CURCIO’S CORNER: Shouldering a new approach to sports
The famous quote used by many over the years states the only constant in the universe is change.
I recently underwent rotator cuff surgery which put me on the paper’s disabled list.
After countless hours of Netflix, I found myself needing some sports back in my life, so I decided to open my ESPN+ app.
It came with the Disney app deal, which I assume was to offer something to more sports-minded people who had no need to see “Little Mermaid” again. Not me, of course, I was hooked when my beautiful wife said two words about the deal: “Star Wars.”
At any rate, I found myself scrolling through the live broadcasts of college basketball teams one only sees every few years when the team wins its respective conference tournament and becomes part of March Madness.
While watching UT-Martin win at the buzzer in OT (and a shot of four adorable much older fans just cheering their heads off), a light bulb lit up in my head.
It’s not about the entirety of a game to fans now, but more about the result and the stories behind the actual play-by-play.
In my capacity as sports editor, I was more set in my ways about how local sports should be covered, using stat-driven stories describing in detail how regular-season games were won and lost.
While every season has marquee matchups between top teams (personally, I’m looking forward to seeing South Stanly and West Stanly play softball this spring), the coverage ESPN offered went underneath results to examine one of the five W’s of journalism more closely: Why?
Why does this player do what they do or not do on the court?
Why does this offseason, non-game related topic generate so many passionate reactions from players, coaches and fans?
Why should people continue to watch and support this or that team, sport, etc.?
When you scroll down the Featured part of ESPN+, the scores for your favorite teams are at least halfway down the page.
This made me reflect more on how our sports coverage has been slowly making a transition over this last year or so.
Starting with last year’s spring sports, our focus during the regular season of high school sports has been more about storylines, team achievements, featuring outstanding individual student-athletes which went often beyond a stat leader to feature the relationships and stories underneath the action on the field of play.
I recently learned our company, and it’s not just a local decision, has decided to change its sports coverage focus on the whole to find the next-level stories.
Such has been my challenge for the past year, to find those people in Stanly County and tell their stories.
Obviously, certain athletes being recruited by Div. I programs will get their share of the limelight.
However, it is our goal not to damage local sports coverage but make it more interesting for online and print readers.
And as Mary Chapin Carpenter sang in the song “I Feel Lucky,” the stars might lie but the numbers never do.
We are now able to track online which stories garner more interest than others, along with average times of what people are reading.
On the whole (and this was a pill I had to swallow), the feature sports stories routinely scored higher than game stories.
So in the interest of complete transparency, I want all of you readers to understand why we have taken this approach.
We believe the stories we can tell when we spend less time keeping stats and more time finding out where people’s passions lie, where their drive comes from, why they do what they do, will be more interesting on the whole and improve our products.
To be sure, we will continue to provide regular-season results in a roundup format, but the majority of our sports space will look to inspire, enflame, enthuse, touch and excite readers about the wonderful athletes, coaches and programs we have in this county.
Our gaze as a paper will go far beyond high school sports to find stories in recreation leagues, adult sports, youth leagues and beyond. With the definition of sports ever expanding, you never know what we will be able to find in sports which never received much attention in the past.
We will still be found in the press boxes, dugouts, sidelines and scorers’ tables around Stanly and beyond, keeping our eyes peeled for the best in sports the county has to offer.
Come time for state playoffs, you will still see yours truly in a dugout or basketball end line with camera in hand (well, maybe not for a couple of weeks until this shoulder heals up).
So I encourage all of you in every walk of life to reach out to us if you have a sports story to tell.
We are here. We are listening.
Contact sports editor Charles Curcio at 704-983-1361 or via Twitter (@charles_curcio).