Claressa Shields, the 17-year-old who yesterday slugged her way to the first ever middleweight gold medal in Olympic women’s boxing, participated in two prominent public media projects, one of which recently began airing on public radio stations through Public Radio Exchange (PRX) distribution. Shields, who hails from Flint, Mich., was the principal subject in “Go For It: Life Lessons From Girl Boxers,” a radio special produced by New York’s WNYC. Hosted by actor Rosie Perez and producer Marianne McCune, the radio documentary follows Shields and other women fighters as they train to qualify for the Olympics. Producers are updating the program to include material about her Olympic victory. Shields is the sole focus of the Kickstarter film documentary project, “T-REX,” which surpassed its $52,500 funding goal six days ago. Producers raised $64,507 from 652 backers at time of publication.
The Southern Conference has cut short a three-year deal with four public television stations to air college athletic events. SoCon, a Division I college athletic conference affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, announced the deals last year with South Carolina ETV, UNC-TV, Georgia Public Broadcasting and WTCI in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Current, Dec. 12, 2011). But SoCon wanted its games televised statewide in all five states within the league, which also included Alabama.
The 18-year partnership that helped prove there’s an audience for collegiate women’s basketball came to an end last week when the University of Connecticut dumped the state’s public TV network for SportsNet New York, a regional cable network with vastly greater reach than Connecticut Public Television. Women’s basketball has been a ratings winner for CPTV, boosting its membership and underwriting revenues, and President Jerry Franklin moved quickly to try to stem the losses. Two days after UConn announced its new contract with SportsNet, Franklin unveiled a licensing deal with Connecticut Sun of the Women’s National Basketball Association. Broadcasts begin airing May 20 on “CPTV Sports.”
Still, Franklin anticipates repercussions from the loss of UConn women’s basketball — for both CPTV and UConn. “We have about 100,000 members — radio and television — and about one-third are members because of UConn women’s basketball,” he said.
There’s a new game in town — relatively new to public television, anyway. Blessed with digital multicast channels and eager to attract new viewers, PBS stations are finding success with high-school football and other sports as varied as NASCAR and Special Olympics on their schedules. Station execs concede that airing more sports can mean preempting PBS program staples — maybe exchanging Frontline for field goals. They can also face questions about the propriety of carrying women’s basketball in place of Washington Week in Review. Still, they insist, gains in viewer interest, the opportunity to promote other shows during game broadcasts, and the positive vibes of bringing communities together more than justify any inconvenience or criticism.