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With 2010 ending, a look at what 2011 should bring in sports media . . .

Besides the potential for overdosing on college bowl games and extended sessions with your preferred edition of Madden NFL, the year’s end offers another wonderful opportunity for fans of quality sports and the media which covers them.

Hope.

As any Cubs or Clippers fan can tell you, hope is an essential ingredient for most sports experiences – a light at the tunnel’s end, no matter how bleak the actual journey proves. And as 2011 looms, I find that emotion may be what sports media needs most to survive and thrive into the next millennium.

So here’s a look at what I’m hoping to see over my next year observing sports media:

1) More power to fans. We’ve already made football broadcasts 27 of the 50 most-watched shows of 2010, with NFL games at 18 of the top 20 telecasts. CBS’ success in spreading the NCAA tournament across online and TV platforms this year also hinted at the potential for technology to bring fans together with their favorite sports like never before.

And when cable giant Comcast’s purchase of a controlling interest in NBC-Universal is approved, there will be a serious convergence of sports content (NBC Sports, Versus, Golf Channel), with expanded delivery systems.

So it’s time for fans to flex their muscles a bit. No more tolerance for nonsensical blackout policies or knuckle-headed online restrictions. And perhaps we might even punish wayward media outlets and sports organizations should they dare to try limiting our power.

The most lucrative gift a fan can give any sports franchise is its attention. I’m hoping we all learn to use that power more wisely in 2011 to reward those who keep the fans in mind and punish those who dare to take such devotion for granted.

2) Athletes get the new media rules. Tiger Woods and Brett Favre should be a neon-bright example of the new normal for today’s sports stars. Hit on a woman now, and embarrassing evidence of your indiscretions could surface two years from now on a sports site which paid thousands for your offhand text messages or voice mails.

Once upon a time, groupies tried hooking an athlete by having his baby. These days, they only need enough evidence to hook up a check from Deadspin or a settlement payment from the star himself – complete with confidentiality agreement.

Any pro sports star who lands in TMZ’s crosshairs after a year like this one – in which both Woods and Favre saw their careers disintegrate after media-fueled scandal explosions – deserves whatever snarky blog posts or sneering Access Hollywood stories come their way.

3) Media get the new media rules. Here’s the deal; social media is here to stay, big media outlets don’t necessarily lose credibility by paying for stories or coddling big stars and turning a blind eye to athlete excess does little besides ensure that some gossip site nails the exclusive real reporters should have unveiled.

In truth, 2010 feels like the year sports media lost even its smallest illusions, forced to confront the reality of its uneasy alliance with the same teams, owners, athletes and managers it is supposed to be covering.

For many of us, the job has changed a bit. When the athletes themselves are tweeting news about playing conditions or contract talks, we are pushed to become information arbiters as much as reporters – telling our audience what deserves attention and what doesn’t in an Internet-generated flood of data.

4) Media helps pro sports conquer its latent homophobia and sexism. Now that even the U.S. military has agreed that being gay doesn’t affect a soldier’s effectiveness (or the service’s cohesion), perhaps the pro sports world can do the same?

We don’t yet have an openly gay athlete competing in America’s top professional sports, and 2011 seems a year ripe for making that kind of history. Sports media world can help that process, challenging hypocrisy and encouraging openness in a way that makes it easier for a pioneering competitor to break the latest frontier or prejudice in athletics.

While that’s going on, perhaps we can also confront the industry’s bizarre double standards for women – glorifying them as sex objects on the sidelines while denying them equal opportunities in the broadcast booth.

It is long past time we had women in the analyst’s booths alongside the guys at NFL games, for example. I have a hard time believing there are no women capable of countering Terry Bradshaw’s gregarious blockheadedness or Tony Siragusa’s blinding command of the obvious.

Perhaps if the ranks of conventional broadcasters were more diverse, the Ines Sainz of the world would make less impact. And making that happens in a New Year’s resolution that’s well worth attempting for all sports media.

Eric Deggans is TV and Media Critic for the St. Petersburg Times and a 1990 graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Village Voice, VIBE magazine, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times and many other publications. He also writes a blog on media, The Feed, at  blogs.tampabay.com/media.   
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