Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo credit: the internet

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by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail

 

Good morning sports media watchers. If you’re a new reader, welcome! This space is usually devoted to the week that was in Toronto sports media news, general sports stories that have a connection to broader social issues, and the good, bad, and ugly of being a listener or a reader in this market.

 

Kollins’ Calculated Blunder

 

Dean Blundell has been hired by the FAN to hold down one of the most valuable spots in the sports radio line-up. The move displaces the current morning show of Brady&Walker which has been running for the last 16 months to very good ratings. The move was a surprise at this juncture but not entirely unforeseeable given that Rogers brought Blundell in this past summer for a trial run. I wrote a long post about that decision at the time which you can read here.

 

The biggest question is what you are getting in Blundell at this point in time. When Dean was brought in last summer Rogers VP Julie Adam had this to say: “Rogers has a zero tolerance in regards to discrimination, and our track record speaks to that, and we wouldn’t have him in if we felt there was going to be any risk to our reputation regarding that.As I wrote back in May, I don’t believe this statement. If Rogers had a zero tolerance policy then they wouldn’t hire Blundell. Given that they did hire Blundell the more accurate statement should be “we feel that the risk to our reputation is worth taking given the potential ratings and revenue returns Blundell might bring.”

 

Chris Zelkovich has new quotes from Sportsnet president Scott Moore: “I am 150 per cent confident that we will not see a repeat of [homophobic slurs]. I’ve spent a great deal of time with Dean and … he understands what we’re looking for. We were pleased with both the performance and reaction on his dry runs last year. He was playing a role on a younger-male radio station at a time when the shock jock format was hot. He realizes that the world has changed a little bit and that he … has to reinvent himself a little bit. I’m sure he will be a good fit.”

 

Moore’s quotes raise the following question: if you are not bringing Blundell in to be what he was before, what are you bringing him in to do?

 

The reaction to Blundell’s brief audition around here and among those in the media I spoke with was not good. He was a fish out of water on sports. Despite his smooth and professional delivery, Blundell could not sustain a conversation about the sports topics du jour for any length of time. It is a mystery how the FAN expects him to do so for 3.5 hours Monday to Friday, 40+ weeks a year. He is clearly being brought in to appeal to the younger demo, but obviously not the same younger demo that Brady&Walker currently own. So if those people aren’t listening now, what will make them tune in to Dean? He isn’t a sports guy and they claim not to want him to be a shock jock. The incoherence is obvious.

 

The media reaction outside of the Rogers chambers has been largely critical.

 

Raju Mudhar at the Star had this to say: “The unfortunate aspect about his hiring is that Sportsnet must feel that their core audience doesn’t care about Blundell’s past transgressions, or don’t believe it will be a hindrance in this important time slot.”

Josh Visser at the Post had a compilation of Twitter reaction, including this from Bruce Arthur: “If Dean Blundell is the Fan’s new morning guy, then they’ve finally locked down the demo for garbage piles who once threatened to sue me.”

– One positive opinion comes from Mark Hebscher who argues “if you push the envelope and challenge your listeners, you’re going to ruffle some feathers.  By hiring Blundell, The FAN has to stem the tide of criticism by ensuring that he does a top-notch show, devoid of any of the controversy that had him taken off the air by The Edge.” As noted above, I fundamentally disagree with Mark that Blundell is cut out to do sports rather than edgy shtick. (That said, it is fantastic that someone from the business is writing about the business. Keep it up Mark. I’ll be reading.)

 

I’ll turn this over to you: based on what you heard last summer, will you tune in to listen to Blundell talk about last night’s Leafs game? I’m especially interested to hear from Dean’s legions of listeners from his Edge show. What are you looking for in his return to radio? You left the Edge in droves … where did you go?

 

Dominos

 

As a straight up radio move, I think this was a risk not worth taking for the FAN. You’re thumping the competition and they aren’t making many gains. So I started trying to think along more sophisticated industry lines about what might explain taking this risk. The main question with which I was left was the following: what was the first domino to fall to set this all in motion? Here’s one theory: 1) Blundell was being courted by someone else in the market. Here’s another: 2) Sportsnet TV is struggling in the ratings and wants T&S to provide a boost.

 

Theory 1 makes some sense, but not very much. I don’t see TSN being interested in Blundell. So if he was going elsewhere it was to 1010 or 640 or to FM. Since Rogers competes with Bell for younger listeners across multiple formats and stations, perhaps they just wanted Blundell not to be with the competition, period. If that’s the real story then it’s beyond stupid for Kollins to go along with it. Why blow up your line-up just to appease some other part of the company? Who knows, maybe this was dictated from upon high and he had no choice. Time will tell.

 

Theory 2 makes some sense too. Shoalts reported that TV revenues are below expectations at Rogers. TV is way more valuable than radio, so it would make sense to try to extract as much value from T&S as possible and they are arguably more valuable on TV. Again though, this means that the radio side is being sacrificed for the greater good. Seems like a terrible way to treat your radio people, in my opinion.

 

The other domino I was curious about was this: given the obvious conflict of putting T&S up against PTS, was Bob McCown consulted before the change was finalized? The answer according to multiple sources is no. Bob found out roughly when the rest of us found out. He cannot be happy about this. Bob loves being on TV and he also loves being the star of the network. One has to wonder whether this is a clear signal that PTS is done in 2 years when Bob’s contract is up.

 

The last domino I want to talk about is the TSN side of things. The FAN has just demoted two of its better on-air personalities. What do you do? One thing you could do is approach Brady&Walker and offer them a show on TSN. They could easily slot in to morning show and bring over a chunk of their audience. The bolder move would be to put them up against Bob. I have no idea how happy TSN is with Naylor’s performance (I’m a big fan) but the ratings are what they are. A possible half measure would be to hire either Brady or Walker. Both guys have succeeded in cracking the Toronto market as outsiders, which is a feat that has bested many others.

 

Over to you: what should TSN Radio do? Stay the course? Poach? 

 

Winners & Losers

 

I spoke to lots of people this week and ran a bunch of theories up the flagpole and here is my best current guess at how this all shakes out. (Disclosure: I predicted Richards would be Krystal 2.0 … so what do I know.)

 

Winners

 

  • Blundell: the Toronto media scene rewards failure and Dean is being rewarded in spades.
  • Tim&Sid: from what I hear they always wanted to be back on TV and this promotion gives them a chance to be stars in the mould of Jay&Dan.
  • Macko&Cauz: the show most like them has disappeared. It’s plausible that some people who find a bro-talk-shaped hole in their lives will switch over
  • TSN Radio: things couldn’t be much worse from a ratings standpoint and this provides an opening to make significant gains.
  • Blair: lived to fight for another day of taking your calls

 

Losers

 

  • Walker: he did nothing to deserve being saddled with all of Blundell’s baggage. If the new show fails it won’t be because of Walker, but it’s hard to see how he would come out untainted.
  • Tim&Sid’s listeners: these guys have been loyal for several years and across several stations. They are now an army without a nation.
  • McCown: This will drain viewers but more importantly guests as well away from his show. If you have to choose between appearing on a TV show on TV or a radio show on TV, which would you choose?
  • Female sports hosts: sorry ladies, not this time. Maybe you could do updates and occasionally pop in to talk about which Leaf you’d most like to date?

 

On the fence

 

  • Brady: if he succeeds then he’s in the conversation to replace Bob in 2 years. If the show is uninspiring then he’s essentially done at the FAN. He makes too much money to spend on a low-revenue time slot.
  • Richards: on the one hand, the show that was drubbing him in the ratings has been blown up. He now has the home court advantage. On the other hand, Blundell is a lot closer to what Richards does and might do it better.

 

Quick Hits

 

The UNC academic fraud scandal took an interesting twist with former athletes suing the school and the NCAA for failing to protect the quality of the education they received. I have long hoped that someone would sue on behalf of those people whose degrees have been devalued by the school’s cheating on behalf of athletes. This is a good step in that direction.

 

Bob Elliott is not a big fan of Ed Rogers. Neither is John Lott. This is another embarrassing chapter for the Blue Jays organization. If you had hopes that incidents like Adam Lind’s mum requesting MRIs and the Jays players passing the hat to sign free agents were a thing of the past, guess again.

 

The other half of the Brady sports media empire has a nice feature on newest TSN basketball analyst Mo Pete. Looks like Sportsnet is going to counter with the equally popular Alvin Williams.

 

Westhead has a scoop on the possible expansion fee for the Las Vegas NHL team. $450 million seems really high for a totally unproven professional sports market, but the NHL has survived many failed expansions in the past so there is no reason to think they couldn’t survive this one too if it goes bust.

 

Cathal Kelly has an article about the need to blow up the Leafs and start over. I liked this line: “What management needs to get past is the fear of looking stupid, of being rooked in a deal. The only foolish thing left to do is nothing, while pretending that’s a sort of progress.” Many GMs have come here and succumbed to what I call Blue & White Brass Disease, where they think they can outsmart everyone and fix the Leafs without losing. The Leafs need someone who is OK with looking dumb. Bonus: Cathal borrows my car analogy from a few weeks back!

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • It’s hard to put into words how bad the combination of Reid and McCown is. This wretched pairing is not getting any better. I tried to get through a segment with a guest I like but couldn’t do it, so I skipped the rest of the week. Anyone remember the time when PTS had both Arthur and Brunt as co-hosts?

 

  • Deflategate may turn out to be the best IQ test yet. You can tell so much about a person by how he/she reacts to it.

 

  • Glad to see TSN giving Macko&Cauz more exposure rather than letting Hayes Sr. host in Naylor’s absence. Maybe the new PD is actually interested in developing radio talent instead of treating the station as just another outlet for TSN television personalities.

 

  • Out of respect for those involved I won’t name names, but it’s sad that Blundell’s arrival means someone who was doing good work has to lose his job. Best of luck with your next venture.

 

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thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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