Fans want to know more than just scores

Richard Ryman
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GREEN BAY – Business reporter Darren Rovell sat between a former Super Bowl-winning left guard for the Green Bay Packers and a former WNBA All-Star as part of a panel discussion about sports. He hadn't gotten lost and ended up at the wrong table.

Trade has become as important as trades, fantasy teams often are more important than real ones and business deals make player deals possible.

"I think there's a true sense that a fan is not the best fan he or she can be if you don't understand the business of your sport. You're going to lose at the water cooler," Rovell said.

He joined Aaron Taylor and Anna De Forge as participants in the Sport & Society in America conference Wednesday at Lambeau Field. The event, sponsored by St. Norbert College and the Packers, brings together representatives from sport and academia to discuss issues such as health, competition, business, fan culture and other topics.

Rovell, a sports business analyst for ESPN, has 1.4 million Twitter followers, which indicates sports fans agree with his assessment that they want to know more than scores and trades.

"The greater landscape is teams are becoming companies. The teams will be the smallest part" of operations, he said, after getting a look at the Packers' Titletown District project from a Lambeau Field concourse.

The 34-acre Titletown District, in part, will be a source of non-football income for the Packers. They are not the only professional sports team turning to commercial development to increase sources of revenue.

"I think, particularly here, understanding why the Packers have to do what they do, that's important. It's why they just can't be 'the Packers,'" Rovell said.

The Packers are the NFL's only community-owned team, with 360,760 shareholders. The Press-Gazette recognized as well that fan and community interest extends beyond the field and created a dedicated Packers business beat.

Rovell began reporting on the business of sports while a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"A lot of athletes didn't want to talk, but business people did," he said.

Working for a national brand such as ESPN means Rovell's reporting — utilizing Twitter, blogs and other media — casts a wide net. In the past several days he reported on the NFL returning money to the U.S. government for patriotic displays at games, Under Armour's $280 million deal with UCLA and a multitude of items that cross his desk by the hour. Though mostly his desk is his cellphone.

The panel discussed ways in which social media have changed sports, including access to information and expectations.

"Social media means you don't need a camera or a journalist around you," Rovell said. "Having a niche now is really important. You have to find a way to tell the story in a different way that robots can't replace you."

Regarding other recent NFL news, Rovell said the Raiders' potential move from Oakland to Las Vegas seems more likely to succeed than the Rams certain move from St. Louis to Los Angeles, where owner Stan Kroenke plans a ground-breaking entertainment complex.

"L.A. is still a mystery to me," Rovell said. "Why did they give it to Kroenke? Because he can fail the hardest. He has the most money."

An audience member asked if the NFL, or by extension other sports, would reach a point of diminishing returns in areas such as higher fan costs. Rovell was skeptical.

"It never happens," he said. "People just deal with whatever it is. You can say it's not what it was. It is really just the new reality."

Contact and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG, onInstagram at rrymanpgor on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Or call him at (920) 431-8342.

Darren Rovell, a sports business analyst for ESPN, speaks Wednesday at the Sport & Society in America conference at Lambeau Field.
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