TMZ.com, a leading gossip and celebrity news web site, has entered the sports media market, launching TMZ Sports at the start of the year. And if its recent coverage of the Gilbert Arenas story is any indication, established sports media outlets are facing a legitimate contender in this saturated industry. Already the web site scooped everyone from ESPN to the Washington Post by first reporting that Arenas does not have a license to carry the firearm he is accused of brandishing in the Wizards’ locker room, and that according to “law enforcement sources,” the locker room is monitored by surveillance video, making it a real possibility that footage of the incident exists.
As a gossip web site, TMZ Sports will have to prove its reporting accuracy in order to solidify a reputation as a reputable source for sports media news. But TMZ Sports isn’t just covering sports in the traditional sense; rather, it is building off what TMZ.com does well: gossip. In doing so, the web site is challenging unspoken agreements between athletes and media that private lives generally stay private. The site has held no punches in its Tiger Woods coverage, even posting grainy cell phone photos of Woods in various nightclubs, which directly contradict the pristine image Woods has worked so hard to create. In just a few short weeks, the site has posted everything from documents in Shaquille O’Neal’s divorce proceedings to pictures of baseball player Matt Kemp grabbing the backside of his girlfriend, Rihanna.
If TMZ Sports stays on this course, major athletes will have a major problem. Without a free pass from the media, the private, sometimes unsavory and always un-manufactured side of our “All-American” athletes will be on full display for the world to see. Considering that a carefully guarded image is critical for marketing (and financial) success, athletes have a real reason to be nervous: After all, if TMZ Sports been around 20 years ago, everyone’s favorite Nike pitchman might not have enjoyed such public admiration had stories and pictures of his now-infamous gambling habit been so readily available.