Last Thursday’s 11 p.m. newscast on Fox 5 (WAGA-TV) featured nearly three minutes of sports coverage, including the UGA-Vanderbilt basketball game and the Braves.
Over at ABC affiliate WSB-TV, Zach Klein fed stories from Braves spring training in Orlando while Anthony Amey talked about college basketball and the Hawks.
NBC’s WXIA-TV gave plenty of time to the Olympics since the network is airing it.
CBS affiliate WGCL-TV? Sports was absent – unless you count a passing reference to a PETA billboard mocking Tiger Woods.
WGCL earlier this month shut down its sports department and handed the reins to sports talk radio station 790/The Zone. (Sportscasters Mark Harmon and Gil Tyree – left – lost their jobs.) This means virtually no sports Monday through Thursday with spot coverage over the weekend, plus a Saturday evening sports talk show featuring Zone personalities.
News director Steve Schwaid said he was able to take monies saved from sports and beef up other local news coverage, adding reporters and producers.
“Nobody sits around anymore waiting for sports highlights at 11 o’clock,” he said. Rather, fans now have easy access to such info via the Web, their iPhone and ESPN SportsCenter.
So far, Schwaid said the absence of sports weekdays has resulted in a “negligible” reaction: “I have not gotten one phone call.” (WGCL newscasts are typically third or fourth place among the networks, though they often do better in the evenings.)
Sports is the least popular feature on local news, with a mere 15 percent of viewers polled interested in the topic, said Michael Castengera, senior lecturer at the University of Georgia and a consultant to TV stations (though none in Atlanta).
“A lot of stations are getting out of sports business or forging partnerships like WGCL,” Castengera said. “Sports is covered like news if it’s a big sporting event but otherwise, it’s not news.”
WGCL-TV, for instance, used the Zone the day Woods made a public apology for his personal indiscretions, bringing in Zone mid-day host Jeff Woolverton to talk about Woods’ speech for the 4 p.m. newscast.
The Zone isn’t making much money off this and pay for the radio personalities will be minimal. But Steak Shapiro, a Zone morning host and station co-owner, sees this as a great cross-promotional tool and plans to set aside more resources during the football season for WGCL.
The other stations in town say they remain committed to keeping sports in house. “We’ve shifted from sports on a global basis to local teams, the colleges and prep sports,” said Gene McHugh, WAGA general manager. “Our sports guys are busier than ever.” Staffing over the years, in fact, has gone up, he said.
McHugh wasn’t willing to slag WGCL, merely dubbing it “an interesting experiment.”