When TMZ executive producer Harvey Levin announced plans last December to launch a sports offshoot of the notorious gossip site, the reaction in the sports blogosphere was an unusual combination of amusement and fear. “Hide the baby mamas! TMZSports.com is coming,” proclaimed a headline on the popular blog Sports by Brooks. The post later admitted that TMZ’s sports journalism debut could prove to be an “industry game changer.”
Whether TMZ Sports will offer sports stories of substance or schlock is a fair question. Sister site TMZ is, of course, best known and often reviled for its up-close—indeed, sometimes upskirt—approach to celebrity journalism. In its four-year history, it has earned a reputation as a less scrupulous online version of a supermarket tabloid, publishing what The Washington Post called “eyebrow-raising but uncheckable sensation.” But the verdict among sports bloggers seems to be that TMZ Sports may not even have to compete with ESPN or Sports Illustrated to earn pageviews—it could be as successful as its older incarnation just by sticking to its tried-and-true formula of voyeuristic paparazzi shots, sex scandals, and drug allegations.
“If TMZ Sports uncovers a couple of decent stories about athletes’ mistakes early on they’ll get a lot of instant press,” said Dan McQuade, a contributing sports blogger for Vanity Fair and Sports Illustrated. “There’s a pretty large population who put athletes on the same level as movie and pop stars and will be more than delighted to see who snorted what.”
And there is no denying TMZ’s stellar track record of scoops, often on subjects more weighty than what a starlet may be shoving up her nostrils. The Guardian called TMZ’s Jackson death exclusive “the scoop of the decade.” Before that, the site broke news of Britney Spears’s infamous breakdown, Mel Gibson’s drunken, anti-semitic rant, and the overdose deaths of Anna Nicole Smith and Heath Ledger.
In the arena of sports, let’s not forget its exhaustive coverage of the Tiger Woods scandal, nor its more recent—and laudable—scoop on possible recruiting violations in the NCAA. “That’s a story any mainstream sportswriter would have been proud to get,” said Jane McManus, who writes for ESPNNewYork.com.* “This might be heresy, but I think TMZ might force sportswriters to look beyond the game for stories, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Too often, the media has been compliant in building a myth rather than reporting the facts.”
A.J. Daulerio, editor of Gawker Media’s sports blog Deadspin, doesn’t believe TMZ Sports will be “head-to-head competition” for his popular site, but doesn’t think any existing outlets, including mainstream sports brands like ESPN, should be complacent. “TMZ is a competitor regardless if they are sports-centric or not,” he said.
New York sports columnist Will Leitch doesn’t think TMZ Sports will make the splash in sports that its sister site has made in entertainment, mainly because the subject matter isn’t as interesting to the masses. Still, he says, whether it’s substantial or not-so-much, the new site will keep the old sports stalwarts on their toes. “I think ESPN and others will have to report on more salacious, behind-the-scenes sports stories to compete,” Leitch said. “Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Correction: This story originally reported that Jane McManus was a blogger at baseball site MLB.com. McManus actually works at ESPNNewYork.com. The sentence in question has been revised accordingly. CJR regrets the error. Return to the corrected sentence.Clare O'Connor is a student in the spring Media Criticism course at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.