photo credit: the internet
by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Irregular posting schedule will continue until morale improves. I need to clear out the queue so here's an early edition of Seen & Heard to get you through the work week. We should have a Strombo thread up eventually but feel free to discuss that here until then. I'm also working on a few more rigorous features on bigger topics, and will be reaching out to people in the coming weeks for help. (If you're in the business, thanks for answering my emails). Additionally we should have some fun posts upcoming. All of that should help us survive the dog days of summer in sports media that are about to descend.
Suggested Soundtrack: Black Sheep – The Choice is Yours
News leaked this week that Vegas will get an NHL team while Quebec City will not. Here is a quick round-up of some notable opinions
Scott Stinson (National Post) writes:
"The great uncertainty is whether Las Vegas can generate enough interest from visiting tourists to sustain a franchise. No one knows. But hoping that there are lots of visitors who go to Vegas and find themselves bored and looking for something to do is a curious bet."
Eric Duhatschek has a more positive view in the Globe & Mail:
"Las Vegas is a hospitality hub, a destination for many seeking to get out on the town in short whistle-stop trips to the Nevada city. Nowadays, people go to Vegas not just for the gambling, but for the dining and the shows. Suddenly, the NHL will be on offer as a tourist option. Snowbirds have not flocked to games in Arizona or Florida the way those teams hoped, but the belief is Vegas can be different because people go to Vegas with a mindset to get out on the town."
The least informative piece I read came courtesy of TSM and Sportsnet favourite John Shannon, who writes the following explaining why Quebec didn't get a team:
“But where would the corporate dollars come from? I’m told that portion of the application did not really properly address how and where the dollars would come from. It was the weak link in the proposal. How quickly would this team require an injection of revenue sharing from the other partners, which would dilute the almost $17 million fee each team would receive? The Toronto Maple Leafs paid almost $30 million into revenue sharing last year. Would they, and every other “have” team, be paying more in a few years? It was a risk that Bettman could not recommend. It was a risk that the Executive Committee would not approve. From a pure business sense, it was not realistic.”
Shannon neglects to tell us why Vegas doesn't raise exactly the same concerns, or how this issue was addressed in the case of Winnipeg. The piece lacks the kind of balance one would expect from a reputable hockey outlet like Sportsnet, so it reads mostly as a press release for the NHL. This doesn't do much to reverse Shannon's existing reputation as Gary's man on the ground at Sportsnet.
As an aside, with cuts coming in that wing of the campus, would anyone miss Shannon if he went back to work for the NHL in an official capacity? He's got a very deep CV on the production side and I would argue that this is where his talents lie. He is inarguably the worst co-host in the history of PTS and Sportsnet employs many superior NHL "insiders". He is very very redundant.
Back to Vegas and Quebec City, conventional wisdom is that Canadian markets won't be filled via expansion but rather be held open until a U.S.-based team is on the verge of folding. The logic is that Canadian markets won't ever lose their interest, so you can go there when all other options have been exhausted. By contrast, you need to strike while the iron is hot and scoop up expansion fees while U.S. markets are interested in hockey. If and when the interest wanes, then you turn your gaze back to the North.
Here's the problem with that strategy: the last two years of hockey ratings have shown that there is a finite amount of interest in the NHL, even in Canada. International hockey tournaments still draw big TV numbers, so Canadians haven't lost their appetite for the sport of hockey. Rather, it's the NHL that is less compelling.
The NHL is playing a risky game by using Canada as a last resort rather than investing in growing the game here. With the rise of the Raptors, Canadian basketball in general, a resurgent Jays team that draws national attention, soccer and the expansion of the MLS, there are now more options than ever competing for eyeballs and ticket dollars. Additionally, the NHL has chosen a regular season schedule that drags on too long and overlaps with the NFL juggernaut in the fall and winter, as well as the record setting NBA playoffs and the MLB in the spring.
Finally and perhaps most crucially, as Bruce Arthur wrote about recently in the Star, the game is boring. The NFL has done a lot recently to shed its label as the No Fun League, including making the passing game front and centre. The NBA is making the 3-point shot more prominent. Soccer added a diving penalty, a shirt pulling penalty (Hop Suisse!), and more officials to try to improve the flow of the game. Can you point to anything that shows the NHL is trending in a more exciting direction? I can't.
Vegas may turn into a stable franchise but I wouldn't bet my money on it.
Over to you: would you make an NHL game part of your Vegas vacation? Do you care that Quebec City was skipped over? Are you bored by the NHL's product?
Running Players out of Town
Is Toronto a tough media market? We've batted this ball around before and it has come up again with Kessel winning The Cup and people taunting Steve Simmons as a result. Steve had this to say on Twitter:
No vendetta. Just get tired of the constant harangue on Twitter that media ran him out of town. That's nonsense. https://t.co/a2cFx44xDV
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) June 12, 2016
I don't really have an opinion on whether or not Simmons has a vendetta against Phil. That said, he does work for TSN and that network was ground zero for run-ins with the ex-Leaf. Many media rallied around TSN contributor Dave Feschuk when he was called out by Kessel. Dave Naylor has been very vocal on his TSN radio show supporting Feschuk after the latter wrote his now infamous "Phil is uncoachable" story featuring anonymous sources quoting Steve Spott quoting Randy Carlyle. Recall that TSN also aired a lurid tweet about Dion Phaneuf's wife. Also, TSN Leafs beat reporter (now with CP & TSN) Jonas Siegel publicly complained about Kessel's media surliness and how he wasn't going to take it anymore.
All that to say there are a lot of layers to that era of Leafs-media relations that make it hard to know whose personal dislike for Phil bled into his or her professional work. Things seem to be better now that Lou and Brendan are in charge. In any case, Steve filled in for Michael Landsberg on TSN1050's morning show and discussed (Wednesday of last week maybe?) his hot dog story and roundly rejected the idea that he or the media drove Phil out of town. He made a pretty compelling case in my opinion.
The more general questions I want us to ponder are the following:
1) Is Toronto a tough media market?
2) What are the examples of the local media turning on an athlete and driving him out of town?
On the first question, Toronto is undoubtedly a fish bowl for Leafs players. That said, we don't often hear about players' personal lives (marital status, which clubs they were spotted at, financial woes, etc.) the way, for example, tabloids follow the Yankess in New York. Nothing will ever compare to the Boston media in my experience. Those guys would shred players day and night and you could see the fans follow suit. Antagonizing players was something of a local pastime.
So while Toronto is a demanding media market for hockey players it is not especially intrusive. By contrast with the Leafs, Raptors players seem to enjoy significantly less pressure from the media. Most Raptors players are treated as saviours when they are not being ignored. The Jays are somewhere in the middle. The fact that the majority of the people covering the team work for Rogers helps keep things friendly, obviously. The love affair with Gibby sometimes borders on the ridiculous. We occasionally hear or read critical pieces when players struggle — Tulo comes to mind this year — but generally speaking the baseball media is not tough.
Turning to the 2nd question, I struggled to think of guys who were run out of town by media rather than by their own play. Larry Murphy? Alex Rios? Bryan McCabe? David Wells? I'm curious if anyone can make the case that these guys left early because of the media. I'm also especially keen to hear from those of you who have lived elsewhere.
Over to you: is Toronto a tough media market? Did the TSN gang run Phil out of town?
The winner of This Week in Bad Twitter is going to be in the running for bad tweet of the year. Check out this doozy from Mr. Bob McCown:
Bautista cancels his golf tournament…expects to be traded by deadline.
— Bob McCown (@FadooBobcat) June 18, 2016
Within an hour Jays media were disputing the facts
— Gregor Chisholm (@gregorMLB) June 18, 2016
Jose Bautista sends word through Blue Jays PR that his golf tournament isn't cancelled. Relax.
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) June 18, 2016
A few minutes later Bobcat recanted the original report with this sheepish tweet:
Informed that Jose's golf event has been moved…not cancelled. Apologies.
— Bob McCown (@FadooBobcat) June 18, 2016
Normally I wouldn't devote much space to this but given McCown's record when it comes to breaking news, this incident is pretty interesting. Bob hadn't tweeted in months and was clearly excited to be able to make a splash. The question I have is how did this happen?
- Theory 1 says: Bob was just throwing something out there to rile up the fanbase. Bob is well known for his deep reserve of energy for disingenuous arguments so this theory has some merits.
- Theory 2 is that one of Bob's sources with the Jays told him something false by mistake and Bob drew the implication that Bautista would be traded based on that, and went ahead without doing any fact checking or confirming.
- Theory 3 says that someone intentionally gave Bob false information and the idea that a trade is in the works, knowing that this would be publicly embarrassing for McCown if he were to mention it.
I have no idea which theory is accurate but one of them is pretty close to the truth. Regardless, someone in Bob's position and with his track record of hilariously wrong scoops should be doing his due diligence before tweeting. The fact that reporters were able to falsify the report so quickly suggests that the facts were not all that hard to discover.
As we near the end of Bob's contract, events like these won't help his negotiating power in squeezing another year or two out of Rogers.
Speaking of negotiating power, how does Don Cherry have so much of it? As we await the full details of the Rogers hockey cuts we get the news that Cherry is safe. In my opinion Cherry is part of the problem with HNIC not part of the solution. We have become so accustomed to blaming Rogers for the ills of Hockey Night but let's recall that Cherry devolved into his current unwatchable state long before they took over. Would anyone really miss the guy that rants about lefty pinkos who ride bicycles? Seems odd to rush to lock him up to a new deal. Where else would he go?
TSN issued a press release stating they have hired a new Leafs beat reporter. Welcome to the fold Kristen Shilton. I'm a little sad David Alter didn't get the job after his rough treatment by Postmedia. That said, it's great they have hired a woman. I do wonder how much she will be going on the road with the team, since they have essentially cut that from Scott MacArthur's Jays job, and the press release praises her social and digital media skills but doesn't specify whether she will be traveling.
Chris Zelkovich reports that 535,000 people tuned in to TSN to watch a CFL pre-season game featuring two western Canadian teams.
The CFL has a blog called The Snap. They took a look at tailgating at BMO. You can see the lively pictures (of the same dozen people) here. If I can be so bold as to give the CFL marketing advice: stop calling it a tailgate and call it a fan party or the BBQ Zone or something else instead. By using the word 'tailgating' you are inviting comparisons with the NFL and you probably don't want to do that.
Sean Fitz-Gerald reminds us about the idiotic spat between Argos and TFC supporters about the state of the grass at BMO. Here's hoping this story dies with this article.
Richard Deitsch (who owes me an email) has a discussion of whether media members can come back after being fired for racist remarks. He also had a great appearance on PTS recently to discuss the widely acclaimed ESPN documentary on OJ Simpson that is airing on TSN.
ESPN has adopted guidelines for acknowledging the work of others in their own reporting. As much as I want to make sarcastic remarks about ESPN, it will be eons before either TSN or SN adopt anything similar. The way each network pretends the other doesn't exist is immeasurably stupid since anyone who pays for one network also pays for the other.
Low Hanging Fruit
- If you missed TSN Overdrive in the last little while let me catch you up: ball sweat and diarrhea. TSN1050 really missed the boat by deciding not to put this crew in the morning. Weak general sports knowledge and toilet humour? They would be perfect to go up against Dean Blundell.
- Joey Vendetta did one his 10 weeks or so of fill-in work for the FAN. Notably he was actually in the FAN studios (as opposed to via ISDN from LA). He made appearances on the PTS roundtable, as guest host for Blair as well as for Blundell. One of the best things about the Vendetta shows is that he breaks up the monotony of the usual Sportsnet suspects as guests. The day after Joey hosted and Blair returned, listeners were treated to Wilner, ESmith, Molinaro, and Healy over the course of 2 hours.
- Ben Ennis filled in for both Walker and Wilner this week and did a great job at both. Look forward to hearing more of Ben all summer.
- Steve Simmons was a breath of freash air on Naylor & Landsberg. He has all of Michael's bluster but none of his OTR references, a much deeper sports knowledge, as well as an ability to have a debate without talking over his interlocutor. I've said it before, radio is Steve's best medium. Excellent rapport with Dave.
- Greg Brady is making cryptic remarks about a possible return to radio. He may not be the host we deserve but given the state of the line-ups he may be the host we need.
I am in a complex riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. I can say more before end of summer for sure. https://t.co/PvLdkFFLjD
— Greg Brady (@gbradyradio) June 12, 2016
- The Star revamped their website to be more mobile friendly. It now looks atrocious on desktop browsers. Good job, good effort.
- Like many of his own colleagues, I continue to be blocked by Jeff Blair. Miss you Blairsy! We used to be pals. I bet you don’t even remember why you blocked me.
- Damien Cox’s Twitter is still on lockdown. What purpose is that serving at this point?
- Postmedia has been embedding videos in their stories. I get that they are trying to create more impressions but they need to put in better effort. For example, if you click on the Stinson article above you'll be treated to an auto-play video, streaming in glorious 240p, featuring Mike Zeisberger and Michael Traikos (and some unsuspecting swimmer) doing a hit from the hotel pool. Not exactly professional work.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)