Few reporters are as synonymous with a beat as CNBC’s Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell, who has been virtually the only national mainstream media reporter covering the sports-business beat exclusively for more than a decade, both on air and online.
Rovell, 32, began his career at ESPN and in 2006 made the jump to CNBC, where he covers the intersection of sports and commerce. He’s notable among journalists for his aggressive use of Twitter, where his stream of scoops and colorful tidbits has attracted more than 49,000 followers to date.
He’s also the author of two books, First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon and On the Ball: What You Can Learn About Business From America’s Sports Leaders.
Rovell recently sat down with us to chat about covering sports business, and how social-media is changing reporting, among other topics.
JEREMY MULLMAN: As a journalism-school student back in the 1990s, you shrewdly identified sports business as a largely uncovered beat in the mainstream media that you pursued a career in. Are you surprised, more than a decade later, at the extent to which you still have it to yourself?
DARREN ROVELL: Yes. I think what happened was that, in the late 1990s, it went a little mainstream because of the big stadium-building boom. The so-called “Concrete Beat.” So that was there locally. But it never really went national. There were some national people who did write about it, but they had other [beats] and were never able to focus on it to the same extent … It’s related to the lack of interest in business journalism overall. People would rather write a game story that can be written in an automated style than cover business. Hopefully, I’ve changed that a little, but not too much. (Laughs.) The result is that, every day, I have a buffet of stories to choose from.
JM: That’s helped you build an enormous Twitter following. How has Twitter changed the way you approach your job?
DR: First of all, the rules are the rules. On air. Blog. Twitter. It’s my discretion, but if there’s breaking news, it’s on air first. I don’t feel the same type of pressure that, say, NFL writers do because of all the competition they have, so I don’t have to tweet “story coming” whenever I’m about to break something … An issue I do face, though, is that someone can watch me on air and tweet the news without crediting me. In 2010, I probably broke 50 stories on CNBC air. Maybe five times I was beaten while I was writing it up. And then maybe 10 times somebody was watching and tweeted it without crediting me. I have to live with that.
JM: I’d imagine that going from ESPN to CNBC would be a significant shift, given the differences in the audience. How is it different for you?
DR: I went from being the geek at the sports network to the cool guy at the business network. I feel like I’m a diversion. I know I’m not an absolutely essential part of everyday market coverage for CNBC. But I break up the day for the traders who turn up the volume when I come on … There’s also a difference between the viewers. The CNBC viewer watches CNBC for eight to 10 hours a day. They have a real relationship with the people on air. When I worked at ESPN and people recognized me, they’d shake my hand. Now they want to hug me … And you do get a sense of that relationship from Twitter and email. It really is a dialogue and not a monologue anymore. I get a very good sense of what they want to hear.
JM: So let’s talk a little shop. Who in sports marketing is really getting it wrong right now?
DR: One that’s missing the boat is Gatorade. I’m baffled by their direction. I have no idea what research they saw that got them away from the science. And then Powerade hit them and they went scrambling back to the science in such a niche way that no one understands what’s going on. As someone who’s been so close to the brand, I’m baffled by it.
JM: Any fearless predictions for 2011?
DR: Teams will continue to fail at utilizing social media. I think the problem is that the people who are directors of marketing see any surrender of control as making them less worthy of their jobs. They’re used to coming up with all of the promotions, so if the fans come up with half, which is the best way to work with social media, where does that leave them? Their reaction is, “Then what are they paying me for?” And that defensiveness is the attitude of a lot of people in sports.
Jeremy Mullman, Senior Editor, Dig Communications