Philadelphia Eagles training camp began this week, which means we’ll get an update whenever somebody sneezes, farts, or catches a pass.
And from what we’ve seen so far, it looks like this team is Super Bowl bound:
Wentz hands off to Pumphrey. Oh man they look sharp! pic.twitter.com/X59AygSla6
— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) July 24, 2017
The humor is appreciated, and maybe that’s a prerequisite for sanity and survival on the Eagles beat, a bloated monstrosity featuring dozens of writers writing the same thing. Oftentimes style and tone provide the only variation in 25 stories about the same topic with the same (boring Doug Pederson) quotes.
It’s easy to roll our eyes when we look at the state of Eagles media coverage, with the 24/7 radio talk, dominant television programming, and redundancy in online content, especially after one day of 30 players running around in shorts.
But the reality is that the Eagles hold sporting hegemony over their Philadelphia peers by a very large margin.
On most days, Birds stories will be the most-read content on sites like Philly.com, PhillyVoice, and CSNPhilly.
Take, for instance, a seven-paragraph Jeff McLane observation notebook posted Monday afternoon. By the time 10pm rolled around, 103 people commented online, 90 percent of whom were on-topic while one guy referred to another as a “hateful liberal.”
Over at Philly Voice, my colleague Jimmy Kempski wrote 740 words, also on day-one observations, garnering 134 comments in the same time frame. That included a sidebar Dallas Cowboys ragging session and a Mila Kunis gif. For context, the most comments I’ve ever received on a soccer story were 22, and it was a piece that had nothing to do with your hometown Philadelphia Union.
Kempski closed his article with a note on media attendance at practice:
“Do you think Philadelphia is a football town? There were at least 70 (maybe 80?) media people in attendance at a practice where only 34 players participated.”
— John Gonoude (@john_gonoude) July 24, 2017
I can’t tell you exactly how many people read each of those Eagles stories, but just take a step back and think about the 70-odd reporters that are on the beat to begin with.
The Inquirer and Daily News have four reporters dedicated solely to the Eagles beat, which doesn’t even include columnists like Mike Sielski or Bob Ford, who also write about the team. Outlets like NJ.com and the Delco Times also have multiple writers doing Eagles coverage. CSN Philly is another of those outlets, and that’s just the digital side.
The other half is daily TV programming, which features year-round Eagles coverage (i.e. Quick Slants) and a content-sharing partnership with fellow Comcast property NBC 10 that allows for more dead-horse beating.
The sheer media presence lords over the other local teams, where you might have 10 to 20 regulars, or in the case of the Union beat, four part-timers who drive our sorry asses down to Chester twice a week.
I spent seven years at CBS 3, and I can tell you from personal experience that the Eagles were the primary focus in the sports department.
Ratings for the 30-minute weekend special, “Sports Zone,” regularly increased during Eagles season. We had real trouble cresting the 1.5 mark from February to August, when the Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers were all struggling through their campaigns.
During football season, however, we were able to break 2.0 and 2.5, even at 11:45 pm on a Sunday night. Partial credit definitely goes to that 8:30 pm national TV game for the lead-in potential, which I think left us with an audience of channel flippers who weren’t yet ready for bed.
Similarly, Eagles stories on CBSPhilly.com regularly doubled or even tripled news-related content, pushing sometimes into the range of 15,000, 20,000, or 25,000 views (Riley Cooper and Tim Tebow stuff).
If we had any kind of Eagles material, even a pedestrian soundbite from Juan Castillo, that’s how we’d start the sports segment of a typical newscast.
Often, we would even “lead” the show itself with Eagles-related content, or position live reports from the NovaCare complex in the “A block,” which is the opening segment before the first commercial break.
A limited travel budget was also devoted mostly to Eagles’ road games. While we would send reporters live to Spring Training, or the NCAA tournament, satellite window dollars were predominantly spent during football season.
Even the staffing of local sports departments is specifically geared to Eagles’ coverage.
I had the privilege of working with former NFL defensive back Beasley Reece at CBS, who is now enjoying retirement in Texas and occasionally updating his Twitter account with photos of the latest fish he’s caught.
Caught one crappie tonight and 5 hybrid bass! Getting my crank bait technique back. The bass are great fighters…crappie best tasting. pic.twitter.com/oEGReUXNOx
— Beasley Y Reece Jr. (@beasleyreece) May 25, 2017
It’s more prevalent in radio, where 94 WIP has the likes of ex-Birds Ike Reese and Jon Ritchie in key day-part roles. Hollis Thomas, who is back on weekends now, previously did the all-important evening drive shift alongside Josh Innes.
One person over there told me that somewhere between “70 to 80 percent” of phone calls default to Eagles talk.
WIP is also the Eagles’ (and Phillies) broadcast rights holder, so there’s a branch of the sales department that focuses primarily on “play-by-play” advertising for those two sports. In layman’s terms, there are employees at 4th and Market whose main responsibility is selling football and baseball-specific radio advertising.
That’s different from the segment of the department that sells generic radio spots for, say, Angelo Cataldi’s show.
WIP can “bill” at a much higher rate than sister properties like WOGL and WPHT on the strength of football content and Eagles broadcasts. Likewise, 97.5 the Fanatic holds the Sixers’ and Flyers’ rights and has a dedicated sales staff for those broadcasts.
Beyond all of that, the Eagles poll extremely well in our region, and this is the part of the story where I actually give you some hard data.
Market research from Public Policy Polling (PPP) shows that 76 percent of people age 12 or older in Philadelphia identify themselves as NFL fans. It’s the sport with the largest percentage of fans in our area, with the next five being baseball (67 percent), college football (59 percent), basketball (55 percent), college basketball (54 percent), and a tie between soccer and ice hockey (48 percent).
Furthermore, that 76 percent number places the Eagles in the top six among all NFL markets, which is expected. About 40 percent of Eagles fans described themselves as “avid” supporters, which is also unsurprising.
And that interest is a year-round thing. In PPP’s 2016 Sports Poll, Philadelphia fans identified the NFL as their main focus for all four seasons of the year. Only in quarter two, the months of April, May, and June, did any other sport (NBA) come close to reaching the NFL.
ESPN has basically given up talking about anything other than the NFL & NBA. Movies, fashion, gossip, etc get more play than sports.
— David Todd (@DavidMTodd) July 25, 2017
Demographic studies also do a service to the Eagles. Thirty percent of the Birds’ fan base falls into the millennial range, while 26 percent of fans have a household income topping $100,000. Advertisers love that, because those people have money to spend. You’re not going to waste ad dollars targeting freelance journalists, right?
Also, a few other pieces of data worth considering:
52 percent of Eagles fans say that watching sports with family is a way they spend quality time. That’s 22 percent higher than the national average (2016 PPP Sports Poll).
66 percent of Eagles fans say it’s important for parents to pass down their love of sports to their children (2016 PPP Sports Poll).
64 percent of Eagles fans say they will support a new sponsor when the team makes a switch (2016 Simmons sports study).
38 percent of Eagles fans, age 18 and older, say they are influenced by NFL sponsors. That’s the highest number among local sports teams (2016 Simmons sports study).
Eagles fans are 129 percent more likely than Phillies fans to buy locally from sports sponsors (2016 PPP Sports Poll).
And maybe the easiest way to determine the Eagles popularity is to just look at the ratings.
In a 2016 poll run by Nielsen, the Eagles ranked fifth in overall media exposure, with strong marks in the web, social media, and national broadcast departments. Local numbers were down that year (but still in the top half of the league), probably because Chip Kelly was running a crappy 7-9 team and everybody was done with the smoothies and sleep monitors and other associated BS.
Most importantly, the Eagles seem to be a crash-proof market, which is to say that it doesn’t matter if they’re good or if they’re bad. If the Birds are doing well, everybody reads the stories and feels good and probably gets more work done during the week. When they suck, you have hundreds of people dialing #9494 to talk about how much they suck.
That’s the dream scenario, really.
You don’t get the anger-becomes-apathy situation when talking about the Birds, or the NFL in general, with more than a third of football fans saying that they cheer for their favorite team no matter how they’re doing (Simmons sports study).
So while it’s easy to complain about the deluge of Eagles content on radio, TV, or online, the fact of the matter is that the desire for Birds’ content is what drives sports media in Philadelphia and ultimately pays the bills in a lot of journalist households.