What does it say about a sportswriter who retired three years ago but spent a week this winter reporting on six different sporting events? “It’s still fun to go to games,” said Budd Bailey, who retired from the Buffalo News in 2017. “As I tell people, I’d like to think I see more games in Buffalo than anybody else in town.” While he clearly hasn’t grown tired of sports after four decades of coverage, he did share concerns over how sports journalism may be losing out in a changing marketplace.
“Clicks.” Bailey was the first to use the term during our recent series of interviews with some of the area’s best-known sportswriters. And he used the term often. It’s those “clicks” on web stories that have changed how games are covered and WHAT games are covered.
“Maybe the biggest change is how newspapers are choosing what to cover, and I know this firsthand, no longer can you look at attendance as a guide to public interest,” said Bailey who covers all the Buffalo Bandits for Buffalo Sports Page. He’s often the only reporter at home games, though the lacrosse team draws huge crowds to KeyBank Center.
“No longer is the 15,000 fans a game, or whatever the number is, the key thing. It’s how many clicks they get on stories on the internet. And that’s their judgment.“
When he sat down at our WBFO studios in late February, he pointed to the big sports story on the Buffalo News sports page that day which speculated on the contract status of a Buffalo Bills offensive tackle.
“The (Buffalo) News has chosen to dedicate a great many of its resources in that direction. So, not only do you have five guys covering games on game days, you have a Bills story virtually every single day of the year.”
“They know that’s what gets people to click on their phones and read it on-line.”
That approach, Bailey believes, comes at the expense of coverage of other sports which were once mainstays. College basketball. Women’s sports. High school games.
“The other interesting part to me is gambling. Which is clearly coming thanks to the Supreme Court ruling. The moral issues have clearly gone away on that or have put aside for the moment. Teams are now welcoming the idea of trying to get money out of this with open arms.”
He’s seen it firsthand while traveling through Europe where sports pages are full of betting lines and odds. ”Some of it looks like the Wall Street Journal stock tables.”
Beyond appearances, he sees a larger issue.
“I would think the level of cynicism is going to go up dramatically.”
“ When an official makes a call against the home team, before it was just a bad call and you’re upset, now, it may be taking money out of your pocket. And I would think there’s going to be a lot more anger out there.”
The perspective has grown from lengthy experience. Coming out of Syracuse University, Bailey went to work as a sports reporter at public radio station WEBR. In 1986, he moved onto the public relations department for the Buffalo Sabres. His contribution to the franchise remains in place today.
“Naming Sabretooth should be in the first paragraph of my obituary,” he deadpans. I laugh.
“The Knox’s had mascot envy because of Buster Bison and I was part of a mid-management committee that said we want a mascot. I said, Got it! It has got to be a sabertooth tiger and it’s gotta be called ‘Sabretooth.’ S-A-B-R-E.”
The Sabres and Bailey parted ways after six years. From there he went to work for the Buffalo News where his first assignment was to cover....the Sabres.
“I’m fond of saying, Jay, that everyone should get to cover a team that fires you,” he snickers. “But, I did know the game a bit and knew how things worked so it was probably helpful.”
He remained on that beat through 2001 before moving onto other posts at the News. Editing. High schools. The Buffalo Bandits before heading to “retirement.” It’s part of a career that also includes authoring 12 books and now writing on-line at Buffalo Sports Page.
“It’s not a bad retirement gig. It just doesn’t pay that much,” he laughs. “But that’s okay.”
He covers college hockey. Lacrosse. Auto racing. And he’s a consistent presence among the reporters at Buffalo Sabres home games.
“I try to give a different perspective than you get anywhere else and that perspective is something like the view from 30,000 feet, the view from the 300 level or whatever you want to call it. I try to do big pictures and try to provide some sort of angle that nobody else is providing.”