Ask The Toronto Sports Media MSM Robert Gray


So you asked the questions of TSN Radio 1050 PD Robert Gray, here are his answers. In the comments, please make your requests for whom you’d like to see next and I will see what I can do.

Special thanks to Robert for being numero uno!


Q: Does TSN plan to grow programming in behind-the-scene or player profile? ESPN does a good job of producing sports programming in a entertainment/documentary format, what prevents TSN from doing the same?

A: What you do hear on weekends on TSN 1050 are some cool ESPN Radio features that they make available to us. They come from some of their in-depth TV reporting shows like E:60 and Outside The Lines – some great investigative pieces and interesting 1 on 1’s. On the TSN Radio side, being more often than not a live medium, with a very small staff, we are more prone on the in-depth stuff to have a guest come in-studio for an hour or more and really get into their story. As an example, among the many great storytellers in sports is legendary ex-NHL ref Kerry Fraser. He has dropped by our studios a number of times now for an extended stay and told some incredible, and incredibly funny behind the scenes stories about some the biggest names and notorious moments in hockey history. The more of that kind storytelling style of radio with great personalities we can do the better. I think that accomplishes what some of the best sports documentaries do – really taking you fully into the moment, whether that is in the locker room or board room or onto the playing field.

Q: One obvious question would be: does the new Bell/Rogers partnership on all things Leafs/Raptors/TFC change the dynamic of the ratings battle between TSN Radio and the FAN? A second question: do you think having exclusivity with respect to certain guests is a good thing? are you opposed to having TSN personalities appear on the FAN?

A: I can only answer the last question on this as the proposed MLSE acquisition is still before the regulators at this point. There are few personalities – like Jack Armstrong – who you’ll hear on other local stations but that is a rarity. We want – as I expect the other guys also want – to distinguish ourselves in the market place, to build a unique offering to sports radio listeners. One of the most effective ways we can achieve this is with our own personalities and their respective radio station being the only place you can hear them in the market and the same goes for regular ESPN guests and special contributors. In the multi-platform media space we are now inhabiting more and more of the key personalities have 360 deals that have their contributions on TV/Digital/Mobile/Radio/Print all tied to one company’s offerings.

Q: What is TSN Radio planning for the arrival of the Leafs to their airwaves next season?

A: See above answer.

Q: Is it possible that TSN radio underestimated how hard it would be to break into a market already represented by an all sports radio station? And if so is there anything you would have done differently?

A: Short answer to both is no, we’re very happy with where we are, especially when you consider that we are not even 1-year in. But to effectively answer that question it is important to understand how our business works and what the metrics that we really measure our business success by are. If you have time keep reading and I’ll give you the crash course in “Sports Radio 101”.

There’s a good reason that the number of dedicated all-sports radio stations in North America has grown to over 630 – simply put, it works. Guys love sports and will listen to sports radio in droves. Sports radio at its core is a highly effective, cost efficient delivery vehicle for advertising specifically targeted at active, affluent males. Anywhere from 75% to 85% of the make-up of the average sports radio station’s listening audience is male, and the majority of those guys are between the ages of 18-54, with the core sports radio listener between the ages of 35-44. This is an audience that has become increasingly difficult for advertisers to reach – and is highly desirable. That’s what creates the opportunity for the sports radio business model.

From a qualitative perspective, the sports radio listener typically indexes at or very near the top of all radio audiences in per capita terms of being comprised of the most owners, managers, professionals and corporate decision makers, and the highest average household income earners / having the most disposable income. The guys that listen to sports radio are huge consumers of life – very a lucrative audience for advertisers.

Besides the uniqueness and desirability of the audience, sports radio is not like music formatted stations because we are what is referred to as “foreground” programming. If you think about it, you generally won’t hear sports radio on in the background at the mall or in the dentist’s office. And that’s for good reason, guys have to actively listen to the content – it is intrusive, and at it’s best incredibly compelling and engaging. It’s challenging if not impossible to listen to your significant other talking to you while you are also listening to Darren Dreger discuss on our station what Brian Burke is or is not expected to do at the trade deadline.

Also unlike music radio, the ads are much more a part of the content in sports radio. There isn’t an audible disconnect of music to spots when the advertising messages come on, it’s congruent as its all talk, all the time in sports radio. We can also do a number of creative non-spot based advertising campaigns within the actual programming content with sponsorships and tags that often times music radio simply cannot do. We in sports radio can more effectively pair the advertisers who want active, affluent guys to hear about their products and services with exactly the audience they are after. Because of that, ad dollars typically go further in sports radio as clients are only speaking to the audience that they want – not spending excess dollars by reaching a lot of kids or women that perhaps they don’t need or necessarily want to hear their message.

All that said I’m not anti-music radio at all, in fact far from it. What I am doing is simply illustrating that music radio and sports radio are entirely different beasts when it comes to who listens and how they are consumed and because of that how they are sold.

What most people not in the industry will solely judge a sports station’s impact in the market by are the ratings. But being a niche format as sports radio is, it will never be a ratings juggernaut like a broadly listened to music station can be. As such, ratings aren’t the make it or break it numbers for us like they are for music radio or in the television world. Truth is that sports radio – once again unlike music radio – for the most part isn’t primarily sold on ratings, it’s much more sold on “environment” – meaning the uniqueness of the qualitative of the audience, the strength of the format and the effectiveness of the results we deliver are what we sell. If your sports station is the home of one of your city’s pro team’s radio broadcasts – you have a product and an unique “environment” to sell that no other radio station in the market, no matter how big they are can ever duplicate.

On average, for all the sports radio stations across North America, anywhere from 65% to 85% of the advertisers are typically direct clients with between 15% – 35% then purely ratings driven agency ad buys. In an agency dominated major market like Toronto those agency numbers are towards the higher end of the scale – but the engine that drives sports radio advertising is and will always be direct clients that understand the power and effectiveness of the “environmental” buy. Being so heavily male dominated it is hard for us to be efficient enough to get on the majority of agency ad buys since they typically focus on adults or females instead of the male skew we offer. So how effective we are at driving results for those advertisers that use us – both direct and agency – is the biggest metric that we use to measure our success in the marketplace. We have to provide enough the right guys to hear the targeted messages that then act on them for the advertisers to realize the results they are after. That is what drives the vast majority of our revenue – how effective we are for our advertisers. If we aren’t effective then we have a high attrition rate and don’t get to stay in business.

All that said, thus far our advertisers (both agency and direct clients) on TSN 1050 are very pleased with their results. We are actually a little bit ahead of where we forecast we’d be with our sales growth at this point. The majority of our earliest advertisers have already extended or renewed their campaigns and more and more business are coming on board with us every week. Some of them never having used the sports format before. So better knowing how our business works, here in a market of nearly 6M, as the GTA now is, the concept of having 2 sports formatted stations should not seem unreasonable to most intelligent people. (Across the border a market of this size could have 3 + all sports station and one of them would probably be on FM). What it all comes down to are the opportunities that exist with the thousands of companies doing business in the GTA.

To put it in another way, until our account executives have visited and presented campaign opportunities to every single business in the GTA that could benefit by having our unique audience of active, affluent men hear and act upon messages about the various products and services they offer – we have not maximized or tapped out the opportunity.

We like to say that “sports radio rings cash registers”. Just about everyone wants, or needs, to continue to grow their business – and we’re ready, willing and able to help them do that in a highly cost effective way with the power of our all sports platform.

Q: What I would like to know is what is your vision concerning content and the presentation of that content for TSN Radio in Toronto?

A: To understand our philosophy, what you need to do is consider first what we are competing for as opposed to just what we are competing against. What we are competing for is “time”. With the exceedingly busy lives our guys lead, they have a very finite amount of time to listen to the radio each day. Sports radio is listened to primarily by these guys while they are by themselves, commuting in their vehicles close to 70 to 80 percent of our listening is typically done that way.

These days our competitors for that valuable listening time include not only other sports radio stations but every other AM/FM terrestrial radio station available in the market, your hands free blue tooth that never stops ringing, music and podcasts on iPods/iPhones, BlackBerrys, Androids, CDs, satellite radio and a few folks still even have cassette players in their vehicles. And last but not least blessed silence – how often these days can you steal a few minutes of that?

Leveraging the strength of the powerful TSN brand, what we need to do with our content is to consistently be more interesting, compelling, provocative and ultimately more engaging than all of those other options that are readily available at the listener’s finger tips. So that guy, in his car, stuck on the DVP in an endless traffic jam spends more of the very valuable minutes he has available making us his “time” choice.

What has been a real advantage since the debut of TSN radio – is to service fans with compelling content across our multiple platforms. An obvious example is upcoming with TradeCentre. As you are driving to and from work you now won’t miss a thing. TSN has set the standard for Trade Deadline coverage for years and now with us in the fold too, TSN radio can enhance and complement the broadcast coverage – really focusing on the Leafs here in the GTA – serving fans with the content that they want backed by Canada’s Sports Leader.

What we have heard from listeners first and foremost is that they love finally having a choice when it comes to the sports format in the GTA. And secondly that they really appreciate the fresher approach and overall style of our on-air guys and having the opportunity to hear all the main TSN and ESPN insiders in the way we do the sports format.

Ultimately what we do is offer industry-leading, sports entertainment for guys. We try to be relatable, talk about what the audience really cares about. The station that does that most effectively they’ll listen to. We’ll keep busting our asses to make sure we continue to deliver on that going forward.

Q: I really like the fact that you’ve given a huge MMA/Pro Wrestling show like LAW: Live Audio Wrestling with Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski Jason Agnew and John Pollock such a huge platform. As a longtime fan of the show I can honestly say TSN Radio 1050 is proving to be the best outlet for the brand……. One more question will you be bringing Steve Kouleas or Steve Ludzik in on a full time basis to co host with Bryan Hayes ?

A: You have to acknowledge MMA has become a true force in the sports landscape in the last few years and the LAW guys do a great job keeping the audience plugged in on that along with their wrestling coverage. Fight fans love to hear about and talk about the UFC PPVs right after they are over and now they can do that on the station with the LAW’s post UFC PPV shows on the Saturday nights. So I’m glad we can bring that programming to Toronto area listeners and across Canada online. On your second question, Jamie McLennan does a brilliant job now co-hosting our Blue Lunch show focusing on the Leafs from Noon to 1pm each weekday with full-time host Bryan Hayes, while Steve K and Steve L have made appearances in that timeslot – Steve K in fact helping us by anchoring that hour when we first launched. Good to know that you like both the Steves, as the station continues to add more local shows going forward you’ll no doubt have the opportunity to hear more of those guys and other of TSN’s hockey personalities on-the-air.

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February 28, 2012 4:48 am

Great and interesting detail on the demographic answer. Thanks.

mike (in boston)
mike (in boston)
February 28, 2012 7:34 am

thanks for the replies — they are highly revelatory. a few comments.

– the take-away message from the “sports radio rings cash registers” point is that the quality of the on-air product doesn’t really affect the profitability of the product. If true, that explains why we see so more much inertia and complacency in the industry. It’s hard to fire people or make changes when everyone is making money

What we have heard from listeners first and foremost is that they love finally having a choice when it comes to the sports format in the GTA. And secondly that they really appreciate the fresher approach and overall style of our on-air guys and [thirdly] having the opportunity to hear all the main TSN and ESPN insiders in the way we do the sports format.

– a lot of your listeners comment here as well, so you can add this comment to your findings: 1) agreed – the choice has been great, 2) disagree — the personalities of the regular hosts TSN are dull, washed up, and far less funny than they think they are. Most of them lack skills at interviewing. Your best talents (Arthur, Mackowitz) are underused. 3) agree and disagree — having exclusive access to ESPN people is nice (Shulman, Law) but the reliance on your stable of hockey insiders is a crutch at this point. Cybulski’s show is often composed of nothing but TSN hockey insiders. It makes the station insular, repetitive, and monotonous.

lastly: on behalf of Jays followers, please invest in your coverage of the team by having a regular beat reporter, and fitting a baseball show into your schedule.

February 28, 2012 9:13 am

Thank you Robert for coming forward and providing some very detailed ‘inside information’ about how advertising and demographics relate to sports radio. Very interesting stuff.

I will however add a +1 to Mike (in Boston)’s comments. Other than the one day of Scott MacArthur’s new show, which I found to be very well done, that I caught last Tuesday the 21st, my ears will largely tune into your Toronto and Buffalo competitors when I am in the GTA during weekdays unless TSN moves away from the ‘70% of our guests are the TV ‘hockey insiders’ content.

On the technical side of things, is there any info you can provide about the possibilty of TSN boosting the radio signal, or moving to a stronger dial position? I live in southwestern Ontario, and most days travelling on the 401, I lose your signal in the Kitchener area, while I can get the FAN to Woodstock (and usually beyond). Thank you for any feedback you can provide.

Don Mandrie
Don Mandrie
February 28, 2012 11:50 am

Thanks for the insight. A couple of things:

-You’re asking a lot to expect listeners to listen to an entire hour of podcasts. We don’t have the time. Isn’t there something you guys can do to make it easier to listen to segments or guests without having to listen to an entire hour?

-I’ve been listening online to Melnick in Montreal for years. I think he’s as good as it gets. Very unique show. Any plans to have him on radio/tv here in Toronto?

-I agree with comment about Blue Jays. If you have a wrestling show can you not find the team to put together a show dedicated to the Jays & MLB?


The Meatriarchy
February 28, 2012 12:49 pm

Disagree with the commenters regarding the reliance on hockey insiders.

I flipped over to the fan yesterday morning and they seemed to be talking hockey way more than Richards does.

The hockey talk on TSN seems to be only a few segments per show ie Blue Breakfast or the brief spot on Cybulski just after six (which is the only time I tune into that show)

February 28, 2012 3:50 pm

Trade dealine day is prob not a good day to examine shows or guests on either 590 or 1050.

I’d like to know why 1050 abandoned hour by hour podcasts and went back to segement by segment. Very aggravating for those who want to listen to guestless segments.

February 28, 2012 5:34 pm

I wish someone had brought something up about the possibility of shows that would air across the entire fleet of TSN stations. When LAW does post UFC or their Sunday night show, that would be something that they can easily air in Montreal and Winnipeg.

Also, What happened to Richards getting airtime on TSN2? Is there a timeframe for the other TEAM stations to switch to TSN Radio?

February 28, 2012 5:47 pm

My one major criticism of TSN Radio is lack of unique and interesting guests. It’s always the same old people: All the TSN and ESPN analysts. Not that they aren’t interesting, but it wears after a while. People don’t want to hear the same guests every day.

The FAN on the other hand relies on their Sportsnet people FAR LESS than TSN relies on their people. On 590 you get diversity with many different players, executives, and writers interviewed each day. TSN just gives you their own in-house analysts and insiders all the time.

February 28, 2012 6:20 pm

+1 on the Blue Jays coverage.

Last summer, TSN Radio basically ignored the Jays. Felt kind of petty – like they tried to avoid it because it’s a Rogers property.

I don’t listen too much now, but I’d listen more if I felt that had actual knowledgeable baseball discussion sometimes. There doesn’t seem to be any hosts on TSN who seem especially interested in the game (like, say Blair, McCown and Wilner on The Fan). Scott Ferguson is over there I guess, but he doesn’t host.

Guy Brown
Guy Brown
March 30, 2015 4:19 pm

I really enjoy the program’s you have on. A special shout out for Mike Richards and his crew as well as Dave Nalor and his show.
Many thanks

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