Floridian Mike Bianchi has seen the exponential growth in his state during his time as a sportswriter. He watched Florida go from having only one pro team, the Miami Dolphins, to having nine in the four major sports.
Mike has been an advocate and supporter of this growth while also keeping firm footing in Florida's deep tradition in college sports. Swampland Sports invites our readers to learn a little more about the man who works the sports beat in one of the nation's fastest growing markets.
Swampland Sports Interview
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Gainesville and grew up in a small town up in North Central Florida called Interlachen. It was so small, we were a suburb of Palatka.
What was your definition of "big time" sports as a kid?
My definition of big-time sports when was all about college football. When I was a kid, the Gators and the Seminoles were our big-time sports because we only had one professional franchise in the state _ the Miami Dolphins. Of course, when the Dolphins got good then they became everybody's favorite team because they're the team we got on TV every Sunday.
When did you decide you wanted to write about sports?
I decided I wanted to write about sports when I figured out I wasn't good enough to play them on a professional level.
What writers inspired you to become a writer? Who are the writers that inspire you now?
Some of the writers that inspired me were Furman Bisher, Hubert Mizell, Tom McEwen, Larry Guest and Jack Hairston because those are the columnists in the South I grew up reading. Also, I love Florida-based novelists Harry Crews and Carl Hiasson. My favorite writer, though, is John Steinbeck. His books -- Cannery Row and the sequel Sweet Thursday -- inspired me to write when I was a kid.
Can you compare the allure of pro vs college sports inside the markets you've covered?
College sports have always been my favorite because of the history and heritage, especially in our market. Most of the pro teams in Florida haven't been around long enough to establish any roots. I love college football because the fans care more. And you know the Gators and Seminoles will never move to Kansas City.
As a sports columnist vs a beat writer, what do you see as your duty to the sports fans in your market (Orlando)?
My duty as a sports columnist in Orlando is to be a fan with a forum. I am a spokesperson for the fans. I think sports are entertainment and therefore I think sports columns should be fun and entertaining. I think sports fans are passionate and therefore I think sports columns should be passionate.
Both Jacksonville and Orlando have one pro team. Compare the two markets as overall sports markets? Does one have more upside over the other? What is one thing you would change about either of these markets from a sports perspective?
There is really no comparison because of the difference in the two sports franchises. Jacksonville has an NFL team, and the NFL is king in this country. Orlando has an NBA team, and the NBA doesn't compare as far as fan passion and interest. Orlando has more potential because of its demographics and population, but Jacksonville not only has the NFL, it has leadership that wants the city to be a sports town.
It is interesting that Jacksonville’s stadium (formerly Alltel Stadium) was the site of two lopsided losses that have marked the decline of two of Florida’s NFL teams (Miami’s 62-7 loss to Jax and Jacksonville’s loss to the Titans that you mentioned in a recent column). We have been very hard on the Jaguars organization for allowing the team to decline in the market. Do you think the future of that franchise is in doubt?
Do I think the future of the Jacksonville Jaguars is in doubt? Not really. Because I think Jacksonville will do anything and everything to keep the Jaguars happy.
You always use Birmingham as an example of what not to be if you are a southern city interested in sports. For many Birmingham residents, they are happy not to be part of the pro sports world. What do you say to those people?
I don't use Birmingham as an example because it has turned its back on pro sports, I used Birmingham as an example because it has turned its back on college football. Birmingham used to be one of the most vibrant college football cities in the country. They had the SEC Championship Game. They had a decent bowl game. They had Auburn-Alabama. Now they have none of that, in part, because the city refused to update its dilapidated stadium. If you want to be a player in big-time sports today _ pro or college _ you have to invest in your product and your facilities.
Visit Mike Bianchi at the Orlando Sentinel's website: