photo credit: the internet
Good morning sports media watchers. Things are still quiet in media land, but there are a few stories worth discussing. Some of these have been stuck in the queue for a while so apologies for the old news. As always, feel free to discuss anything else that is on your sports mind. Also, thanks to the reporters who reached out privately to weigh in on the recent FHRITP incident and how the media reacted to it. Onwards …
In the last edition of See&Heard we had a very good discussion about the difference between objective home-town coverage and unabashed homerism. While there is general consensus that rooting for the team you are supposed to be covering undermines credibility, there was some interesting debate about the local media’s ability to remain fully objective and whether that is even something readers/viewers/listeners want.
Beyond this debate, there is an additional wrinkle when a media outlet has a financial relationship with the team it is covering. The most basic case is being a rights holder. When a network pays for the privilege of broadcasting the games, on radio or TV or streaming, they open up the perception that their coverage will be team friendly. This is merely a presumption though, and it can easily be overturned by the body of work. For example, WEEI in Boston carries the Red Sox games on radio and no one would accuse the station of going easy on the Red Sox. An even more extreme recent example of evading network bias occurred when ex-player turned NFL Network commentator Heath Evans blasted Goodell. An example on the other end of the spectrum is ESPN and its decision to back out of a documentary shining light on the league’s concussion issues. If you thought all of this sounds highly conspiratorial and that leagues don’t retaliate against networks, there is a recent story coming out of Bristol that the NFL has punished the network with a lousy slate of games for not keeping its employees on a shorter leash when criticizing the commissioner.
The issue of rights-holder objectivity is a difficult one for networks and journalists to manage, but the problem is even more acute when the team and the rights-holder are owned by the same company. That, of course, is the state of affairs with the Blue Jays and Sportsnet both being owned by Rogers. In the above examples, a journalist working for a network can plausibly assume that if the team tries to apply pressure, the boss at the network will have his or her back. That presumption is heavily weakened when your boss’ boss ultimately works for the team. Each person working at the magazine, the radio station, the website, and the television station has to find his or her way through this issue when talking JaysTalk. Many handle that challenge well, and some less so. To their credit, Rogers has invested heavily in baseball coverage across all its platforms and there is a lot of choice at the network.
The interesting development this week came with the news that TSN1050 is expanding its baseball coverage significantly. Program Director Jeff MacDonald sent out this pair of tweets:
— Jeff MacDonald (@TSNMacDonald) August 19, 2015
— Jeff MacDonald (@TSNMacDonald) August 19, 2015
This is a very interesting move on many levels. The most interesting angle is that TSN is investing in coverage of a competitor’s product. Talking up the Jays means generating interest and once interested, people will tune in to 590 or Sportsnet for the games. This outcome is not news to TSN, so they obviously think there is value in being a credible baseball destination even if that means losing people while the games are on. (In a way this mirrors their current approach to hockey, since Rogers controls the games for the next decade.) But this is the first real breaking of the ranks we have seen of broadcast rights dictating personnel decisions. For example, the fact that Sportsnet doesn’t show any CFL games is reflected in the the number of people and the amount of time they spent talking about the CFL.
The other interesting angle is the profile of the people they have brought in. Keri, Law, and Shulman all have significant presence and brand value in the U.S. Hayhurst is less of a national figure right now, but is still well known outside of Toronto for his best-selling books. This makes the contrast with Sportsnet very clear. While Sportsnet boasts a cadre of “insiders,” TSN has an impressive roster of “outsiders.” TSN’s experts follow baseball league wide, while most of Sportsnet’s experts only watch the Jays. This speaks to the objectivity issue, but also to credibility when comparing the Jays to other teams in the league. If Law says a Jays prospect is overrated, I’m going to take his opinion seriously.
There are a couple of other points of differentiation worth mentioning. First, Hayhurst is a Sportsnet castaway. The common theory — basically confirmed by Hayhurst — is that he was jettisoned for being overly critical of the team. That reinforces the perception that Sportsnet has a specific overarching approach behind its Jays coverage. Second, despite the team’s success Wilner is still not being sent on the road with the team. By contrast, TSN has sent Scott MacArthur to every away game for the past several years. Having a daily radio-focused beat reporter doesn’t matter to some people, but Scott has delivered some stellar interviews and in my opinion his work reflects the value of having a guy in the room every day.
Setting aside the generalists, here is how things stack up when you tally up the baseball insiders: (omissions are accidental not intentional, let me know if I forgot anyone)
From the standpoint of the consumer, this is a veritable cornucopia of baseball analysis. There ought to be something in there for every taste. Sportsnet obviously has the advantage in terms of numbers, but how many Barkers do you need to add up to equal a Shulman?
Oh, also, Sportsnet features baseball takes from this guy:
Final Score: Triple-A Team – 7 Jays – 4
— Sid Seixeiro (@Sid_Seixeiro) August 20, 2015
One last thought: it will be very interesting to watch how TSN approaches the start of the Leafs season. Hockey has been their bread and butter forever, and if the Jays are competitive that will cut in to Kadri’s weight talk.
Over to you: what do you think of TSN’s calculated investment in baseball? Will you tune in? Will this pay off in terms of ratings?
The Pan Am and Para Pan Am games were a success by many metrics. If you were an athlete, congratulations on your achievement. If you were a volounteer, congratulations on being awesome for the most part. If you’re a Torontonian or a commuter, let’s all rejoice that this particular traffic nightmare is over. If you’re a voter, let your local politician know that we have no interest in hosting the Olympics until we have proper transit infrastructure.
The one story I tried to monitor over the course of the games was how the newly impoverished CBC would handle the coverage. As you may recall, Gary Bettman decided to go all-in with Rogers and thus CBC lost one of its biggest money makers in HNIC. The main question with which we were left is how this would affect the CBC’s ability to put on a world class broadcast of an event as complicated as a Games. Things were going smoothly until both the men’s baseball and women’s basketball gold medal games were left off live television.
Larry Walker, the Canadian Moose (apparently), was not happy:
CBC…. You missed out showing Canada an amazing game!! Many are disappointed! Gold 4 Men's baseball!!!
— Larry Walker (@Cdnmooselips33) July 20, 2015
How does something like this happen? Well the obvious explanation is lack of resources. But is that the actual explanation?
Opinion seems to be split on that. Here’s Chuck Thompson, CBC’s head of public affairs: “For sure, resources are a factor in what we’ve been able to provide. But our commitment to amateur sport is as strong as ever.” That quote is from Sean Fitz-Gerald’s excellent piece that garnered over 700 comments from National post readers.
The head of CBC sports, Trevor Pilling, tried to pour cold water on this but essentially confirmed that there wasn’t enough money available: “Resources aren’t specifically an issue. It’s not about that, it is about the planning, It is about making good, sound business decisions. We have parameters that we need to stay within, no matter what we’re doing.” That’s from Raju Mudhar’s even more excellent piece.
The idea of the taxpayer funded CBC competing for professional sports rights with Bell and Rogers seems ludicrous. That said, I do think sports are part of the culture of a country and so should be supported by and through public institutions. So if resources were a factor for the CBC then we need to think about how we want things to go next time around. If we agree with Larry Walker, what are we going to do about it? There are so many important issues on the agenda for the upcoming federal election, and the funding of the CBC is pretty far down that list. But I think it belongs on that list.
Vice has a great story about the rise of “ultras” in the MLS. We have covered the connection between racism and soccer at length here. This is a good long read. Also, consider having a read of my interview with Gareth Wheeler where we go into some of these issues in depth.
Steve Simmons has a good story on how AA managed to get Josh Donaldson to Toronto.
Apparently there are some turf wars going on in Leafs blog land. Jeff Veillette writes about why everyone should just get along. Can anyone fill me in on what on earth this is all about?
— Dean Blundell (@ItsDeanBlundell) August 21, 2015
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)