J.A. Adande

Director of Sports Journalism & Associate Professor at Northwestern Medill

J.A. Adande is Director of Sports Journalism and an Associate Professor at Medill. He was a columnist for ESPN.com for nine years covering the NBA as well as a sideline reporter for NBA games. In addition, J.A. was a panelist for ESPN’s Around the Horn for 13 years, during which he participated in more than 1,000 shows. He continues to contribute to various ESPN platforms on a contract basis while leading Medill’s sports program. Prior to ESPN.com, Adande spent ten years as a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. He was also previously a writer at The Washington Post, where he covered college football, college basketball, and the Washington Bullets (now known as the Washington Wizards). Before that he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times covering Illinois football and basketball and the Chicago Bulls. Adande’s work has appeared in the annual "Best American Sports Writing" series. He is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and served as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism from 2004 to 2015.

Sports Media in an Evolving Digital Landscape

How much do you think digital and social media has changed sports media?

It’s changed dramatically. One way you can look at it is the fall of the highlight show; the notion that you have to wait until 11:00 p.m. eastern to see highlights of what’s happening when now within a minute of a play it’s all over social media – it’s been discussed, it’s been replayed.

How do you think all that change has affected the way teams and programs market themselves to fans?

There’s more direct marketing through social media. And it’s inclusive; it’s two-way. You’re not just marketing to someone; you’re marketing with people and asking them to respond. For example, trivia contests for giveaways are inclusive, asking for more fan participation. It’s not just beaming things out to the audience and potential customers, it’s rounding them up for community engagement.

What are the biggest positives that all this digitization has had for sports media?

Certainly the immediacy, the ability to interact, which can be positive. The accessibility allows fans to access people in sports media or even players and coaches directly. That’s a step forward for the empowerment of the fans.

Are there any sports marketing efforts that have really stuck out to you over the course of your career, either in a good way or bad way?

Actually, one of my students wrote about the “This is SportsCenter” campaign that Wieden+Kennedy did to improve the SportsCenter brand. The way they embedded the whole SportsCenter theme is certainly memorable. SportsCenter, from my view one of the best marketed shows of all time, has now become a victim to social media. Nike has used “Just Do It” consistently all these years. “Just Do It,” and “Bo [Jackson] Knows,” have been incorporated into headlines crossing over into culture, referenced within the media. I would imagine that’s the ultimate goal for an advertising campaign, to exist beyond the campaign until it becomes embedded in our society.

With all this information now readily accessible, how do you think the relationship has changed between communications staffs and reporters?

I was actually just on a panel with someone on a team down in Atlanta, and one thing he said was he had an expectation upfront of knowing what the story was going to be about. He wanted a sense of how his team’s brand would be portrayed in the story, and as a journalist I thought that’s not something I want to give away.

Social activism in sports isn’t new, but with something like Twitter it’s easier for a lot more people to be more up front and visible, so how do you think that whole dynamic has changed?

You hear and learn more about where players stand. This might have been something as recently as five to 10 years ago that the media wouldn’t have been as interested in, so it wouldn’t have bothered to ask. That’s part of the reason we never knew where players stood on these things; because they were never asked. Now they don’t need to be asked. They can weigh in when they see something happening; they can put their two cents in. And more importantly, they can be pro-active. If you go back to Carmelo Anthony – with his Instagram post it was a call to action for his athlete peers to do something. Just his post was an action, and that led to him setting up a meeting with members of the community in Los Angeles with the police officers. They talked things out, and each side learned a little about the other side. Whether that’s dramatic change, I don’t know. Whether it can lead to that, I don’t know. But it’s something. It all started with an Instagram post.

How do you think globalism has affected sports media?

I don’t think American sports media has changed. I always find it interesting to compare. Look at, say, Shohei Ohtani with the Angels. There were 200 credentialed Japanese media members at his first home start. When an American goes overseas to do anything, no one really follows, no one really cares. You have American soccer players playing in the English Premier League and that’s not something we really follow. American sports media is still isolated.

Interviewed by Andrew Hodgson, Medill IMC Class Of 2018

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