photo credit: here
Good morning sports media watchers, Dean Blundell, and our new readers from out West. Thanks for dropping by. Please contribute to the conversation by commenting below. As always, you can DM (even if we're not following each other) or email to let me know of any story ideas or errors.
The big news of the week was the cutting of the Sportsnet Pacific bureau. This move means job losses for some recognizable on air personalities as well as the behind the scenes production team. Regular readers know that we focus mostly on radio and print in this space, so I decided to reach out to someone who understands the TV side of the business to help break down what this move means for Sportsnet and the industry.
Jim Van Horne worked at TSN as a sports anchor from 1984 to 2001, and then at Sportsnet from 2003-2006. He is currently the television coordinator at the College of Sports Media. Here is our conversation.
Q: You started at TSN in 1984. How radical was the idea of 24 hour a day sports back then?
JVH: Nobody thought it would work. The first reaction I heard was "what are they going to show, Tiddlywinks?" … People laughed at us when we would show up at press conferences with our TSN jackets on. It's changed a little bit since then.
Q: How quickly could you tell that this model was viable?
JVH: To be honest I felt it right away when they approached me to join the network. For TSN itself, I think you would have to point to the 1988 Olympics in Calgary when people in the industry really recognized that we were serious and could do good work.
Q: How do you see the place of the traditional sports desk type show in 2016?
JVH: When I first started doing it back in 1984 there was no internet so people had 3 places to go for sports news: TV, radio, or print. And if they wanted it immediately then they would go for TV or radio. So back then we were the main places for up to the minute info. For lack of a better term, it was a much more closed society. Today it's completely different. I think the role of the sports anchor has changed where the audience is not relying on it as much as they used to. It's certainly reduced the importance of the highlight show. Whether it will ever go away? I don't think so. It will just become more of a niche product.
Q: How did you approach your role? Did you try to give the audience access to your personality?
JVH: Sports differs from news in that you can add a little personality. I've never been one to believe that I was the star of the show; I was more of the conduit. Every once in a while I would throw something humorous in but I was more interested in letting the viewer or the listener soak it in. I wasn't trying to pretend to be an expert.
Q: Some of the people I speak with in the industry complain that sports anchors now are mostly just in the business of reading teleprompters and are much less knowledgeable than people on radio or in print. Do you think that is accurate?
JVH: I never considered myself a news-reader. I always did my own research. I spent a lot of time during the day on the phone calling agents and teams and getting information.
Q: Shifting to the news of the week, Sportsnet has shut its Vancouver office. This struck me as an odd move for a network that is pitching itself as a national broadcaster. How do you see the relevance of regional bureaus for sports networks?
JVH: The reporters are still there and will be filing stores for SN. So it's not like they are shutting down Vancouver. They're just switching to the same model as TSN, who have had reporters in Vancouver since day one but never had a bureau there. This is just a cost-cutting measure.
Q: What's the loss to the consumer by shifting the entire operation to Toronto?
JVH: The loss to the Sportsnet Pacific viewer is that they no longer have a show that is primarily focused on their market. That's not to say they won't get their share of coverage. When I was at Sportsnet we would do 5 different versions of the show a night. We catered very show to the market, so the lead story in Toronto wasn't necessarily the same everywhere. They are still going to get their coverage, but it's a perception they are losing the Western focus. They aren't.
Q: With the recent job losses in print many people decried the centralization of news offices. CBC referred to this as "news poverty" when local communities lose their own offices. So at least outside of sports some people are really worried about the loss of local news.
JVH: Oh sure. If you shut down a station then you certainly lose. And people want to be informed and need to be informed. But it's different with sports. Sports takes us away from our every day anxiety. And even though there are billions at stake, it's still entertainment. So Sportsnet is not closing down anything. And this is a phenomenon that is happening across both BCE and Rogers as they try to adjust.
Q: Do you think the sports media industry has been slow to adjust to the changing economy around how people get their sports news? Both networks hired a ton of people to generate content for their websites and channels, and now they are cutting back. Did they overextend themselves?
JVH: No, I don't think so. They expanded at the rate they thought was appropriate. Nobody expected TSN to be as successful as it turned out to be. If you look at the industry here and in the US where you have so many regional networks, the popularity of sports is incredible. It's all about live event programming. So I think the cuts we are seeing is about the maturing of the medium itself. It's the industry trying to evolve. And the job losses are a tragedy. I tell my students every day, the industry will always crave good people. But, the days where mere rudimentary knowledge of the basics of writing and broadcasting are enough are long gone.
Q: Are there too many people going to school for broadcast jobs?
JVH: I don't think so. One of the good things is that people quickly discover that being able to talk sports with your buddies and being good on air are totally different. And lots can't do it. So they start to work on other skills, like editing, directing, producing, camera … so a lot of them will become very good at the behind the scenes stuff. But to be honest I don't think there are enough good broadcasters to fill the existing jobs in this country.
Q: Nelson Millman once told me he thinks one of the biggest problems is that we don't have a farm system in this country. Do you agree?
JVH: Absolutely. And adding to what Nelson said, I think a lot of broadcasters coming out of school today have the expectation that their degree will get them a job at the majors right away. And that's just not going to happen. But you need to get experience. And it takes a lot of time. I was in the business for 15 years before getting my break at TSN. There are very few people who can step in to that job right out of the gate. It takes time.
Q: Does Canada lack a national sports culture? In the US there are several national radio shows – guys like Rome, Mike&Mike, Cowherd, Patrick – while we don't have anything close to that here. Outside of the Olympics, the World Juniors, and maybe the Grey Cup, are there many sports topics that you can discuss coast to coast?
JVH: Outside of hockey, I think you're right that we don't have much to unify the country. We tried it on the TEAM [sports radio network] when CHUM still owned it and it never worked. We tried to be national but I think sports radio in this country is more regional than anything else. People in Toronto want to talk about the Jays and the Leafs. If you're in Montreal, you hate the Leafs and only want to talk Habs or other local stories. I think it's the same across the country. It's interesting you mentioned the personalities from south of the border. We don't have anything like Jim Rome in Canada. I'll give you an example. Stephen Brunt and I interviewed Martha Burk who led the protests against Augusta golf course for excluding women. At the end she said "I'm really shocked. Whenever I go on a radio show in the US they are screaming and yelling at me and trying to put me down, but we had a sane conversation here." Welcome to Canada. So I think there is a difference in how we do things here. There's not as much appetite for that style.
Q: The rivalry between TSN and SN is pretty intense right now. When you were at TSN the network was clobbering SN. Are you surprised they have caught up?
JVH: Not at all. Years ago SN was worried about what TSN was doing. They would react. Today SN is marching to the beat of their own drum. They don't care what TSN is doing, and that change came when Pelley and Moore took over. They decided they didn't want to run scared anymore. Of course they were both trained at TSN so they knew exactly what they wanted to active, plus for all the grief they are taking over the NHL ratings, do you think it's a coincidence that they pulled ahead when they got the NHL package? Of course not. And all the griping about the coverage would be way less if the Canadian teams were doing well. If your team is winning you wouldn't care who is calling the games. But don't forget that even though TSN doesn't have the national rights, they also aren't paying that huge sum of money that SN is. They are free to buy other rights and make money off those.
Thanks to Jim for taking the time. It's great to hear from someone who knows the business so well, and from both sides. Follow Jim on Twitter @jvanh.
I have been hanging on to this topic for a while and now seems as good a time as any to roll it out. Here's the question I'd like us to discuss this weekend: why are there no national sports radio shows in Canada?
One of the nice things about travelling through the States is that whether you're in Texas or in Florida or in Oregon you can flip on the radio in your rental car and find a recognizable voice talking about sports topics that aren't the local college teams. Not only that, but if you don't like Rome, then you can usually flip around and find Patrick or Cowherd or some other national voice. This is an embarrassment of riches for the sports fan on the move. The other thing this does is expose you to stories from other parts of the country that you would miss if all that existed was local sports talk.
The striking thing is that we don't have anything remotely close to that in Canada. With all due respect to Bob McCown, PTS is on a small handful of stations, and the only major one outside of Ontario is in Calgary where Rogers' other all-sports station carries the 6pm hour. So despite the claims that the show is on "coast to coast" that's pretty far from the truth.
What I would like to discuss is why this is the case. As Jim mentioned, the TEAM sports network tried to have a national sports conversation and it failed. We can discuss the reasons why that whole experiment was dead in the water some other time. Stephen Brunt got a nice house in Newfoundland out of the deal, so it wasn't a total loss. The specific topic I want to focus on is why Canadians seem to have little appetite for what is going on in other markets.
I'm always shocked that Jim Rome will spend twenty minutes talking to the Kansas University basketball coach in January. I could not possibly care less about this but evidently that is not a turn off for most of the audience. Can you imagine a national sports radio show in Canada spending time interviewing a 3rd line player on the Edmonton Oilers? Or the head coach of the Alouettes? Why would anyone outside of those markets care to listen? Yet somehow the American shows are able to devote time to local stories despite having a national platform. Why does that work?
The other reason this is interesting to ponder is that TSN now has seven all-sports radio stations across the country, spanning Montreal to Vancouver. So they are in a good position to try out having a national sports conversation. It would be interesting to see them try a radio version of The Reporters where they try to generate an interesting national conversation between local stations. I wonder if Canadians would go for it.
Over to you: would you listen to a national Canadian version of Mike&Mike or Dan Patrick? If not, why not?
In the Gammons piece on Bautista there is the following buried nugget: "Understand that Jose Bautista was a 20th round draft pick in 2000 who after being waived, Rule Fived, bounced in a three-way trade, waived, claimed…then, in his 11th professional season, hit 54 home runs, only to have a blogger who’d never met him suggest it must have been steroids." Is this a reference to Damien Cox and his "gotta ask the question!" routine from a few years back?
Richard Deitsch at SI ran a series of interviews he did with female sports reporters and broadcasters on how the Erin Andrews case has affected their personal safety habits while on the road. Chilling stuff. The NY Times also weighs in. As digital privacy has dominated the news lately with Apple v FBI this underlines just how damaging a loss of privacy can be to a person's well-being, and also the deep connection between privacy and personal security. Important topic.
The CBC has been running a series of stories and forums on the issue of culturally appropriative mascots. As we have discussed before, some logos are clearly racist while others are less so, and lumping them all together muddies the waters when trying to debate the issue. It's striking that this conversation has been going on for decades now with very little actual change. We still have the Redskins, Braves, Eskimos, Indians, etc. It will be interesting to see which league/city/team is the first to come out and say that it is time to retire its logo and try something new. Here's hoping Edmonton can be a leader.
TSN is hiring to replace Jonas Siegel in the Leafs beat reporter role. If you have been waiting for your big break, this is great news. You probably won't go on the road very much, but you will appear on TV, radio, and be expected to generate a lot of web content. One small thing: the posting went up March 6 with a deadline of March 9. Bad news … they already have someone in mind. Oh well, maybe they will be hiring another Senior Blogger soon.
A PPP writer is embroiled in a controversy with SI.com surrounding whether or not SI pulled a story of his they agreed to publish (for no pay) after he started tweeting critical things about this controversial article. Confused? Me too.
Finally, a federal investigator is looking into the facts surrounding CHCH's bankruptcy filing and the possibility that it owes further compensation to its fired employees.
— Dean Blundell (@ItsDeanBlundell) March 10, 2016
Excellent points 2day from the great Goose Gossage about the out-of-control Bautista. Bang on. I predict awful season from Bautista in 2016
— Marty York (@MartyYork) March 11, 2016
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)