Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston @mikeinboston


Sorry for the lack of a column last week. I’m on the road and will remain so for the next few weeks, so my posting might be a little erratic. As always, the comments are what really drive this site. I read every one, and I know TSM does as well.


Since I started writing this column several people who work for the main employers in sports media  have been in touch to let me know that pretty much everything that gets written here is read by the people we talk about. Thanks to everyone who keeps that conversation going. For better or for worse, this is one of the main ways that feedback makes its way to the ears of the people in charge. I doubt that the dead weight legacy personalities care very much what people say about them here, but I know their colleagues and bosses do.


Enjoy the weekend everyone. Please post any interesting links in the comments.


Sports & Racism


We have seen two angles on this issue over the past few weeks.


The Sterling story brought out that one can still get rich in America while being a huge racist, but once that goes public then the jig is up. The reason the NBA came down so hard on Sterling is that his actions started to hurt the brand of the NBA. I have no doubt that he has said racist things to the other owners, and that David Stern knew how bad a guy Sterling is and was.


The PK Subban story brought out that sports is still a home for racism, despite a concerted effort by most leagues to use sport as the great uniter. If the Canadiens were facing Detroit and Subban’s goal prompted racist tweets this would be less of a story. There are idiots in all walks of life, and every fan base has some dullard who will shout “nigger” or “faggot” if given the opportunity. The problem is that this is Boston, and this is not new. This was the last city to integrate in MLB. This is the city that had race riots when schools were forced to welcome blacks.


So, from both the executive level to the fan level, racism is alive and well in sports. One question I wondered this week was: how much racism is there amongst the players?


The Miami Dolphins bullying story this year gave some insight into the locker room culture. It sounds like a tough and fractured environment that, in some ways, mimics cultural and racial divisions. Sometimes that can be a positive PR thing, as we see with the “Dominican Jays.” But I wonder if that can also lead to racial tension when things go poorly.


International soccer has been fighting this battle (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) for decades. North American sports has been insulated to a certain extent. One thing that will hopefully come out of these very public incidents is a recommitment by all leagues to promoting anti-racism initiatives within their own cultures, and in the culture at large. All leagues and teams should be doing more to publicly denounce racism.


TSN spreads its wings


The news broke this week that TSN will be expanding to 5 channels in the coming months. I highly recommend reading Simon Houpt’s article, as it has lots of details about the kind of revenues TSN and SN get from these channels.


Zelkovich asks the right question about all of this: what can they show on these new channels, given that Rogers owns the rights to the Jays and most of the NHL? The answer is more NBA, more soccer, and more NFL. They could also start showing NCAA football on a regular basis. One other thing that TSN can do is show more programming from ESPN. I have little interest in the original content that comes from Skip Bayless’ network, but it is worth pointing out that ESPN’s shows are hugely popular in the states.


As a consumer, I don’t care which channel shows the games. I know some people are very loyal to TSN or SN’s coverage, but at the end of the day people will watch what they want to watch regardless of which channel it is on. The great victory here is for Canadian cable subscribers who now will be able to watch over a dozen sports channels, if they can afford it. TSN claims that there will not be an additional fee right away. If they are going to be buying new content to put on these channels then you can bet that new fees are not far off. History confirms this: Sportsnet One was free for a while, but now you need to buy an extra package to see all the Jays games.


While SN will certainly increase their viewership as a result of the NHL deal, I wonder if they will overtake TSN by the end of the deal 12 years from now. TSN has been crowing about their ratings for deadline day and July 1st for years now. Will the fact that the NHL is mostly on SN change the average fan’s judgments about Bob McKenzie’s credibility? I don’t think it should, but I suspect SN’s insiders will rise in prominence in the years ahead.


My hope is that Canadian networks try to wean themselves off their NHL-addiction.  So long as the perception remains that the path to financial success is via the NHL then you can bet that the next deals are going to be even bigger. Some people have reported that Rogers will lose or barely make money on the new NHL deal. I doubt that, but I do know that the demographics of the country are changing. While hockey is not going anywhere, other sports are rising in popularity. The smart network is the one that is going to be poised to cash in on what the landscape looks like 10 and 20 years from now.


Quick Hits


  • A journalist was fired for making up quotes to go with his story. I wonder how often this happens.


  • DGB has an amazing post on where the current Leafs futility ranks relative to other recent failures. My guess is that Mr. Lieweke underestimated how hard it would be to change 45 years of losing culture. The evidence so far is that he has succumbed to it himself.


  • Bruce Arthur has a decent post on the Carlyle extension. He questions the sanity of rewarding the coach with a new contract when the evidence is pretty clear that he couldn’t get the team to do what it needed. That’s a fair point, and I wonder what the answer is.


  • Scott McArthur (TSN baseball reporter) has started a podcast. I have not yet listened to it, but I really enjoy his work, as well as the other baseball people (Griffin, Hayhurst, Shulman) TSN has on their roster.


Low Hanging Fruit


  • Sportsnet sent out a press release announcing the arrival of Cox as their signature insider on all things hockey. Many people will wonder what this means for his future as PTS co-host. I have sworn off PTS unless Brunt is on, regardless of the quality of the guest, so I am someone who hopes that Cox transitions to being a guest so he can ruin segments rather than whole shows.


  • What has happened to Elliot Friedman? I had assumed that his role within SN would have been solidified by now. Is he less well-regarded than we have assumed or is it just not a priority given that he is still under contract at CBC? I wonder if his less than stellar performances on PTS have had an effect on his negotiations with Rogers. I wouldn’t mind seeing him get his own radio show (maybe instead of Blair?) and let him develop for a while. I think everyone agrees he has talent as a host.


  • I was in Toronto recently for work, and spent some time watching the “breakfast TV” highlight shows on both channels. As someone who lives in the states for most of the year, this is not something to which I have any previous exposure. The SN one features the awkward Cybulksi and some woman, while the TSN features Kate Beirness and some guy. I know TSM recently asked if people watch highlight shows, but here’s a slight variation on that question: do you like the semi-scripted mixed gender banter shows?


  • Lastly, many people asked “how bad do have to be in order to get fired from the Leafs” in light of the Nonis,  Carlyle, and Phaneuf extensions. I’ll ask the same question with respect to hockey insiders. That pool keeps growing and growing, but I can’t think of the last person to flunk out of the job. Can anyone remember some names? I seem to recall ex-Leaf Mike Johnson being one. Is he still working?


thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (in boston)


About the Author