photo credit: NASA/Reuters
Good morning sports media watchers. The media layoff wheel keeps turning, flinging bodies left and right. I am on the road with a bad internet connection right now so please forgive the extra grammatical and syntactic infelicities. I will be off for a little while and was planning to use this column to clear out a queue of stories I had been meaning to discuss. My comments on the layoffs will be brief, and I’ll say more later. As always, please be in touch via email or DM with any corrections.
At the end of 2015 I wrote this:
“After much shuffling and vacations both radio stations will have their complete line-ups back in the game starting next week. Bobcat comes back, Vendetta goes back to California, Blair goes back to mid-mornings, Naylor is back full-time as are his regular co-hosts, and Brady & Walker are each done with their vacations.”
Ooops. Scratch that. We are completely back to the drawing board early in 2016. To be fair, I also wrote this:
“If I’m a betting man, the spring ratings book will be the last one with these two lineups. I expect major changes by this time next year. Remember that 2016 is scheduled to be the last full year of Bob’s tenure on PTS.”
So let’s recap: as compared to 13 months ago Toronto sports radio listeners now have two new morning shows, one new drive time show, two new early afternoon deadzone shows, and a new lunch hour hockey show. We can throw the loss of Macko into the mix as well. For the statistically inclined, that’s a 70% turnover rate. Despite all the changes, there are very few new voices but that’s another story for another day. We also have one new program director, though he has been at the FAN for a while, while the other has been in his role 20 months but is new to the market. Also, notice that despite the huge disparity in listenership between the two stations, both have made significant line-up changes.
I am not going to bother recapping Greg Brady‘s tenure on the FAN. He bounced around a lot and delivered decent to spectacular ratings everywhere they put him. I am also not going to spend much time wondering “what if”? It’s clear to me there is no way he is fired if Blundell is not brought in by Kollins. Under that alternate timeline, Brady&Walker spend 2015 killing Richards in the AM, and TSN has a much harder job figuring out how to compete. By bringing in Blundell, the FAN made the next move easy for TSN, and made Brady’s salary stick out like a sore thumb relative to his time-slot. Lastly, I am not going to summarize Greg’s strengths and weaknesses as a host. He has a polarizing personality, but as Chuck Swirsky used to say, “that’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla”.
My main question in dissecting this outcome is the following: was this entirely about money? This layoff was folded into the company wide cuts in media at Rogers so that explanation certainly seems to fit the evidence. But when you look a little deeper it doesn’t really make all that much sense.
Consider the following: Bob’s money is about to come off the books. That is a massive savings. Even if Bob sticks around in some part-time role, there’s no way the radio station is going to give him another million dollar contract. Second, Blundell has no long term future at the FAN. That’s a two-way street — Dean has been fighting to do more non-sports talk, and the station has not seen the M25-54 ratings bonanza Kollins promised. Both sides will eventually shake hands and go their separate ways. Blundell makes a semi-Bob salary, and whenever he leaves, there will be cost-savings as well.
In light of this, firing Brady seems short-sighted. You will soon have holes to fill in your two most important time-slots and Brady has proven he can hold his own on two stations, and in both major slots. He is a recognizable voice in the market and, beyond Bobcat, he is a big part of the continuity on your station.
So either it is not about the money and SN decided Brady had no future at the network for whatever reasons, or it is about the money. If the latter, Moore & Co are engaging in short term thinking about budget lines and fiscal years when they should be casting their gaze to where the puck is going. I’m not going to speculate about where the truth lies. After several negotiation windows Brady was among the best paid people on sports radio. He will leave with a handsome severance package that will give him some time off, and also time to plan his inevitable return to radio.
The big question is where he goes from here. Here are two plausible options:
A) Brady sits out a year and re-emerges in spring 2017 on TSN1050. Landsberg & Brady, Naylor & Brady, Brady & Hayes, Greg Brady in the morning … I can see lots of possibilities. Obviously they would have to forget about his anti-TSN tirade from late 2015. But if the ratings don’t show sustained improvement over the next 12 months then hiring a proven commodity is a pretty straightforward choice.
B) Brady moves to general talk on 640/1010. As a listener it is clear that Greg loves discussing parenting, the Oscars, pop culture, music, etc. I could see him occupying the space that Mike Stafford did in his younger days, i.e. sarcastic, funny, smart, but still in touch with the middle-age demo. It would be a waste of his wide sports knowledge, but he might still find some room to fit that in here and there. When I think about the Motts and Michael Coren and the rest of the people who filled that niche when I was growing up, Brady is much better.
Greg will spend the next few months trying to figure out which option is best. Of course he could try to go to another sports market, and PDs in those markets will surely be inquiring. But his best options likely remain in Toronto. As I have written many times before, very few people have succeeded in cracking the Toronto radio market as outsiders. Greg has done it in many slots and with many co-hosts. He put up competitive numbers against PTS, which is no small feat. Best of luck to you Greg in your next venture.
Jeff Sammut has been with the station in one form or another for a very long time. With scheduled raises that made him very expensive for the time-slot. This move makes sense on financial terms.
We always complain there is no farm system for radio and Jeff was partly caught in that quandary. He should gave gone to another market to try to level-up years ago, thereby freeing up the evening slot for a younger guy. I’m sure he had his reasons for sticking around, and this is certainly not a criticism of his choices. However it should have been clear to him that the station was unlikely to give him his own show any time soon. It should also be clear to the rest of the fill-in crew that the chances of getting your own show on the FAN are next to nil. Cite the case of the person who has done it. There’s the Eric Smith/Mike Wilner career trajectory where you latch on to the broadcast side of things, but that’s about it.
I’m hoping this motivates Jeff to look for other options in other markets or in other corners of the industry in Toronto. With his depth of experience he should be able to land on his feet.
Over the last 12-24 months we have lost a lot of familiar voices due to cutbacks in media: Brady, Sammut, Hebscher, John Lott, Down Goes Brown, Kaitlyn McGrath, Eric Koreen, David Alter, Sheri Forde, and many more I am forgetting. (Not sure if you want to count Aaron Ward in here). Those are just the ones with a local connection.
The same story is playing out in markets across the continent. While most of these have been on the print side of things, many are not. The loss of jobs in traditional sports media — print, radio, TV — is far from done, as the entire ecosystem deals with a new reality.
According to a Bloomberg story, live sports are no longer seen as the goldmine they once were. In the PVR era dollars flowed to sports programming for the obvious reason that people did not want to watch it later. But with the rise of Twitter and Vine and the rest of the social media soup, younger people are much more willing to forego spending an entire evening on the couch when they can see clips and news in almost real time on their mobile devices.
You can see the effect across the sports media industry. ABC/Disney is getting hammered due to uncertainty about how many subscribers ESPN is losing. The just concluded Super Bowl ratings were down, especially among the 18-49 demo. All of this comes at a time when skinny cable packages are being mandated (hooray CRTC), which will provide even further incentives for people to cut the cord (according to some but not all).
The long and short of this is that traditional sports media jobs will be the first to go. As we move into a full multi-platform age, people will need to be able to handle some combination of radio, TV, writing, and social media. Very few people currently employed in sports media have been trained to handle this range of duties. Some people are naturally gifted and can shift between roles, but that is the exception to the norm. Just look at how many TV and print people flounder on radio. Could you imagine wanting to read columns written by Mike Richards? No. That’s not what he does. Being able to speak for 3 hours a day doesn’t mean you would be an interesting writer. Being able to read a teleprompter does not mean you can do live radio.
The conjunction of a more versatile workforce with media conglomeration means that you need far fewer people to generate the same amount of content. Why pay several full-time salaries when you can get most of the work out of a smaller group?
I’m not saying I think this is great. News organizations are cutting photographers, having reporters film their own segments, and slashing research support. The loss to the consumer will be tangible in some cases, and not in others. But the overall direction of traditional media is clear: you need to be able to do more than one thing well because there just aren’t the dollars anymore to continue under the old model.
I have a mountain of things to put here but painfully slow internet, and linking takes forever.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)