By Hillary Atkin
Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, and it’s also home to countless numbers of fans who love their local sports teams, like the champion Eagles and Phillies — who have been on top of their respective professional sports leagues in recent years —and the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and the NBA’s Sixers.
Given the extremely knowledgeable and passionate fan base, WTXF-TV Fox 29 decided to try something new in how it presented sports to its audience. The concept has similarities to sports talk radio, going beyond highlights, scores and post-game interviews to give the audience insight and analysis on the biggest sports stories of the day. The challenge was to embrace a fundamental change and find the right mix while incorporating traditional sports coverage.
“We wanted to cover sports from a fan perspective; what they’re talking about at work, at the game, at a bar, or texting their friends,” said WTXF VP and general manager Patrick Paolini. “That’s our approach — the story behind the story. We’re committed to sports, especially in a city like Philadelphia, and we think local sports is an important part of news coverage.”
Adding to the expertise provided by its sports director and anchor Tom Sredenschek and anchor-reporters Joe Staszak and John Anderson, the station regularly uses contributors from print, the Internet and radio, including sports radio hosts Anthony Gargano and Mike Missanelli.
Viewers get in-depth analysis, different perspectives, and the larger context of what sports stories mean to the market. Recent hot topics included the controversial trading of quarterback Donovan McNabb to the archrival Washington Redskins, ending an era that put the Eagles in five NFC title games and one Super Bowl.
“We’ll look at who’s making decisions,” said Paolini. “Was the coach behind it as well as the front office? We try to dig beneath the surface when it comes to local sports.”
Depending on the story, from Tiger Woods returning to golf in the wake of his sex scandal to the strength of the Phillies’ pitching lineup, the station brings in contributors for their specific proficiency on those topics. Rather than simply reporting the news, they present different viewpoints on subjects that people are going to be talking about that day — and fans can make their own decisions, or point to something they heard on the station.
In discussing Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback who is alleged to have raped a 20-year-old college student, the station looked at whether race was playing a factor in his case — a subject not many sports departments talk about on the air.
“This all started with me reiterating our commitment to sports,” said Kingsley Smith, VP and news director. “I recognize passionate sports fans in Philadelphia. They have opinions and they’re smart. We have to create content in such a way that satisfies the smart, savvy sports fan. We started looking at what was being done, and asking whether we were doing enough to engage the audience. With so much information available, you have to provide something different, engaging and interesting. So much of what was being done sports-wise was predictable and not interesting. In a market like this, fans appreciate good work.”
The station broadcasts Phillies and Eagles games through Fox Sports, and airs 46.5 hours of news per week.