Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition


by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail


One of the first things I noticed when I moved to the States was how much I had taken CBC News for granted. In the U.S. news is a commodity and various stations are selling different version of that commodity hoping to attract an audience. The problem with this approach is that you make decisions based on what you think will please your audience rather than on what serves the story best. This is why people who vote Republican often have very different versions of the facts than people who vote Democrat. These groups are, almost literally, living in two different worlds.


Canadians often complain that CBC is biased in one way or another. I suspect that as you watched Peter Mansbridge on your TV or computer, none of those concerns ever entered your mind. I suspect also that you were glad the CBC didn’t have a mandate to put anything that might be true on the air just so they could say they were first. Speaking for myself, I was incredibly proud of the work CBC did on Wednesday as the story unfolded. In light of the massive cuts in the past and coming months, we need to ask ourselves how much we value having a public broadcaster. This week reminded me of the incredible worth of the news wing of the CBC.


On to the sports media stories of the week …


Unpaid Labour & Student Athletes


The CHL is facing a massive $180 million dollar class-action lawsuit. This story has been brewing for a while and presumably the CHL has been planning their legal strategy for some time. The facts are that athletes are not paid a minimum wage for their work or time, but instead have access to various small pots of money for expense reimbursement and training. They get free sticks and skates and live and eat rent free. They also have support services regarding mental health, doping, and concussions.


The most contentious piece of the CHL’s benefits package concerns educational scholarships which are not automatically guaranteed to all players, and vary in terms of amount and duration. Several news outlets have been all over this story, as well as regular reader and commenter Steve Clark. Mike Toth has a different angle, arguing that if you pay the players this detracts from the appeal of minor sports. As (almost) always, Rick Westhead is the person to consult for nuanced journalism on sports business issues.


The reason I am focusing on these scholarships is that they are being used as the justification for not playing the players. This is basically what the NCAA says: we give students a free ride to university and that is compensation for the time they spend playing. That is why they are student-athletes, not employees of the university. The CHL is helping itself to the same rhetoric and approach in dealing with this lawsuit.


The biggest questions with which I am left are the following: 1) what percentage of players who will play in the league this year will have access to a full tuition scholarship at the end of the year? and 2) what percentage of those players will actually use the scholarship after they stop playing in the CHL? In the absence of answers to these questions, the educational scholarship piece is mostly puffery. It’s all fine to have a scholarship program but if players aren’t able or willing to use it, then it has little value.


David Branch made the rounds this week to state his case, which boils down to this: we think it’s better to give players a package of benefits rather than pay them. The obvious question is: why not both? The league already engages in revenue sharing to prop up the poor teams. So even if paying the players would be costly, there is already a mechanism in place to distribute that burden.


Naylor had a good interview which brought out the fact that compensation has not really been tied to league profitability, and that the league is making good money. But if you have to listen to only one interview with Branch, Brunt was at his best on PTS this week. Brunt clearly had done some research and came armed with a line of questioning and pursued it as Branch tried his best to downplay the issue of a minimum wage. The best example was him getting Branch to admit that educational benefits are negotiated individually with each player rather than being a basic entitlement for all players.


I am fairly open-minded about solutions to the CHL’s labour exploitation problem. Perhaps a minimum wage is too much, given all the other benefits players receive. Perhaps a better option is to create a trust with a minimum amount which increases based on games played, and have the player take control of it when his playing days are over. Further, as Naylor pointed out, the issues look different if we are talking about 16 and 17 year old than if we are talking about 18-20 year olds. Older players are incurring opportunity costs by playing in the CHL while younger ones would presumably still be finishing high school.


Complex issues to be sure, but the flaws with the status quo are not hard to see. If you are making money off players, you should compensate them fairly. Minimum wage is a good place to start.


Rogers’ Rough Week


Profits were down, HNIC ratings were down, and Jays season ticket prices went up. Also, new CEO Guy Lawrence put the world on alert that he’s kind of a jerk. The central issue is Rogers’ new camera angles which are exclusive to Rogers customers even though everyone pays the same for GamePlus regardless of who your wireless provider is.


If you grew up during the Playstation v Xbox era then the idea of exclusives is nothing new to you and this is largely a non-issue. Still, the CRTC has competition clauses and they might as well enforce them. What seems clear is that Rogers and Bell could make a killing if they produced a reality-TV show based on what happens in the MLSE boardroom.


This week we were treated to a verbal slap fight by the spokespeople. Here are the highlights:


  • Rogers: “Clearly this programming is not designed for conventional TV. Conventional TV broadcasts the exact same program to a mass audience who all see the same content, presented the same way … With GamePlus, each fan has a unique experience. … We wouldn’t have developed [the features] solely for broadcast use … it’s a shame that [BCE-owned] Bell is trying to stop innovation in hockey. This may be one of the reasons they failed to secure the rights in the first place. … We’ve invested in significant new innovations to bring Canadians an enhanced experience.”


  • Bell: “We don’t see it as especially innovative that Rogers denies GameCentre consumers access to these stats and other features if they aren’t also Rogers internet or wireless customers. These consumers pay for GameCentre just like Rogers customers so why are they denied access to features available on regular broadcast TV anyway? It breaks the CRTC’s digital media rules, and it impacts all GameCentre consumers across Canada who love hockey but aren’t Rogers customers.”


Hard to cheer for anyone here since Bell would likely be doing the same thing if the roles were reversed. I know we blame Gary Bettman for a lot of things already, but I’d like to add ‘making our already painful lives under the Bell/Rogers oligopoly worse‘ to the list of his crimes against Canadians.


Quick Hits


The Voynov domestic violence arrest gave the media the opportunity to stuff Bettman’s dumb quote about how NHL players know how to behave back in his face. Macko&Cauz were on the air as the news broke on Monday and did a nice job of handling the scraps of information live. I was especially glad to hear them note that “arrested” and “convicted” are different legal standards. They nicely folded in a discussion of how public figures are held to higher standards than others, and that this affects how leagues should think about the presumption of innocence. Chris Johnston had a good piece about how a suspension would affect the salary cap. Sadly, I can’t link to it without assaulting you with an auto-play ad. Apparently Rogers’ conception of innovation includes making you watch video ads in order to read opinion pieces.


The Chronicle has a summary of the findings from a report that was just released on the academic fraud that took place at UNC Chapel Hill. As you’ll recall, the Af-Am department was offering sham classes and as we have now discovered, the grading was done by a secretary rather than by the nominal faculty in charge. The details are damning, and shine a light on how various people would forge signatures, and let faculty know what grades athletes needed for eligibility purposes. The fact that Af-Am was the epicenter of the scandal has led to lots of racist glee from various corners, but this is partly muted because no matter how racist you are, you still want to cheer for your preferred university. I hope someone finds a way to get a class-action lawsuit going on behalf of students whose degrees are tainted by these scandals. Currently there is too much money to be made by pretending that college athletes are students. If the university all of a sudden came to see academic fraud on behalf of athletes as too costly then we might see some positive change. There are some congressional rumblings that the a day of reckoning is coming for the NCAA.


David Alter has been hired by and to write game stories and profiles. Good for him for finding work in a crowded marketplace.


Low Hanging Fruit


  • Tim&Sid cranked up the moral outrage machine regarding the Blue Jays’ ticket price increase. Question for those who listen on a regular basis: since this has become a semi-regular aspect of their show, do you find their outrage sincere or is this just a bit?


  • Erin Andrews botched a World Series interview pretty badly. Her shelf life might be getting close to expiring.


  • There is some controversy about a story of Gareth Wheeler’s and Jermaine DeFoe’s mum. Can someone break this down for me? I had a hard time following it.


  • Congratulations to Brady&Walker for having Peter Mansbridge on the day after the shooting. That’s a high profile “get” for, I presume, Ryan Fabro.




As always, thanks for reading and commenting.

A special thanks again to Howard Berger for talking to me last week.

Until next time …

mike (in boston)




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