Toronto Sports Media Musings- Is Howie Being Left Home?

What do you call a beat writer who isn’t on the beat?

No, it’s not a joke. It is the reality of the world we live in 2009. At least that’s the word on the street as it pertains to one Howard Berger. I am told from a few different sources that when the good ship Maple Leaf takes to the road this year they will be doing so less one usually argyle sweater wearing reporter. No Berger isn’t going to be always left at home. He just won’t be on every or most road trips as he has in the past. At least that is what we are told is being contemplated by the owners of the Toronto Blue Jays, Rogers Communications. So while we have heard of American media outlets cutting back on hockey coverage costs, it appears that perhaps hell hath frozen over here and that despite the rabid appetite for Maple Leaf coverage, the Fan 590 is, off the time of this writing, planning on forgoing some Maple Leaf road trips. It is hard to contemplate and believe. Let me clear, if this is indeed true, the disappointment is more about the reality than it is the work of the reporter in question. If Berger is the best Roger’s can do, then he should be on road trips, plain and simple. Together with colleagues I always laughed when I heard Mike Wilner covering Jays games from the studios in Toronto when the team was on the road. Granted 81 games on the road is a ton compared to 41, one can’t compare the Jays to the Maple Leafs in terms of interest and demand for information. So whether he is writing brutal articles about parties into the wee hours at Cliff Fletcher’s party in Phoenix or some other odd story from road trip, if this is his gig, he should be there.

On the topic of rumblings, I have a question for you all. Let’s say, hypothetically that an executive from a sports team goes to lengths to ensure that a former member of that executives team does not appear on the radio station which owns the broadcast rights to that hypothetical teams games. Hypothetically speaking, the executive was concerned about potentially damning comments this imaginary former employee may say on the same very radio station where games could hypothetically be heard. So, here’s the question. If you were the hypothetical radio station, would you give in to that hypothetical request/demand??? So, this isn’t the case, but let’s assume that the radio station that broadcasts the Chicago Blackhawks games was about to have Dale Talon on the air after he hypothetically joined another team and upon hearing this, Stan Bowman (again, I am making this specific scenario up) called the radio station and asked/demanded that the station not conduct the interview. If you were a Blackhawks fan, how would you feel? If it were a Toronto team, would you be pissed? What do you as a fan think the station should do? Where is the line drawn?

When I lived in Detroit, the old all sports radio station WDFN, used to promote itself as “the only station not bought and paid for by the home team” before it was a rights holder of a professional team. The implication of the pronouncement was that they would be more fair and balanced because they wouldn’t be pressured by the almighty dollar. Cash, is, more than ever king these days. One can imagine the immense pressure on any media outlet who pays a small fortune for the rights and in turns sells advertising based upon having those rights should that call ever come. I think it’s easy for us to jump to the conclusion that the outlet shouldn’t cave to the pressure. Easier, I think we all can agree, said than done. 640 Toronto is the radio rights holder for your Toronto Maple Leafs. Do you think there is should be added pressure on Brian Burke to tip them off on transactions simply due to the cash that 640 pays the Maple Leafs for those rights? Should he have leaked the info to 640 on the Kessel deal? is he obligated to go on 640 first as a result of the radio rights? In my opinion the answer is no. That shouldn’t be what the rights get you. I think there are certain intrinsic benefits to being the right holder. Access to players and management immediately before during and after games would be one of them for sure. Weekly coaches shows, ability to call themselves the official station of…, I get all of those. Where, I ask you is the line drawn?

I have no definitive proof that these things happen here. I get the sense that there are immense pressures on both the teams and the media outlets right now. I am curious as to what you think. I would hope, and perhaps it’s way too altruistic, that the good of the fan is what wins out. My hope is that no matter how much they want to win, both the media and the teams operate with honour and integrity. Thoughts?

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