Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

January 16th, 2016 | by mike (in boston)
Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition
business of sports
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photo credit: Twitter

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by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail

 

Good morning sports media insiders and observers. Sorry for being a little late — you’d be surprised at the number of people who try to write this column for me and how long it takes to fend them off.

 

Lots of things to talk about this weekend. As always, if there is something I’ve missed drop a link or note in the comments. If there are things you want to see discussed here in future weeks, DM me (you can contact me via Twitter even if we’re not following each other), or send me an email.

 

Missing Dean

 

Dean Blundell is on holiday this week. You’d never know it if, like me, you mostly know what he’s up to by following him on Twitter. The intern who co-runs his account has been actively promoting interviews all week. But these interviews are being conducted by the fill-in duo of George Rusic & Ben Ennis with a heavy dose of producer Ryan Fabro mixed in for good measure.

 

Regular readers will know that over the last year I have been touting Ben Ennis as having lots of potential as a radio host, and a perfect fit to take over JaysTalk and put its current incarnation out of its misery. So you might expect me to write about how great it is to see promising young talent being given a shot in a major timeslot. Under different circumstances that would be the case but the decision to go with this line-up in Dean’s absence is a major blunder, and points to some significant lack of vision in the FAN’s program director office.

 

Here is why. Recall that when Dean was brought on board on March 1 2015 he was advertised as being surrounded by a company of quality supporting characters. The logic for this was sound: 1) when people hear the name Blundell, many associate it with casual bigotry towards women and gays, and 2) when people describe Blundell’s strengths, sports would be pretty far down the list after music, strip clubs, pop culture, wacky news, etc. So, assuming you think hiring Dean makes sense in the first place, the strategy of softening some of his hard edges by having other people to share the load makes a lot of sense.

 

While the idea made sense in theory, its execution left a lot to be desired. The “company” consisted of an evening FAN host of no great distinction (Rusic) as co-host, Brady & Walker’s producer as the occasional laugh track or 3rd voice, a low profile female to do the updates (Kayla Harris), and the best damn traffic update person in the business (Halina Balka).

 

The starting line-up on opening day was underwhelming. By contrast, had the “company” consisted of Andrew Walker and Jackie Redmond you would at least have brought in people with their own established profile to supplement/counteract Dean’s. There are surely internal reasons why Dean ended up with the “company” he did at launch, but I won’t speculate about them here. So the composition of Dean’s company was not ideal, but at least you were going ahead with the concept of a team.

 

Fast forward to fall 2015. George has been relegated to doing updates and Harris has been fired. The co-host chair is being filled on a rotational basis by the like of ex-MLB player Matt Stairs, Calgary radio personality Eric Francis, and a bunch of other names I’m forgetting (Dean deleted all tweets before January 1 which hampered our TSM intern’s research efforts). In other words, six months in to the great experiment the team has been blown up and we are back to the drawing board.

 

We are now in 2016 and by all internal rumblings the FAN is committed to keeping Blundell through the calendar year. That means the Superbowl, Jays spring training and a whole regular season and (hopefully) playoffs, NBA and NHL trade deadlines and playoffs, etc. The show is going to have to drive the sports conversation on the FAN through all these various topics. Presumably that is why all those higher profile co-hosts were brought in on a trial basis.

 

That is exactly why I think it is a mistake to turn the show over to the current crew during Dean’s absence. Now is the time you need to be building the show’s credibility as a sports show.

 

Re-instating Rusic as a host does nothing to help. Remember, he’s the guy you already decided couldn’t cut it. Same goes for Ben Ennis. (You don’t let him fill in for Blair on a regular basis (or at all?) even though baseball is Ben’s biggest strength. (Edit: Ennis does fill in for Blair regularly, I’m told). You don’t let him co-host with Brady or Walker when the other is away. You don’t give him JaysTalk. You communicate to the audience that this guy is not ready for prime time. But then you give him the FAN morning show at a critical time on the sports calendar? Makes no sense to me.

 

All of this promotes the idea that PD Dave Cadeau either has no budget to bring in someone with more profile to sub for Blundell, or that he believes this combo is an adequate morning show for the most important sports radio station in Canada. Cadeau seems smart, and judging by the surveys he is sending all of you, he is keenly aware that the morning show is a problem.

 

So maybe the budget is to blame. This would certainly explain why Blair (with the worst ratings on the station among the big 4 shows) keeps getting the PTS gig when Bob is away. Moving him up is payroll neutral, whereas other options might not be. But if you’re going the cheaper route, why not give other internal options a try? Greg Brady is certainly at the right career stage to be given a shot. Or let Arash Madani host the show for a week and see what he’s got? Or, go to your bosses and make the case that spending money on higher profile fill-ins makes good business sense.

 

Right now you have two sub-optimal fill-ins on your two premium time-slots. Here are a few names that could easily slide right in for Dean or Bob and would instantly be more credible than the current offerings:

 

  • Ron MacLean
  • Dan Shulman
  • Richard Deitsch
  • Joey Vendetta
  • Tim &/or Sid
  • Stephen Brunt

 

We can argue about the merits of these options, but the point is that it is not hard to come up with viable alternatives within the company or at least close by. So that is my take: either Rogers is tying Cadeau’s hands financially or Cadeau thinks any old fill-ins can work in the short term. He’s wrong about that.

 

Over to you: who should be the go-to fill in hosts for PTS and the morning show? Are you satisfied with the current offerings? 

 

Juicing the Taxpayer

 

We normally don’t pay too much attention to Calgary around here. Right now that province is mostly a dirty word since they are 100% responsible for why none of us can afford to travel to the States anymore, given the state of the Canadian Peso. But Calgary made front page news this week as the city’s politicians debated the merits of the almost $1 billion dollar project that is being proposed. To refresh your memory, here are a couple of articles about the proposal — Stinson (Post) and Spector (SN) — dating back from this summer.

 

Things weren’t moving fast enough for the NHL so Grizzly Gary rode into town on his monorail trying to put pressure on the local decision makers to break out the taxpayers’ cheque book. He loudly pointed across the way to the great success of Shelbyville Edmonton with its public-private deal. Eric Duhatschek of the Globe has a run down of where things stand right now.

 

The transparency of Gary’s pressure-tactics were not lost on most people, though some people did take the bait. Eric Francis, who does some intermission work for the Flames as well as some writing for the Calgary Sun, took to Twitter to call out the city’s mayor for not being on board with the great success that he believes the CalgaryNEXT will be. Eric used to have a radio show but was let go by Jack FM after a 10 year run.

 

Here was his opening salvo:

 

 

After the next tweet, the mayor replied:

 

 

Not one to back down, Francis shot back:

 

 

And this is exactly the way that Gary is hoping the issue is framed: those who love hockey (let’s call them Real Calgarians) versus the politicians who only care about their spreadsheets.

 

Bettman took a lot of pushback on his suggestion that the deal is ready to be approved now. Many local politicians are worried about the feasibility and cost of decontaminating a piece of land that is central to the project. Bettman had a less than compelling interview with a local host, which ended abruptly after a mildly heated exchange.

 

I don’t have a horse in this race. Obviously there are examples of successful public-private arena/stadium deals. But there are also plenty of examples of private companies bilking millions out of government. The Skydome jumps to mind as a local example: it cost $600 million to build, half of which was paid with tax dollars, and Rogers bought it for $25 million in 2004. Due diligence and precaution are obviously the only tools politicians have to make sure their sports partnership turns out to be one of the successful one.

 

The Toronto sports media angle to this story is that Francis has been courted by the FAN in the recent past. He appeared on PTS and the morning show (over the summer, I think). As we have seen with Sportsnet, once they like you, they tend to force you on the audience (see e.g. Reid, Shannon) across many platforms. I have no strong recollection of Francis’ radio appearances but perhaps some of you do.

 

His last tweet on the subject was a little more measured:

 

 

 

Quick Hits

 

The UFC is the Donald Trump of sports leagues. One of their top current stars just signed a deal to promote a PED that the US FDA has deemed illegal. The supplement is also banned by her own league. 10/10 UFC … couldn’t have made this up if I tried.

 

Corus acquires Shaw to become the leader in programming for kids, women, and families. They’ve gone a very different way since the MOJO RADIO days. I remember listening to Jeff Marek and his female co-host discuss oral sex techniques on 640. Good times.

 

The Buffalo Jills successfully sued to be given at least minimum wage for their services.

 

The Toronto Star cut more jobs. The sports section has been able to dodge the axe swings so far, but one wonders how much longer that will continue. Buyouts are often the next move in these cases. How much would you pay Rosie to get her to stop writing sports stories?

 

Jessica Mendoza has officially replaced Curt Schilling on Sunday Night Baseball. She and Dan Shulman had a good thing going last season.

 

Finally, TSN’s Rick Westhead has a thorough analysis of the effect of the low Canadian dollar on NHL revenues and the salary cap. Rough times ahead.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • Brady&Walker facetiously asked last week: who is the worst in the media for retweeting compliments sent to them by followers?

 

  • Kate Beirness does a solid job when she co-hosts on TSN with Dave Naylor but someone needs to explain that radio is not a visual medium and the over the top exuberance comes across as artificial. Just have a normal conversation.

 

  • TSN Radio: fire the person who allowed that Nicorette ad to go to air.

 

  • The combination of Bob + Shannon on PTS continues to be awful in 2016. If you’ve decided that Grange can’t be a co-host then please commit to Madani.

 

—–

 

thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

28 Comments

  1. Shannon I avoid like the plague, but somehow yesterday I left it on flipping as he inexplicably took his glasses off, which was clearly noted by the rest of the panel. An amazing transformation took place, right in front of my eyes. Shannon was still the same Shannon, but somehow he did not come across in the same way that turns me completely off. Note to Shannon – wear contacts and you will come across as more genuine and may get some longest viewers back. Obviously this does not matter on radio or podcasts, but on tv, I was surprised at how much of a difference it made.

  2. mario says:

    Thanks for another great read MIB. You have a lot of good talking points as usual, as for Blundell not a big fan seeing the time he has been on the fan I thought he would have figured thing out by now on how a sports show be hosted and its not him .I like the idea of bringing in different people like Ron Maclean or Dan Shulam as fill in hosts. But they will have to some how shuffle the deck or find someone new as a host.

  3. Curt says:

    “Right now that province is mostly a dirty word since they are 100% responsible for why none of us can afford to travel to the States anymore,”

    I’d say $30 oil is responsible for your travel woes, not the province of Alberta. If you want to blame someone, blame the Saudis, shale oil, and a depressed Chinese economy.

    Sorry, but my back gets up when people make stupid assumptions and present them as fact. BTW, Nenshi absolutely schooled Bettman and it was beautiful. Francis is a twit and always has been.

    Curt (from Calgary).

  4. steph says:

    I heard bobcat this week with Shannon mindlessly talking about how the jays needed a front line pitcher. Like not a 1-2 but a 3-4 type of guy. Wtf is wrong with these guys?! Not sure how many of you caught stombo on Toronto mile. Great interview. I really like strombo on hnic, think he’s doing a great job. The comments about his pants and earings are just insane. If anything, they need to trim the surrounding cast.

  5. Drumanchor says:

    Must we be subjected to a photograph of Strombo?

  6. Speacies 1967 says:

    “Finally, TSN’s Rick Westhead has a thorough analysis of the effect of the low Canadian dollar on NHL revenues and the salary cap. Rough times ahead.”

    Has anyone written about the peculiar lack of currency hedging by the NHL? They new they were getting fixed Canadian Dollar payments for over 10 years and could have sold them for USD when the agreement was signed to lock in the FX rate. That seems like a disastrous oversight if they didn’t do it.

    I have read somewhere that many Canadian Teams do this every season to lock down their USD FX rate.

  7. Sam In Scarb says:

    Oh where to start…soo many things..
    Driving in the car Saturday morning flipping 1050/1150 590 heard Ben Ennis say and quote “Tom Brady is 10 times the quarterback Payton Manning ever was” when challenged by whoever was there he quickly changed the subject..Don’t even want to listen to that on a Saturday morning never mind on a morning show.

    NHL package robbers paid BILLIONS for ain’t working clear.
    Other areas must and will suffer (radio Fan/590)

    Love,love to see and hear Bobcat just mailing it in and basically just stealing his huge pay-check from robbers.

  8. Too Much says:

    Re fill-in hosts suggestions: why would anyone on that list even want to be a fill in? They all have great positions right now; I can’t imagine fill in host being a gig any of them would want/need to enhance their careers or personal fulfilment. Plus I suspect they would have to be paid, which goes to the dollar issue and more importantly I doubt any of them could fit it in their schedules.

    Fill ins at this time of year aren’t all that important to me; it’s kinda the dog days of sports outside of the Super Bowl.

    But the whole talent question remains vexing; radio execs always spin that talent is THE most important thing to them but they either don’t know how to find it or don’t know how to nurture it. Or kill it by expecting some sort of cookie cutter performance. I think by far the best thing in Toronto sports radio right now is Leafs Lunch; it would be great if that kind of comraderie with both humour and knowledge amongst three disparate personalities could be replicated on the morning or drive shows. As a radio consultant once said, the best shows make you feel like you’re on a drive with a friend or two, having a great conversation – even though the listener can’t actually physically partake in the convo, you still feel part of it.

    Radio has so much competition for sports news that it really needs to bring something different and engaging. That’s not happening much these days and with the connected car on its way the last bastion of radio may fall if they don’t get their act together .

  9. yaz says:

    Of Ron MacLean, Dan Shulman, Richard Deitsch, Joey Vendetta, Tim &/or Sid, Stephen Brunt, I think 5 out of 6 would burst out laughing and reject the offer immediately. Get up at 330 AM? Joey is the most logical answer if Rogers could establish a decent connection, but I can’t take him.

    Jeff O’Neill with the shovel in the face award this week. Had the second question in the Babcock interview ( Jan 14, Hour 1 LL ) which was a bit awkwardly worded and for some reason he sounded nervous, regarding energy in the building and the Phaneuf fight. (I think it was the Phaneuf/Wingels shoving match during the Jan 9 Sharks game) Babcock had a bad cell connection and seemed to be calling from the back of an Italian police car, but he immediately spit out laughing and said ‘Who asked that question?’ long pause…. Hayes steps in ‘That’s Jeff O’Neill’. Babcock’s cell phone alarm was also buzzing in his ear and he couldn’t turn it off. Maybe he should use a shoe-phone next time. I somehow think Babs knew exactly who asked the question.

    First of all, if fans are important to the Leafs and Leafs Media and one of your big cheeses is on the air once every couple of months, make an appointment and sit at a damn desk like Bobcat is demanding these days. Second, the connection was so bad I think in Babcock’s head he heard ‘Did you send Phaneuf out to fight to get energy in the game?’ which wasn’t the question. Babcock should be more professional if he can’t hear a damn thing. But Jeff’s questions, at the very least the first few questions, shouldn’t be so fan oriented. Last time Babcock barked back ‘Look at their stats.’ When Jeff asked ‘Why are you sending Winnik and Panik out on the first shift of overtime.’ Perhaps there is an old beef there from Jeff’s playing days.

    Blundell show was a mosh pit last week. Couldn’t even listen when insiders called in. HCN is a mess too, zero continuity.

  10. Not that Chris says:

    I usually enjoy this column, but if you can actually suggest Joey Vendetta is a better choice to host PTS than Blair is, I can’t take you seriously.

  11. El Captaino says:

    How is Don Cherry still being paid by our tax dollars? His opinions, ideas and act are stuck in the Neanderthal times. He actually called those who voted John Scott to the All-Star game jerks.

    So, let’s get this straight:
    – fans voted an actual NHL player into game, and he blames the fans.

    Much like the soft McCown, he fails to blame the League for allowing this happen time and again.
    He doesn’t realize the League enjoyed the free publicity for much of the time Scott’s name was tweeted or the NHL’s website had millions of additional hits. Nor, does he blame Scott for not declining the spot.

    Incredible.

    So using his ridiculous logic, the deaths of former enforcers can be laid at his feet since he was the foremost proponent of fighting.

    Right?

  12. steph says:

    I font think Don cherry is paid for by taxpayers. Is he not a Rogers employee now?

  13. Mullah_Kintyre says:

    I have yet to hear an even somewhat convincing argument for giving government handouts to billionaire owners of sports teams.
    On an only vaguely related subject of something that gets government handouts but probably shouldn’t — is that annual IndyCar race at Exhibition Place toast? I can’t find any mention of a possible problem in local media, but there is now a lot of permanent-looking trees, benches, sidewalks, etc., as part of the new hotel complex, where the pit lane and temporary grandstands have always been for the race across the road from the convention centre. See fourth image down here for artist’s conception of finished project.
    http://urbantoronto.ca/news/2015/04/hotel-x-now-topped-exhibition-place

    There does happen to be a permanent race track north of Bomanville (Mosport) owned by billionaire Carlo Fidani, who can presumably decide if having an IndyCar race at his facility is worth spending his own money.
    BTW, I only noticed the Ex hotel because the TTC streetcar and bus loop at the Ex is now closed for construction until August, slightly annoying if you’re going there for Marlies, TFC, or something else.

  14. William D says:

    It’s funny that Bettman’s argument for why the city of Calgary should just go ahead and fund a new stadium in a tough economy is that the state of the dollar and economy is cyclical, What a Joke and what a great display of capitalism, what does any of that have to do with the length of time in which an economy could potentially be down. I guess with Gary’s logic on the city of Calgary, he would be comfortable advising teams in bad economic conditions to commit to long term expensive contracts, hey why not, tough times are cyclical and maybe by the time the contract price goes up the team will be in a better financial state.
    The NHL it’s puppet partners in media and it’s owners are true ambassadors of capitalism.
    Let the rich guys get richer and those who have no food or end up on the street, Oh Well.

  15. Mitch says:

    Ben Ennis is the only tolerable voice at the Fan it seems. Used to like B&W, but their sanctimonious shilling for Rogers by degrading listeners is horrible. Blair can’t finish a sentence and Bob has Reid on way too often. I would replace Blair with Ennis in a heartbeat. And for the love of all things holy, enough Roger Lajoie already!

  16. BoJack says:

    Dean has been getting better. The show will be around for a while because Richards is strong competition. As a listener I like the current morning options. Would also love to hear tim and Sid fill in on the morning show or prime time.

  17. Darrell says:

    I am actually OK with Roger Lajoie but he is more of a stop gap guy. The FAN blew it when they stopped going 24/7 Toronto local sports.

    Get Tim + Sid back on the radio and either slide them into Bob’s spot for Prime Time Sports and drop the Tim + Sid show name or rename the Prime Time Sports and name the afternoon drive show Tim + Sid.

    I personally would prefer Tim + Sid in the morning show.

  18. GreyCountyMike says:

    MIB suggested Madani as the most competent choice for a McCown co-host. I agree wholeheartedly.

    The joke that is John Shannon in front of a mic has gone on way too long. It was kinda amusing for a while, but that ship sailed a long time ago. Grange, although a deeper thinker than Shannon, is equally inept at broadcasting. Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting Shannon doesn’t know a lot about the business of broadcasting. He clearly does. But he has no business actually broadcasting himself. He is atrocious. His voice is weak, his mannerisms are annoying, and he continually interrupts or speaks over others in the room.

  19. MontfromLondonOnt says:

    PTS Streaming-
    Is it me or has anyone else notice PTS seems to stop streaming at 6:00pm on occasion – It just did it now and has happened at random intervals other times-

  20. Alex says:

    Bob said tonight he had talked to Anthopolous about possibly becmng a PTS co-host, but never got that far before he took the Dodgers job.

  21. Brian says:

    Roger “No Question” Lajoie is unlistenable unless he’s got a decent guest. It’s his voice. I can’t believe he teaches classes on broadcasting. It’s true.
    I think a person’s sound is key here. If Blundell had a whiny voice, would he even be on radio? He could say the exact same things but be completely unlistenable (as opposed to mostly unlistenable). Other bad difficult-to-listen-to voices on Toronto sports radio include Gareth Wheeler, Jeff Sammut, Jeff Blair, Greg Brady, Ken Reid, and John Shannon (But BAWWWB???)
    Calgary will get a new arena. The Flames are the one thing that puts the city on the map and that’s difficult to quantify. What else, Mayor Nenshi, gets the city excited like it was after it beat Vancouver in the 2015 playoffs? The city’s identity is inextricably linked to the Flames. And it’s Alberta where little else is going on.
    If Rogers pushes Bob out early, I could see him going to TSN — and that would be great.
    I appreciate this blog and I hope it continues for a long time…

  22. C.M.A.J. says:

    To answer the question someone asked above, the Toronto Indy race is not “toast”, and Norris McDonald of The Star did mention recently that a small change would have to be made to the track layout because of the new hotel plaza area. It will probably just be shifting the pit-lane and some of the seating, likely to be confirmed when ticket sales start in February. Even with the new hotel and slightly enlarged soccer stadium, there is still a vast expanse of open pavement available to be used, in fact more than there was for the initial years of the event starting in 1986 before the old baseball stadium and Flyer roller coaster were torn down.

  23. Curt says:

    Watching Tim and Sid for the first time in months and it occurred to me – this is basically just a promo show isn’t it? Much of its “content” is just setting up what Sportsnet is showing that evening (usually hockey). Even interviews are strewn with what is coming up later. What a poor program this is.

    • mike (in boston) says:

      Curt – that’s an interesting observation. There’s a ton of cross-promotion on radio (on both stations) but that makes sense since there is so much time to fill. But if you have a 2 hour TV show (minus whatever time commercials take) then it seems odd to waste time promoting other shows or other branded content. I wonder how this compares to what ESPN does on shows like PTI or (ugh) First Take.

  24. mike (in boston) says:

    What a dark week …

    Species 1967 – Mirtle has a recent article talking about currency hedges.

    Too Much & yaz – if I’m Ron MacLean I am interested in my next career move. The Strombo experiment might end, but SN has shown little interest in giving him back his old job. Similar with Shulman: eventually he will get sick of all the travelling. At that point it would be good to have established roots as a host. Brunt has a contract to do radio for the FAN, so he can bounce around too. But this is mostly just me pining for better options for fill-in duties in the major timeslots.

  25. alex says:

    I noticed no Rovell for 3 weeks on pts.

    Winter break or gone again?

    No response from backstagepts when i asked on twitter.

  26. Mike S says:

    Of all the people I follow on Twitter it is Eric Smith who has been the biggest culprit when it comes to retweeting compliments

    On the subject of fill-in radio hosts, over on 1050 they have had several recently:

    – last Friday Andi Petrillo did another very solid job on Leafs Lunch

    – also on Friday Derek Taylor & Kara Wagland filled in on the Hayes Show……….Wagland was OK and I thought Taylor was not very good

    – Cauz was away for several days recently………Wheeler went solo for a couple of those days and that didn’t go well……….Hogan joined Wheeler for the other days and that was better but still not ideal

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