As of this post, the lead story on TMZ is about what one of the Olsen twins was wearing during a morning jog. It’s not speculating that she was on an acid trip or that she was running to a new lover’s house. It’s just a picture with a short critique of her out-of-date workout ensemble. This is an example of why there are smart people who don’t think the preeminent celebrity gossip site in this country will ever be able to make the transition to covering sports. The average sports fan just doesn’t care about what Dustin Pedroia was wearing when he rolled out of bed this morning.
And they’re probably right. But that’s assuming Harvey Levin is going to run TMZ Sports exactly the way he runs the mothership. He won’t. Levin knows that, with the exception of only a few elite stars (Tiger, Tom Brady, ARod), simply sending paparazzi to snap photos of athletes living their lives isn’t going to cut it.
What will work is scandal, which is even easier to find in sports than it is in Hollywood. TMZ generates its best traffic when it breaks a celebrity death story like it did with Michael Jackson last summer. Obviously, tragedies like that are less likely to occur among athletes –they tend to be a healthier group—but controversy in sports can be created by much less significant stories. In other words, an athlete doesn’t need to be found dead to make news.
TMZ Sports will have people in every trendy night club in every major city and it won’t be long before they starting running pictures of athletes partying too hard or even just in attendance. That’s the thing; TMZ won’t even need to speculate on what was happening. It will leave that up ESPN and rest of the media to analyze whether a player’s performance the following day was hindered by spending too much time hitting the town the night before.
Just like that, we’ll have a scandal on our hands.
In a lot of ways, the people working for TMZ Sports will have it much easier than those at TMZ. Catching a random celebrity drunk on a Saturday night isn’t hurting anyone. In fact, it might make them seem cooler, more like a regular person. But the minute someone takes a picture of Chad Ochocinco getting sloshed the night before a big game, we’ll want him kicked out of the league, owners will want to void his contract and people in Vegas will want him whacked.
And it will happen. A lot. Athletes have largely been given a pass by the people covering them for the past century. Grantland Rice, widely considered the greatest sportswriter ever, admitted not just to protecting Babe Ruth, but also being a paid staff member of The Great Bambino’s. The list goes on forever. Only long after they were finished with sports did we hear about the trouble Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali got into in their respective hey days. Only now are we hearing about Michael Jordan --who has to be thanking god that he just missed the 24/7 media era -- and his late night casino trips before playoff games.
In October, every sports talking head in the country blasted Detroit Tigers’ slugger Miguel Cabrera after he was taken into police custody following a dispute with his wife. But it wasn’t the domestic violence claims that shocked anyone. It was the fact that his blood alcohol level was .26 and the following day he went 0-4 in the Tigers’ biggest game of the season. How could he let his team down like that?
TMZ Sports is going to have stories like this on a regular basis simply because of the nature of the people they’re covering. So many professional athletes go from having very little as kids to being rich beyond belief by their early twenties. But money doesn’t always change their mentality. More often than not, it only makes them think they’re more indestructible.
For the first time, we’re about to get a glimpse of how athletes really live.
And it’s going to change everything.