photo credit: AP
Good morning sports media watchers. I’m taking some time off to take care of some important blogger business but the column will be back before too long. In the meantime, I’m going to use this week to clear out the queue. As always, if you have something you want to put on the table for discussion, please do so in the comments. Let me also take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads and especially those of you who take the time to keep the conversation going.
With the boos of Gary Bettman handing over the Stanley Cup still ringing in our ears Yahoo!’s Chris Zelkovich delivered a grim truth.
“Ratings for the final were 12 per cent lower than last year and the lowest since 2009. Monday’s deciding game between Tampa Bay and Chicago was also off 20 per cent from last season and was the least-watched Stanley Cup finale since the seventh game of the New Jersey-Anaheim series in 2003. Audiences on CBC saw an 8 per cent drop while Sportsnet’s hockey averages were 14 per cent below what TSN drew last year.”
Basically the news for 2014-15 is bad across the board, and compares unfavourably to last year when the CBC, TSN, and Sportsnet all controlled some piece of the pie, but also to years going to back to the lockout. As Zelkovich notes, these numbers look especially bad when you factor in 5 Canadian teams making the playoffs, and a very exciting and closely-fought final. The NHL product is in a reasonably good place, with the Cup drawing a good rating for NBC. So the ratings failure in Canada cannot be blamed on the play on the ice.
Beyond any of these factors, there is the looming black cloud for the NHL that Canada is not as white and rural as it once was. In big multicultural cities, hockey is becoming less of a priority (or an affordable possibility) relative to soccer and basketball. For 15 years now we have heard that the NHL will see a decline as other sports increase in popularity.
As you’ll recall, Guy Laurence claims Rogers will turn a 10% profit on their hockey broadcasts, though it is unclear if this does or does not include the compensation that will need to be paid to advertisers for missing the promised 20% increase in ratings. Ad buyers were charged more and delivered less, and this is going to result in giveaways. Furthermore, this will affect the rates Rogers will be able to command for ad slots in its next round of negotiations. This was not part of the projections when they costed out the return on a $5.2 billion dollar investment.
Now, for some perspective, this is year 1 of a 12 year deal and does not necessarily dictate what will happen in years to come. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that we will see at least one more Canadian NHL team in the next few years, so Rogers will certainly get a boost from that. As we enter the off-season Rogers needs to decide whether to be active or whether to be passive in light of these results.
Rogers does not admit failure and is very reluctant to reverse course. We have seen them stick with unpopular ventures like Sportsnet magazine and their subscription iPad service. They are also very confident in their ability to tell the viewer what to want. A few people have said to me that Rogers execs see the belly-aching about Strombo etc. as people who don’t like change but will tune in nonetheless, and will eventually get used to it. So I think we will see more of the same next year. Rogers has invested a huge amount of money in new studios, new hires, and new technology. These investments are not currently paying for themselves, but those costs are already sunk, and changing course means spending more money.
The question to ponder this morning is: why did Canadians fail to embrace the NHL on Sportsnet?
We can break the product down into more detailed components for analysis.
1) The Host – Strombo was a polarizing hire, intended to draw in a demo outside of the NHL’s core audience. Did it work? The numbers so it did not, and that he may have alienated some of the existing base. This would be the biggest way to change up the dynamic of the presentation, but it would also be the most public way of admitting they made a mistake. I don’t see it happening.
2) The Panels – To put my cards on the table, I hate panel shows. It’s an unnatural way to have a discussion, it leads to a “point-scoring” approach to debate, and it rarely advances the audience’s understanding of anything. The NFL’s panel shows set the bar for putrescence, but hockey’s panels are not far behind. It’s not good television.
3) The Announcers – I’ll leave this to others to discuss since I have no strong feelings on the topic.
4) The Feel – many complained when Tim Thomson (@b0undless) and his hockey montages were set aside for Rogers in-house production. Have you noticed other significant changes in the “feel” of HNIC/Rogers hockey? I’m no TV expert, so I’ll defer to others here.
5) The Convergence – this one is subtle … by going all in with Rogers, the NHL knew that its product was going to be leveraged to sell cell phones, cable subscriptions, magazine services, etc. Basically, all national hockey games in Canada now come bundled with ads for the non-sports Rogers services that constitute 85% of where the company makes it money.
Over to you: what changes would you like to see to Sportsnet’s approach to hockey? What turned you off relative to years past? What is working and what would you like to see more of? Who deserves more/less airtime?
Tim Leiweke came into Toronto with more fanfare than almost any other executive in the city’s long history. He took down pictures, put up non-sports banners, and talked about changing the culture of losing. And then, a year and a half later, he announced he was leaving. But it’s June 20th and he’s still here, and despite his desire to move on, he has said he’ll stay on until a new CEO is found.
The facts in the book on Leiweke are mostly written. The MLSE teams did not see more success under his tenure than they did before. But is there more to the story than that? One thing Leiweke managed to do was get MLSE to spend money. They have spent a ton on players for TFC, on BMO and the Raptors’ practice facility, and on high profile coaches and GMs. Anyone who remembers the old Pension Plan days knows how frustrating it was to try to ply money out of that organization. Michael Grange of Sportsnet has a good article on Mr. Leiweke’s tenure in Toronto.
You might be surprised to read that things are still up in the air with the new CEO since Elliotte Friedman wrote a month ago that John Cassady was set to sign. “Sources say that early next week there will be final discussions to approve John Cassaday as Leiweke’s successor.” There has been radio silence on this front so either something went wrong at the approval stage and the board rejected him, or all of Friedman’s “sources” were wrong or misled him about Cassaday’s willingness to take the job.
With things dragging on one has to wonder why such a high profile job is going unfilled. One obvious explanation is that any candidate would need to be equally acceptable to Rogers and Bell. Since most people in the industry work or have worked for one of these companies already, that is going to be a problem. Further, given Leiweke’s well-publicized gaffes they will likely want someone who is a little more familiar with Toronto and its sports scene.
Overall this is not a good situation for one of the most powerful sports owners in the world. You have a guy in place who would rather be elsewhere. You have a CEO position that many have turned down, with some people even refusing to be interviewed. I wonder when Richard Peddie returns to take over the job on an interim basis.
TorontoMike reported that Bundell’s 3 month average of 5.5 fell well below Brady & Walker’s high mark of 8.6, and ranked among the lowest ratings in the morning show’s long history. With a new PD coming in the obvious question is whether the station will have the patience to stick with a show like Blundell’s. While he’s new to sports, he’s not exactly new to radio or to the market. His sports knowledge is not going to improve, so it’s unclear where a ratings boost would come from. I have been told that Blair’s show had a bad book as well but I have not been able to confirm that yet. We could see a major shake-up by early 2016.
The Coyotes story continues to provide daily entertainment. The big news this week was that majority owner Andrew Barroway was relinquishing control of the team but would still be the majority shareholder. Why would he do that unless he was also getting out completely? “A philosophical difference in the financial direction of the team has led IceArizona members Gary Drummond and Dave Duckett to buy back some of Barroway’s shares.” I don’t understand this at all — a philosophical financial difference? There’s another shoe to drop here. Maybe Barroway is getting ready to sell or maybe he doesn’t have the money to fund the losses that are about to come due. Rick Westhead of TSN has a complete rundown of where things stand from a legal perspective.
Still with Westhead, this winter he went to Brazil to do a story on women’s soccer in Rio De Janero’s favela district. The story appeared as a 15 minute documentary, which you can read more about here. (I just tried to find a link to the video off the front page of TSN and couldn’t, but there is a prominently placed video of Cabbie and Mike Tyson. I then went to the “Video” tab and couldn’t see it there either. Your website is a content-priority mess TSN.) This is continued excellent and innovative work by Westhead. I wrote last week about my desire for the sports networks to invest more in creating original content that goes beyond the standard fare of highlight shows and athlete interviews.
The Jays have been so much fun to watch over the last month. Jesse Spector has a story on how the Jays’ run differential number obscures the holes in their pitching staff. Alex has never made in-season trades that improved the team’s chances at making the playoffs that year. I hope that changes in 2015. We know there is leftover room in the budget for this year, and we know that tons of money is coming off the books next year. Now is the time to go out and make a move to solidify your roster for when the breaks stop falling your way. This team is not deep, but has the chance to fix that by taking back money.
Scientists have been weighing in on Tom Brady’s deflated footballs and the facts are not good for the NFL’s case.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)