By Rebecca Gray
Rebecca Gray is a reporter for the Loraine Ohio, Morning Journal.
"H EY, WHAT GIVES?" came the cry during the first quarter. "Against a team that's been shredded through the air in each of its previous two games, the Vikings ran the ball three times and passed three times.... The Vikings should give [running back] Robert Smith the day off and just keep throwing."
These aren't the words of a television commentator or of an opinionated Minnesota Vikings fan grumbling at the television set in the living room. This is St. Paul Pioneer Press sports columnist Bob Sansevere's take on the Vikings' play selection during their November 28 matchup with the San Diego Chargers.
Sansevere provides live game commentary over the Internet as the Vikings games unfold. His printed analysis of a play is accessible to any fan with a computer and a modem within seconds of the whistle stopping play.
This is the second football season in which the Pioneer Press has taken to the Internet to provide Sansevere's thoughts, along with play-by-play coverage and photographs of the game, on its Vikings Now Gameday Web page. The commentary, accessible from the paper's sports page (www.pioneerplanet.com/sports), has become increasingly popular, and an international fan base is now logging on to catch the action.
"We have increased our audience to really cool proportions," Pioneer Press Sports Editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz says. "We have people [Vikings fans from the United States] in South Korea and the Philippines logging on in the middle of the night to follow a game." About 3,000 users visit the site during each game.
The idea of covering Vikings games on the Internet stems from the National Football League's policy of blacking out home games that are not sold out. The league forbids network affiliates from broadcasting those games. "We tried to find a way to give people coverage," Garcia-Ruiz says.
The NFL contacted Garcia-Ruiz twice about the live analysis during the first year, he says, to express concern about licensing requirements. However, he says, he hasn't heard from the league since. "The rights of sporting events on the Internet will be a very big deal in the next 10 years," Garcia-Ruiz says.
Does Sansevere ever get nervous about what moves so quickly from his mind, through his fingertips and before the eyes of Vikings fans? Not hardly. "It all started off by me talking about the Vikings on KQRS [a local radio station], so I've never quite thought of it," he says.
The type of electronic coverage the Pioneer Press is using in its sports department is the future of sports journalism, Sansevere and Garcia-Ruiz say. "I think there will be a day when you can read your favorite columnists almost as they write," Garcia-Ruiz says.
Now, "you can call up the commentary from the game, and you can get the television color [from the commentators] and the guy who does it for the local newspaper at the same time," Sansevere says. "In five or 10 years, I think I'll be able to say we were trailblazers in coverage of our games and set a precedent."