The coronavirus pandemic has hammered sports media, with some newspapers like the Washington Post cutting their sports sections in half and others like the Denver Post suspending them.
But one of the bright spots in the otherwise grim sports media landscape has been Tom Brady.
Brady’s move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after 20 years with the New England Patriots has driven the news cycle at a time when sports media desperately needed storylines.
The 42-year old Brady’s signing with the Buccaneers has also rejuvenated interest in a 7-9 team that’s missed the NFL playoffs 12 straight seasons. That’s driving readers and listeners to local papers such as the Tampa Bay Times and sports radio stations like 95.3 WDAE, as well as to national sports networks such as ESPN.
“I call it the ‘Brady Bump,’” says Carolyn Fox, senior deputy editor of Tampa Bay Times. “The fact that Tom Brady is coming to the Buccaneers really drove a ton of stories we weren’t necessarily expecting – which makes us a bit of an outlier versus other markets.”
Despite a paywall, tampabay.com is now averaging over 1 million page views daily, according to Fox. That’s roughly double what it was drawing before Brady and coronavirus coverage.
Fox said she doesn’t have current numbers for print subscriptions, but interest in the six-time Super Bowl champion helped boost tampabay.com to over 15,000 digital subscribers for the first time, she said.
Like some other newspapers, some Tampa Bay Times staffers have been shifted somewhat off the sports desk to cover coronavirus-related stories. For example, Fox said Lightning beat reporter Diana Nearhos has been helping out on virus news while continuing to cover her team and league. The sports section, meanwhile, has been moved inside the “A” section covering local/national news.
But headcount for the 11-person Sports staff remains unchanged. With Brady coming to town, it’s likely to stay that way, according to Fox. Readers are interested in all things Buccaneers, including the rollout of new uniforms later this year.
“We thought we’d struggle to have enough sports content, but we have not had that problem. Brady’s part of it. NFL free agency is part of it. There’s just been a lot of sports news, even if it’s not live coverage,” she said.
The three-time NFL MVP, who signed a two-year $50 million deal with the Buccaneers, will be playing in a growing market on Florida’s Gulf Coast that ranks as the 12th-biggest designated market area (DMA) in the U.S. with 4.4 million residents.
The fan frenzy over the four-time Super Bowl MVP is also driving listeners to WDAE, the market’s top sports talk radio station.
“It’s been a good thing for our show. Bucs fans are very excited Brady will be the quarterback this coming season,” said Pat Donovan, co-host of the “Pat and Aaron” program.
Donovan’s not sure about advertising impact yet. But Brady’s been big business for the Buccaneers, he noted.
Demand for 2020 tickets on Ticketmaster exploded within minutes of the news of Brady’s signing. At one point, the queue to buy game tickets on Ticketmaster was thousands of fans long.
That’s fueling hope Brady will help the Buccaneers sell-out Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers ranked 30th in home attendance last season, ahead of only the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams. With an average crowd of 51,898, the team filled only 79.1% of capacity at Raymond James. The team declined to comment for this story.
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If things get back to anywhere near normal by football season, Donovan predicts a Brady “boon” in listeners and advertisers.
“Tom Brady is absolutely going to bring a lot of attention, both locally and nationally, to this football team. I don’t think we’re noticing it from an advertising aspect. But we certainly are in our interaction with callers. For the most part, they don’t have a whole lot else to talk about because we’ve got no sports happening at all,” Donovan said.
The local media in Tampa Bay aren’t the only outlets getting help from the Brady bump. With no live sports to cover, ESPN has heavily covered his soap opera-like free agency.
Besides non-stop Brady coverage on “Get Up,” “First Take,” “NFL Live,” and “SportsCenter,” ESPN also presented a seven-hour marathon of Brady’s championship performances on March 22. There’s also a “Best of Tom Brady” compilation on the ESPN+ streaming service.
“NFL free agency has been a godsend for ESPN,” said Julie Stewart-Binks of fubo Sports Network. “They already have some of the best insiders and reporters in the game, so they’ve rightfully taken center stage. Tom Brady going to the Bucs, is one of the few topics in sports that didn’t also have a shadow of, ‘but how does Covid-19 affect it?’ It helps us look ahead to the future when, hopefully, our lives are different.”