I quite often hear Dodger fans mention an “east coast bias” when responding to articles posted by ESPN, CBSSports, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, even MLB. I live on the east coast – further east than any point in the United States, in fact. I must admit that I was not aware of an east coast bias in reporting national sporting events. Living within the reporting district naturally makes me less aware of any such bias, perceived or real. I certainly am aware that the Dodgers and other west coast teams do not get as much air time or ink as teams on the east coast. That does not surprise me. However, in the past few months that has changed.
I again encountered the term “east coast bias” with reference to Ken Rosenthal’s recent Are Dodgers Shopping Andre Ethier? article on Fox Sports. I simply saw it as a reasonable question considering the state of flux in which we find the Dodgers. I wondered if the commentary meant that the Dodgers were ‘hands off’ for east coast reporters, or if I was off base by often looking at what Ken Rosenthal was saying or writing, or if Dodger fans were a bit oversensitive; so I decided to do a bit of research into an east coast bias to affirm my position or to refute it.
I quickly found that an east coast bias is not as easy to track down as we might expect. There are differing positions on it, but “east coast bias” has made its way into Wikipedia. That alone suggested to me the creature is out there. The most difficult task was to define it. Does it mean inequality in length of time or numbers of words of reporting? Does it mean a slanted view by reporters, announcers and color commentators in their reporting? Since I am most interested in the Dodgers, does it mean negative reporting when the Dodgers are involved in the reports?
Those questions surely didn’t make it much easier, although I did find that there is an east coast bias in terms of the time allotted to west coast teams. To me that does make sense for a number of reasons.
A quick glance at a population density map reveals that about 50 percent of the population in the United States lives in the Eastern Time Zone. The most densely populated area lies between Boston and Washington D.C. The Pacific Time Zone in the United States contains about 14 percent of the total population of the country. Newspapers, magazines, TV are in the consumer business. They naturally cater to the biggest market available – hence more Yankee and Red Sox news. Sportscaster Joe Buck attributes the shift to the economics of running a business. “If you think there is a perceived East Coast bias, guess what? You’re right. That’s where people are watching, that’s where the numbers are.”
All of the teams in the Mountain and Pacific Time zones were at one point expansion teams. They do not have the fan base of the eastern teams because of tradition. There are generations of fans that have religiously followed the older franchises in sports. There have been slews of kids that grew up eating, drinking, and sleeping their favorite teams for decades longer than those in the west.
The time difference itself is a strong impediment to equality of time in reporting. It is a difference to which I can attest. I sleep through more than one half of the Dodger games played in the Pacific Time Zone. If I am sleeping, then most likely many of the most influential writers are sleeping as well.
If anything draws fans to games or to television and written baseball sources it is winning. A simple rule in sports has always been that winning garners attention. The more you win the more attention you get. That principle even affects the selection of most valuable players, as Dodger fans so well know – Kemp vs. Braun in 2011. Since the Dodgers won their last World Series in 1988, the World Series has been won 11 times by teams in the Eastern Time Zone, 7 by teams in the Central Time Zone and 5 by teams in the Pacific Time Zone. Until the west coast teams solve that inequity, the east coast bias and perhaps more appropriately the east of the Mississippi bias will continue.
Is there an east coast bias by ESPN and other media outlets? The answer, in my opinion, would definitely be in the affirmative, but the argument can be made that it is deserved.
I expect that for some, the reference to the bias in reporting baseball related events comes down to the announcer and color commentator level and how the viewer perceives it. That is, presenting what seems to be a view which favors eastern teams – or not – and attempts to predict the winner by offering reasons to justify that selection. That is much more difficult to pin down, but some writers do offer some examples of what they perceive as one-sided commentary. For example, a claim the Giants had gotten lucky in games one and two of the recently concluded World Series. Even former San Francisco Chronicle writer Gwen Knapp, now writing for Sports On Earth, seemed to reflect a bias when she wrote that the Giants “have been so fortunate in the last week that even their mistakes end up working to their advantage” and “the Giants’ luck took on a paranormal quality late in the NLCS.” Is it a bias? I suspect we all have to decide if the reporting is simply trying to be colorful, is bordering on incompetence, or does it have an east coast bias? Does it make any difference if there is a bias, as we see it? Will the bias affect the outcome of the game?
Was Ken Rosenthal reflecting an east coast bias? I don’t think so. What I do think is that since the Dodgers are now the big spenders on the block, the entire baseball world will wait and watch for them to fail. The Dodgers now garner attention from the east and will continue to do so – win or lose. The attention will not be simply reporting what has happened. It will be pointed, asking questions about what is happening with the Dodgers, speculating on what is going to happen. It may be negative. Much of the negative reporting regarding the Dodgers in the past two decades has not reflected an east coast bias. It was brought on by one billion dollars worth of free agents that failed, by trading a Mike Piazza, by signing players with personal and drug related problems, by the Manny Ramirez circus and by two disastrous ownerships. The news reported was the news that was made. Did that news actually reflect a bias? If so, can the Dodgers slay the east coast bias? You bet they can – by winning and restoring the franchise to one with class. But most importantly – just win baby.