photo credit: Twitter
by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail
Good morning sports media watchers, network executives, and program directors. Thanks to everyone who participated in a great discussion last weekend on the media coverage of the Bautista story.
The major story this week was the NHL trade deadline and the annual measuring contest between TSN and SN. To better understand the issues and finances involved I reached out to Globe & Mail sports media writer Dave Shoalts who agreed to answer a few questions. Here is our discussion.
5 Questions with … David Shoalts (G&M)
Q: After another quiet trade deadline and shrinking TV viewership, are we seeing the end of the NHL trade deadline as an all-day television event in Canada?
DS: Not yet. Both Sportsnet and TSN can blame the falling ratings on the number of trades made before deadline day. But I suspect they can still justify the expense of doing the shows because the total number of viewers over the 10-hour day are still somewhere close to a million even for Sportsnet, which once again got creamed in the ratings. It's the type of show where people tune in and out or drop in for a quick look on a slow day like this one. If Numeris ever comes up with reliable mobile ratings then they might play a role in keeping the networks on this.
Q: Both TSN and Rogers are rights-holders. Can you envision them going to the league and asking Gary to reorganize the trade deadline in order to reinvigorate it for the networks? For example, a trade freeze 1 week ahead of the deadline, followed by a thaw in prime time?
DS: I would be surprised if those discussions have not already taken place. It's a natural move for the networks and I also wouldn't be surprised if Bettman kind of likes the idea. He's always had an eye for creating buzz around the game. I know some people at TSN and perhaps Sportsnet as well, would like to make it like the draft where you have the trade freeze and then gather all the GMs and their scouts in a big room for deadline day. But I think the general managers would or are already pushing back hard. That setup would put too much pressure on them to make a deal just for the sake of making one.
Q: Does the new focus on "digital impressions" give an advantage to one network or the other?
DS: I'm not sure. I think TSN does have an advantage here because guys like Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger have huge numbers of Twitter followers compared to the people at Sportsnet. And McKenze is still the go-to guy on Twitter for information.
Q: Given that Sportsnet has pulled even or ahead in web hits and overall network ratings, is there any serious solace for TSN in winning trade deadline day?
DS: Yes, I think winning the actual ratings on that day is worth something. Plus, even though TSN lost the national NHL rights it remains quite profitable, thanks in no small part that it is not paying the NHL $5.2-billion over the next 11 years.
Q: We didn’t see any changes at Sportsnet in staffing or general approach to hockey coverage after Year 1. With the prospect of another ratings disaster on their hands, do you expect changes after Year 2?
DS: This is a tough one. I'm inclined to say there will not be any major changes even though some contracts, like Don Cherry's, will be up at the end of the season. Rogers has always been the company that likes to shuffle its lineup but I think there are enough excuses for the poor ratings – poor seasons by the Maple Leafs and the disaster of having probably no Canadian teams in the playoffs – that Rogers may hold off on anything major. However, I do think you will see at least some of the lesser on-air faces change.
Q: Any first impressions on the new sports radio shows?
DS: While I miss Mike Richards in the morning and wish he had been made part of the new crew, I like Naylor and Landsberg so far. Landsberg is a high-energy guy who probably rubs some people the wrong way but I like that he is quick to call out someone he thinks is wrong and that he is unpredictable. I like the TSN drive-time guys because it's like listening to a really good bar conversation about sports.
Q: How have you found the transition from covering mostly hockey stories to covering mostly sports media and business of sports stories?
DS: I quite enjoy it. Covering the Maple Leafs and the NHL was becoming too dull and difficult, mostly because the league and teams are limiting access more every year and there are more players every year determined to say absolutely nothing.
Q: If you are Fan590 PD, what is your strategy for life after McCown? Do you try to give the audience something similar or do you try for something completely different?
DS: You are never going to replace McCown but you really shouldn't worry about doing that. Look around for the smartest broadcaster who is versatile and skilled enough to keep a conversation on any topic going. It is the quality of conversations that drive the show, not the star quality of the guests. This is not going to happen because he's such a big part of the hockey broadcasts but my first pick would be Elliotte Friedman. I think TSN moving Bryan Hayes to drive-time (and giving him a nice raise) was at least in part due to heading off any possible threat by Rogers to poach him for that spot.
Q: What motivated you to try stand-up comedy? (Youtube Link to Dave's debut)
DS: The impending implosion of my journalism career.
Q: Are your home renovations done?
DS: Anyone who is married knows home renovations are never done. I can say the major ones are. But that's as of today. Madam has far different ideas of what constitutes done.
A big thanks to Dave for agreeing to do this, and for his candid answers. After a long drought of sports media coverage by the papers it is phenomenal to have a professional back on this beat.
Over to you: are you done with Deadline Day? Would you tune in for a prime time trade window? Why is TSN still winning despite not having the rights?
So here are the facts that matter: TSN drew an average of 180,000 viewers vs. 76,000 for SN. This is down somewhat from 206,000 vs 78,000 in 2015. As Chris Zelkovich of Yahoo! writes, "When Rogers mortgaged its future on the NHL two seasons back, many predicted doom for TSN, hockey being the lifeblood of Canadian sports television and all. Sure enough, TSN has gone from dominating the sports landscape to second place. But it has continued to rule the day on trade coverage."
With not much going in terms of actual trades lots of ink was instead directed at the personalities who light up our screens and our lives from morning until night on deadline day. Here is Scott Stinson of Paul Godfrey's National Post (2 auto-play ads in the same article!) writing about TSN host James Duthie. There are some good Duthie quotes in the article: "As we all try to figure out why we do this and why we watch it, it may be the single greatest testament to the passion for hockey in this country is that people watch knowing that nothing might happen."
Dave Shoalts has a nice profile on the Godfather, Bob McKenzie. Shoalts writes: "McKenzie’s title is hockey insider, a role he pioneered in Canada in the late 1990s as his role at TSN grew to a full-time position. Its meaning is clear – someone who has connections to the important people from top to bottom who provide the most reliable information. It is a title, however, that is easily tossed around in today’s world of Twitter, other social media and on seemingly every second radio or television sports show carrying the word “insiders.” There may be many imposters in the role, but McKenzie is not one of them."
Shoalts also has a fun behind the scenes look at TSN's deadline day coverage in this article, which includes several tidbits. TSN poached freelancer Josh Rimer from SN to help with chasing down players and agents.
Rounding out the reporting on the reporters is Lance Hornsby of the Sun writing about Nick Kypreos. The latter muses in the piece about how things aren't like they used to be: "Everyone’s got Twitter feed, instant platforms and broad access. There are so many other people involved in covering the deadline, too. We have the national rights and my role has changed with the arrival of (career reporters) Elliotte Friedman, Damien Cox and Chris Johnston. Those guys and the guys across the street at TSN are so good at what they do. As an ex-player, it’s great to be working with them."
Jay & Dan Struggle at FS1
The plucky Canadians are not getting great ratings in the U.S. This is old news but as the sports media landscape in Toronto continues to evolve, with possible big changes on the horizon, it is worth keeping an eye on just how bad things are down south.
About a month ago Fox announced it was cutting its late-night news and highlight show featuring Jay & Dan as anchors. Richard Deitsch of SI gives the full run-down on what Fox Sports Live promised and the tiny ratings it drew. Matt Yoder at Awful Announcing writes that while FS1 pitched itself as an alternative to ESPN and its hot take mandate, the network is in the process of succumbing to the same fate. The Big Lead reports that Jay & Dan were not exactly shy about expressing their displeasure with their employer when their show was cut and re-imagined.
Questions for you: do you want Jay & Dan back in Canada? Would there be a bidding war between TSN and SN for their services?
This week we learned that 21st Century Fox, Fox Sports' parent, is looking to make some fairly deep cuts to its staff and offering buyouts to be followed by layoffs. John Ourand of SBJ has a comprehensive story with the following details: "According to SNL Kagan, distributors pay Fox a license fee of 98 cents per subscriber per month for FS1 and 28 cents per subscriber per month for FS2. By comparison, ESPN brings in $6.64 per subscriber per month and ESPN2 83 cents."
This is interesting. Notice the huge inequality in what ESPN gets vs FS1. As we have discussed many times, that bubble is going to burst with cord cutting, streaming, and a la carte channel purchasing. There is simply no way ESPN can command that fee in a world where consumers – grandmas etc. – are not forced to buy ESPN as part of a cable package. ESPN already cut a massive amount of jobs in the last year. How much more bleeding will come when the subscriber fee gravy train comes to a halt? This is a general question about the industry in both the U.S. and Canada. Sports networks employ so many people to generate content for web, radio, print, and multiple TV channels. A lot of these jobs are propped up by the current business model which seems on its way out.
As cable inches towards being a truly free market, which jobs will be the first to go in sports media?
The Boston Red Sox media continues to resemble an episode of the Bachelor as yet another female sports reporter has been linked to a player or coach. While the individuals in question are of course free to do whatever they like, female sports reporters everywhere must be grinding their teeth. This does nothing to help the struggle for gender equality in the locker room.
Speaking of diversity, apparently the lack of it is not a problem unique to sports departments. Canadaland has a report on ethnic and racial diversity in newsrooms and the results are pretty much what you'd expect, but not what you would hope for in a country that regards multiculturalism as a national policy.
Still with the news industry, TorStar remains in big trouble. James Bradshaw of the Globe writes about the latest news, including the fact that StarTouch (the Star's awesome iPad newspaper app) has not generated the anticipated numbers. For a rosier version of the facts, here's the Star's take on its financial outlook.
Eric Koreen ex-of the National Post has resurfaced at Vice. Here's a piece of his on the end of Anthony Bennett's tenure as a Raptor. Vice has done a great job giving people a soft landing after being let go, but one wonders whether anyone is earning a living writing for them. They publish a lot.
Ken Dryden talks about his failures while with the Leafs to properly handle the sexual abuse discoveries. "I wish I had acted sooner."
Low Hanging Fruit
- I didn't manage to find time to listen to much radio this week so I'll rely on you to fill in the gaps on who said what.
- TSN promoted Overdrive producer Steph Apolito to Assistant Program Director. This is the role that Jason Rozon holds over at Sportsnet, though she will keep her producing duties. Sounds like two full-time jobs to me.
- I'm not sure if this is cutback related or not but The FAN axed its NBA/Raptors podcast Free Association hosted by Walker Show producer JD Bunkis and Sportsnet magazine's Dave Zarum. Seems like an odd move since this is cheap to produce, and the Raps are the main story for the next few months.
- Greg Brady never appeared on PTS when Brady&Walker moved to afternoons. Andrew Walker got his first shot just 2 weeks into his time as a solo host.
- Richard Deitsch answering a question about why networks keep trotting out people the audience hates: "Because many people in sports television management are stubborn, hubristic and, worst of all, allow personal relationships to interfere with judgments of performance […] Always remember that removing broadcast talent is an indictment of the person who choose the talent in the first place."
- Lastly, a huge thanks to those of you who help me fact-check these columns, and to those in the media who reach out off the record to offer guidance and advice.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)