maintaining those sports are rapidly increasing as is the tariff a fan pays for getting in to see the games.

And just as college sports is going through a sea change, so is the business of covering sports.

No longer do sports departments just worry about covering games and the personalities in the games.

Sports writers now need to be savvy about following the money. They find themselves writing about legislation, about discrimination issues and about court cases.

It's not the sports department of a generation ago.

Newspapers today need to look at sports as more than just entertainment. Sports is big business and must be held to the same level of scrutiny as any other business.

That is why, for example, Advertiser sports writers Ferd Lewis and Stephen Tsai went beyond reporting on UH's premium-seating plan to look at the impact of pay-per-view sales of UH football games. And it is why they will continue to follow and report on the big business that our hometown sports have become.

Senior editor Anne Harpham is The Advertiser's reader representative. Reach her at aharpham@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8033.