photo credit: Darren Calabrese/G&M
Good morning sports media watchers. Media outlets are ramping up for the upcoming barrage of daily sports stories as the Jays, Raptors, TFC, and Leafs will all be making news. Lots of bubbling items to watch over the coming weeks and months. Let’s get to it.
A number of things happened over the last month: 1) Bob and Brunt split up, 2) Mike Richards returned to mornings at TSN1050, and 3) Dave Cadeau took over as Program Director at the FAN. These events vary in significance, but the consequences of each set up a very interesting set of choices for some key players in the Toronto sports media market. Here is how I see the options and the outlook for some of those people.
David Shoalts has delivered a trilogy of pieces on the Bobcat over the last few months. You might remember the Bob is Bored article from July, which was followed by the Bob is Angry article from earlier this month. The latest installment in the series is a new piece called Bob is Sad. In it Shoalts describes McCown as increasingly marginalized at his network, as management invests in younger personalities like Tim&Sid and George Stroumboulopoulos.
Shoalts’ new piece also includes several anonymous quotes and paraphrases from some of McCown’s current and former colleagues. The tone of these comments suggests that Bob is out of touch and not especially well liked at the FAN. This echoes what many people in the industry have told me, namely that Bob is all about Bob and doesn’t show much interest in others. One can easily imagine that recent events have not helped improve work relations at Sportsnet. Bob has lived on an island for a long time, but tides turn quickly in media and he must feel very isolated at the station he helped build. Bob’s statements suggest as much: “[But] it’s difficult for somebody like me who’s been around for so long, because the whole infrastructure has changed. It’s human nature to cling to the people you know.”
Just a few years ago a lot of work went into signing Damien Cox and Stephen Brunt to be the rotating co-hosts for PTS. Now both have left for other pastures, and McCown is left with a motley crew of less talented or lower profile personalities. The writing is on the wall: PTS is the past and Sportsnet wants to invest in the future. So what do you do if you are McCown and you have 2 years left on your contract?
Here is what I suggest:
First, see if you can poach Bruce Arthur from TSN1050. Arthur had good chemistry with Bob in his short stint on PTS. Arthur is also one of a few people in the market who doesn’t really need PTS to raise his profile. This would generate good results, I think, because some of the worst times on PTS are when a co-host is sucking up to Bob. Brunt didn’t, and I don’t think Arthur would either.
Second, go back to your roots and make business of sports the priority. Kick all the boring local stories to the 4pm hour and make the rest of the show all about topics you actually care about. The audience can tell that you don’t really watch anything other than the Jays and the Browns, so don’t go through the motions of talking a lot of NHL and NBA. When the host is mailing it in then nobody else is motivated to work very hard. The proof of that is in the pudding.
Third, kick as many Rogers personalities off your show as you can get away with. The network is done investing in you, so why would you indulge the endless parade of Sportsnet people who sit in the co-host chair or appear as guests to pump their .ca pieces that you haven’t read?
Overall, my advice is to go out on your terms as much as possible. The audience will appreciate it, and you’ll get to reverse the decade long decline of PTS into its current impoverished form. My biggest fear is that McCown will “work-to-rule” and the show will continue its slide into being unlistenable more often than not. Don’t let that be your legacy.
When Shoalts wrote that Brunt was done on PTS the question that came to mind was whose decision this was. As a listener, I often wondered how happy Brunt was on PTS. McCown would often try to bait him into boring and tired debates and Brunt would basically stop talking rather than get sucked into arguments not worth having. (Note: this is the same bait that Shannon, Madani, and Reid cannot resist chowing down on). The quotes from McCown in Bob is Angry suggest that Bob “fired” Brunt when the latter refused to commit to more time on PTS.
This leaves Brunt in an interesting position. Since leaving the Globe to become Mr. Multi-Platform for Sportsnet he has mostly appeared on PTS while doing some TV talking head work, as well as some video profiles. The one thing he is not doing very much of is writing. I’m not a Sportsnet magazine subscriber (and no one at Rogers has offered a review subscription) so I don’t know how much he writes there, but over at .ca his offerings are sparse and fairly narrow in focus.
My advice to Brunt:
First, mend your fences with the Globe and negotiate with Sportsnet to allow you to write a weekly op-ed column over there. Cox retained a position at the Star when he went all-in with Rogers. Get the same deal. The paper is struggling in the Cathal Kelly era and having you would automatically put them back on the map. There was a time when Brunt shaped public sports opinion in Canada, and that was due in large part to being at the Globe. Brunt’s reach has not been the same since.
Second, get the fart sound effects out of your system but then don’t let Tim&Sid drag you down to their level. If you’re going to be a regular on that show use the opportunity to make them better. They will soon be a little too old for the demo to which they pander and you don’t want to get caught in the undertow when that happens.
Third, this will never happen, but … consider becoming a free agent. I know you have long term commitments to Rogers, but nothing would shake up the current sports media market more than breaking the model of network exclusivity. A world in which people like Brunt appear on both radio and TV stations and write for multiple outlets would be amazing. I know the economics don’t make sense and that Brunt is very loyal to Rogers, but the idea is tantalizing.
Congratulations on your promotion. As an office warming present you have been handed two bad shows in the most important time-slots. We will talk about the line-ups more in the coming months when the Fall book comes out, but Cadeau doesn’t have a lot of time to settle in to this new role. Despite all his flaws, Kollins steered the FAN to massive ratings wins over fledgling TSN1050. If the Fall book shows any gains by TSN1050 then Cadeau will be under immediate pressure to reverse that outcome.
First, get a sense of whether Bob is going to stop mailing it in and then act accordingly. There is no point in keeping an unhappy McCown around. Negotiate a buy-out or a reduced schedule and get to work on finding someone who can write the next chapter in the FAN’s drive time legacy.
Second, decide now wether to keep Blundell or not. The show is what it is and it’s not going to magically turn into something else even if you swap out part of the supporting crew. The ratings will either be a bit better or worse or the same, but there is little chance they will be the massive share that Kollins was betting on. Don’t let small changes in the ratings affect what you do.
Third, be better at fielding complaints than your predecessor. Nelson Millman set a standard for how listeners expect to be treated. Radio is a dying medium among younger listeners. Do right by those who take the time to contact you.
Mr. MacDonald is at the head of a station that has failed to make a dent in the FAN’s ratings after 4+ years on the air. He has been in the job for about a year now and has not made any real changes. That, of course, was partly because Mike Richards took time off to deal with his cancer. (Note: welcome back Mike!) This presumably put a hold on any major changes he might have been planning.
First, make sure your bosses know to hold the course. It took Sportsnet 15 years to catch up with TSN. Given how much inertia there is in radio, it’s going to take a long time to change listener habits.
Second, decide in the next year whether you’re committed to Naylor’s show. In 2 years PTS disappears and there will be a gap in the marketplace for smart journalistically focused radio. I think Naylor is doing a credible job and the show has room to grow.
Third, think about poaching one or both of Brady&Walker. They were both mistreated by Sportsnet during the Blundell fiasco, and they might be interested in a change of culture and scenery.
Over to you: what advice would you give these people in the year to come?
The Patrick Kane case has brought to light just how dreadful the combination of sports media + Twitter can be when people try to comment on a criminal case when it is still in the discovery stage. PPP has an interesting angle on how some hockey writers seem to struggle when commenting on violence against women.
I have spent a couple of weeks with the Star’s new tablet app. It’s really good. More than any other app or website it properly replicates what it is like to browse through a newspaper. Warning: there are a decent amount of ads interspersed in the content. Even so, I found myself reading the entire sports section, which is something I have never done when visiting the Star’s website or any other paper’s website for that matter. This is good news for a paper that has struggled financially in recent months.
Congratulations to David Alter who is joining the Post:
Excited to announce that starting Monday, I'll be joining the @nationalpost as their new Leafs reporter on a full-time basis.
— David Alter (@dalter) September 25, 2015
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)