photo credit: CBC
by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail
Good morning sports media insiders and outsiders. Jonah covered a lot of the big topics this week, so I’ll try to keep my comments briefer than usual. We’ll see how that turns out.
Another Terrible Week in Sports Media
These have been happening with increasing frequency over the last few years. I fear that this is the new normal. The main source of consternation this week was the defamatory Tweet heard round the world thanks to TSN’s inexplicable lack of oversight of its Twitter crawl on trade deadline day.
This led to Phil Kessel lashing out at the media, which in turn prompted another cheap news cycle of whether Phil is a leader and whether or not Phil should be telling the media how to do their jobs. The stupidest version of this was Nick Kypreos on PTS asking “where was this passion on the ice when it mattered?”
Fan tweets add nothing to broadcasts. Period, end of story. I understand that someone who tweets in “Leafs rool, Sens drool #selfiestick” is probably going to watch longer, but that shouldn’t dictate your programming decisions. TSN needs to tread very carefully here. They have been the gold standard for hockey reporting and coverage for a generation now. They recently lost a large element of their arsenal to the competition in the form of NHL rights. Yet since suffering that setback they have trundled along with their other properties, retained their main hockey personalities, and have actually increased their hockey credibility in light of Rogers’ unfortunate focus on soft journalism and celebrating the game when it comes to the NHL.
But, they now have four very public “incidents” — the relative merits of which we have debated at length — on their resume this season in the form of Feschuk, Mirtle, Siegel, and now The Tweet. Whatever good will they have built up as a network with the players and management could easily dissipate if these incidents are not properly handled.
TSN did the right thing by unconditionally apologizing, but that is not an especially laudable action. Of course they would apologize. The more difficult thing will be to hold themselves accountable. There are some tough questions that they have not answered publicly. Who set the policy to have tweets in the first place? Who was responsible for approving tweets that went on air? Did someone actually approve this tweet knowing its content?
In the absence of answers to these questions, are we just supposed to take their word for it that this was an isolated incident, totally free of malice? If I’m the Leafs, I wouldn’t their word for it. And if I’m Bob McKenzie I’m furious that the people at my network are ruining my reputation.
One of the themes that has come out of all of this is whether athletes have a right to be upset with the media when they screw up. The answer is of course they do. The more interesting question is whether things are getting worse, or if we just hear about these things more often. Here I think social media has been a great equalizer, but not in the way you might have thought. What we have seen is that it is not just idiot fans who say stupid things on Twitter. The media is often guilty of the same lack of standards when dealing with each other, with athletes, and with the audience. These are the same people who occasionally show up at practice and stick a microphone in Phil Kessel’s face and get upset if they don’t get the answers they want.
Let me ask you: if you were Kessel or Bautista or Lowry, given what you see from the Toronto media, how much interest would you have in playing nice with them?
There are plenty of media members who are never part of the story. I’m sure Jays players have all the time in the world for Shi Davidi and Scott MacArthur, just as I’m sure that the Leafs love talking to Chris Johnston and Elliotte Fridman and the Raps love talking to Michael Grange and Eric Koreen. But there are an equal number of media personalities who crave the spotlight. Twitter, sports radio, and 24 hour multichannel cable sports puts that all on display. The fans see what the players have to deal with. The players see media members trying over and over again to keep their own names in the news. Given all of this, why would a player go out of his way to help a media member build his or her brand?
As we’ve talked about at length, respect is a two-way street and it’s hard for me to criticize athletes who make personal judgments about when that social contract has been broken. Stephen Brunt had some wise things to say on this topic (PTS March 3rd, 6pm hour).
Damien Cox took to Twitter to attack David Shoalts of the Globe for an opinion piece the latter wrote in praise of TSN’s deadline day coverage. TSN owner Bell also owns 15% of the Globe and this conflict of interest was not flagged in Shoalts’ original piece. It was a dumb article for Shoalts to write in light of this conflict, and it was an even dumber decision by his editor to run it. The two grown men engaged in a gentle slap fight with a few others joining in, and then the whole thing died down leaving nothing more than some bruised egos and puffed chests in its wake.
A few days later Shoalts followed up with a very factual piece outlining that TSN had continued its ratings dominance of deadline day. Rogers countered with a press release touting that some viewers find its brand of coverage “hipper” than what was on offer last year. PPP/Species1967 has the breakdown of the numbers behind that claim. Having watched 0 minutes of trade deadline day, I have no horse in this race, but I’m happy that the networks are offering differentiated products. Choice is good for the consumer.
The dueling media spin jobs that were on display with Shoalts and Cox embody the sad reality that sports fans must now endure. Just about everyone has a conflict of some kind since Bell and Rogers own most media outlets. Damien has anointed himself special constable of the bias police and Shoalts walked right into his jurisdiction by writing what he did. I don’t blame Cox for reacting … it’s what he does. (As an aside, anyone remember the ode to Sportsnet Cox wrote for the Star when he left to join Rogers full-time?) I blame Shoalts and the Globe for putting themselves in this situation in the first place. Let someone else write an opinion piece about the merits of the two flavours of deadline coverage. Shoalts has been doing some excellent work on the raw numbers surrounding Rogers’ hockey investment, and this just cheapens the value of that very good work.
Shoalts was a regular PTS guest at one time in the not too distant past. He does not appear on TSN Radio as far as I can tell. I had thought of him as one of the last few free agents in the market. Whether or not he is bought and paid for by Bell, that perception is now out there. Disappointing.
Blundell Touches Down; Scorches Earth
The biggest question I had about the new show was this: will it be a sports show? The answer is pretty clear that it is not.
Brady & Walker had its share of detractors but it was without a doubt a show driven by sports knowledge. For example, Walker’s Wilner-esque love of Marcus Stroman grated to no end, but he could at least talk intelligently about Stroman’s pitch repertoire and whether the 23 year old had accrued enough innings as a starter to warrant a guaranteed spot in the rotation. The same high level of discourse was true of Brady’s NFL talk for the most part. When you listened you could be confident that they knew what they were talking about, and if one guy fell short the other would make up for the difference.
I listened to about 6 segments this week and here is my perspective on Blundell. Whenever sports topics come up he speaks in very broad generalities, and relies a lot on &Co to fill out the details. The problem is that &Co take their cue from Dean and so the discussion is often poorly framed and his questions don’t encourage compelling answers or analysis. Others may not be bothered by this, but it is not what I want out of a sports radio show. It is also a serious departure from what came before.
Blundell’s strengths seems to be in pop-culture, YouTube clips, and traditional guy talk. I can see why Kollins et al were interested: this is the demo that is currently choosing Richards over the FAN. The plan goes like this: if the FAN could retain its existing audience and steal away the guys listening to Richards then you’ve got yourself a 12 share and we’re all getting big bonuses this winter. The flaw in this plan is obvious: what if you don’t retain B&W’s audience? Are there enough 20-something dudes who identify with 47 year old Blundell to make up for those you’ve alienated?
I honestly don’t know. The show doesn’t appeal to me, but I’m also not stuck in my car on the DVP. Maybe the logic is that you have a captive audience and they’ll choose Blundell over Richards, since the alternative to both is no sports at all.
Over to you: is there enough sports talk in the morning on either station for your tastes? If you’re a Richards listener, is Dean drawing you over, brother?
Get ready for lots of JaysTalk in the weeks to come in this space. I have a lot to say about this off-season and the narrative around the clubhouse cleaning that came with this spring training. Ian over at BJH has some food for thought. Also, I listened to a delightful podcast featuring Scott MacArthur, Griff, and
the poor Chisholm fellow who has to write the always glass half-full headlines for BlueJays.com.
Note: after writing this comment I was informed that Gregor Chisholm does not write the headlines, and is employed by MLB Advanced Media and not the team. I apologize for this comment and the implication that he is under a mandate to always say positive things about the team.
NBC featured a primetime hockey game this week and the ratings were not good. There is little other sports competition at this point on the calendar, what with the NFL being in its brief hibernation period, and MLB just barely being awake.
This poor showing comes at a time when Gary Bettman and Bill Daly are trying to spin the fact that Las Vegas has not met season ticket sales expectations. Things have been relatively quiet in Gary’s world as of late and he has been quoted recently as saying there are no teams at risk of moving. I wonder if this is a calm before the next storm, or if indeed the league is set for smooth sailing. Something about the Canadian dollar tells me that is not very likely.
ESPN has a very in-depth story on the process and the result of the new MLS CBA. Interesting stuff.
Low Hanging Fruit
- My favourite Rogers VP and very vocal Blundell supporter Julie Adam tweeted this out on Sunday: “@BradyAndWalker all set for their afternoon debut tomorrow at 1 on @FAN590! Good luck boys! @FAN590Walker @bradyfan590” Let me echo these sentiments. Good luck boys!
- There are currently no podcasts for this week’s TSN Drive program in iTunes, except for Friday’s show. I mean why would you want to have those up? No one cares about the fallout from trade deadline day, right? In 5+ years of podcasting PTS I can’t remember the FAN screwing up the feed even once. TSN Radio by contrast has been serially incompetent.
- Bobcat, who makes a million dollars a year to talk on the radio, had a message to the people making minimum wage selling hotdogs at the ACC: Get a real job! I have never before formed the impression that Bob is a mean person. This was either unpleasantly out of character or a rare glimpse into his actual character. I hope it was the former.
- Just about everyone in the media likes Cathal Kelly personally, but it’s hard for me to imagine anyone disagreeing when I say that he is currently stealing money from his employer. His articles are self-serving and insipid. Bad investment by the Globe.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)