Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition



by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail


Good morning sports media watchers. I’m back from suspension. Lots of things since we last spoke, so let’s get right to it.


Jeff Blair – Best of the Year Candidate


As we move into the holiday season I though it would be nice to spread some cheer around and highlight what the big names in the market are up to. We sometimes hand out end of year awards around here and so it would be good to remind ourselves of what is on offer from the professionals.


When you think big there are few bigger than Sportsnet’s multi-platform superstar Jeff Blair. Jeff can be found weekdays 9-12 taking calls and interviewing the best Sportsnet insiders on the FAN. When he’s not hosting his own show Blair has been hand selected to fill in for Bob McCown, following the footsteps of other top fill-in hosts Faulds and Toth. Whenever Jays news breaks you can count on Jeff to deliver some blistering insights over at .ca. Finally, Jeff’s Twitter feed is a must-follow, especially late at night or when there is a UFC event on.


Here are some Blair highlights from the last week or so.


Jeff Blair schools Jays Fans


With so much good material from which to choose, it’s hard to capture the inimitable Blair in a nutshell.


“Here are some hard truths a week ahead of the winter meetings, for a skeptical fan-base doing quick mathematics on napkins to figure out how much extra revenue was generated by all those ticket sales in September — rounding up, no doubt — to see how much they’re being screwed by cheap ownership and that evil Mark Shapiro and which absolutely believes that David Price wants to sign here because, well, he seemed so happy and all that and WHY THE HELL CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS, BLAIR, DAMMIT!”


That’s from last week, before Price signs in Boston. As you can see Jeff still has the writing chops that kept him handsomely employed at the Globe for so many years. Then, after the news broke that Price was a Red Sock, Jeff delivered some more deep truths to all the amateur accountants in the fan base.


“And as is usually the case with big companies, the mathematics aren’t always the way it is in your household. X tickets times Y price equals Z which automatically goes into payroll. Yeah, not in the real world, people – and, look! The bad, old, Rogers shill didn’t even mention the exchange rate! There is no salary cap in baseball, but – darn it – everybody has a budget.”


This insightful point doesn’t get mentioned enough. Jeff is right — all teams have a budget. It seems so simple and obviously true that it’s almost not worth mentioning, but Jeff knows that sometimes its the simple and obvious truths that need to be repeated. The Jays have a budget, and so do the Red Sox and so do the Arizona Diamondbacks and so do the Nationals. Playoff success doesn’t mean more payroll. I mean look at the Red Sox: they didn’t even make the playoffs and they are raising their payroll, dammit! I’m not sure why this is so hard for people to grasp.


Jeff also knows that he’ll be called out as a Rogers shill for raising this point, but courageously does so nonetheless. If you have Blair’s track record of objectivity then you can take the hits. Sadly the rest of the non-Rogers journalist corps forgot that the Jays have a budget. Here’s Cathal Kelly who clearly doesn’t get that the Jays have a budget. Also in the “doesn’t get it” camp is Scott Stinson. Scott and Cathal need to read more Blair.


Jeff Blair schools the media


When he’s not educating Jays fans on the finer points of economic theory Jeff is calling out the frauds in the media. Blair took aim at the CFL boosters at TSN.


“CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge’s State of the League address on Friday was so shallow that even the league’s media acolytes took him to task.”


Thank God Blair is calling out media bias along with his criticism of the CFL’s drug policies. It’s so important in this era for truly objective media to shine a light on those with conflicts of interest. Only a handful of other people at Sportsnet have done so. It’s thankless work, and Jeff deserves credit for his bravery.


In light of all the Price news, Blair also has some harsh words for those who all of sudden think they can talk about the Jays.



Thank goodness for that. There’s nothing worse than a sports media member who covers one sport exclusively all of a sudden acting as if he/she knows something about all sports. Tourists, go home.


Overall, you can clearly see what Blair is bringing to the table and why his work is featured so prominently on Sportsnet’s many platforms.


Over to you: Jeff Blair! Share your thoughts. Best of the best in 2015? 


Premature Ratings Thoughts


A source told me that ratings were out this thursday so I prepared a bunch of words on that subject. It turns out the ratings come out next thursday. It’s not quite Luongo to the Leafs, but my apologies to everyone for the error. That said, this does allow us to have a bit of an early discussion about what to expect when the Fall Book (not an actual book) is released.


Here’s what you need to know: ratings are based on what is playing during a given time slot. As such the ratings are “show-agnostic” and count the same when regular shows are pre-empted for live broadcasts (with many more listeners).


What this means is that the FAN should see huge ratings wins over TSN based on the fact that the division-winning Jays played a lot of playoff games during the early and late afternoons in October. If you’re living in Toronto during a Jays playoff game and not near a TV, chances are you’re listening to the radio. So in addition to syphoning off TSN’s small audience, the FAN was likely bringing in people who don’t normally listen, some of whom wear PPMs.


This is going to lead to a ratings rout in all time slots. The book is a 3 month average, and the Jays dominated for most of September and October. As such, whatever return to normal there was in November will not be apparent in the overall numbers. TSM and I are on Numeris’ blocked list so hopefully David Shoalts (23k followers) comes through for all of us with some details of how the overall numbers break down.


So what do you do if you’re Jeff MacDonald over at TSN as you wait for the grim details?


Here’s my advice: don’t do anything reactionary based on this ratings book, but make sure you have a long term plan for how you want to be positioned when Bob retires. Basically, that is the only seismic event on the horizon, and you want to be ready to benefit from whatever ripples in listener habits that causes.


Here’s why that will be hard: there’s a new boss over at Bell and she has been cleaning house. There is likely immense pressure on TSN radio to show some signs of life in the ratings. Firings are the easy way to buy yourself some time and to make it seem like you’ve got a plan.


Over to you: assuming another drubbing in the ratings, what should TSN1050 do in the short and long term?


Quick Hits


ESPN is losing lots of subscribers. We now know the number is around 7 million in the last 2 years. Carriage fees for sports cable channels are way higher than for other channels, and part of that revenue is what allows companies like ESPN to bid for sports rights. What happens if cord cutting continues and networks no longer have as much to spend on sports properties? Will leagues accept less or, like the NHL did with Rogers, will they offer exclusive access to one network as a way to force increases? The Rogers/NHL partnership might turn out to be the canary in the coal mine. More on this next week.


Grey Cup ratings are up from last year. This reverses a 2 year downward trend in the CFL as a TV property. It will be interesting to see how the Argos’ move to BMO affects viewership and overall league interest. Here’s a brief suggestion for the Argos as they move to BMO: find a way to make tailgating part of the experience. And not the sanitized corporate version of it we sometimes see at Toronto events. I’m talking NFL style mobile home partying. You need an identity that marks you as different from the rest of the sports culture in the city. Invest in the blue-collar market.


Sportsnet’s ratings for regional Leafs games are slightly down. According to the same article, Sportsnet beat TSN in web clicks. That is shocking. The hits keep on coming for TSN. Basically all of TSN’s “heritage brand” advantage is gone on web + TV, and none of it ever translated over to radio. Some serious high level strategic failure involved here, and it’s not just about the NHL rights deal. More on this in future weeks.


Vice (news, sports, culture) recently signed a $100 million dollar partnership with Rogers. More recently, they edited out references to Rogers from a story about sexual harassment in the workplace in order to protect that relationship. Not a great look for Vice, whose edgy reputation depends in part on its claims to write stories no one else will.


In non-sports media news, the CBC stopped allowing comments on stories involving Indigenous peoples. Essentially the CBC is saying: these stories end up eliciting more racism than we are willing to tolerate. It’s an interesting move since it is admitting to a Heckler’s Veto justification for limiting audience interaction.


Low Hanging Fruit


  • I didn’t listen to much sports radio while I was off — I’m currently addicted to WGR Bills losing talk — but I did catch Damien Cox’s return to PTS with Bob. Cox may not be the PTS host we deserve but he’s the PTS co-host we need. He had some great reflections on how much more natural radio conversation is than TV segments. Welcome back Damien. We missed you. I mean that.


  • Greg Brady went back to the well and attacked media who took the Price departure as “open season” to criticize Rogers. He implied these people (whoever they are) were bitter that Rogers wouldn’t hire them. (Dec 2 1pm hour) I’m not sure why Greg takes these things so personally. I’m also not sure that using “Rogers wouldn’t hire you” is the best metric for quality, since Rogers booted Brady off the morning show in favour of Blundell.


  • Questions I’ll be trying to answer this weekend: Does Randall “the Handle” pay to make appearances on Blundell’s show? (see here) I always assumed he paid to do his long running Sunday morning betting show. I can’t recall him appearing on other shows though. Given how many NFL experts there are out there it seems odd to be giving this guy air time. Would make sense if it’s an ad in disguise, though that’s not a direction that benefits the audience.


  • Checking in with Al Strachan. Wonder what this is all about, eh?



  • Edmonton Eskimos fans: congratulations on your big win. How attached are you to the name? Seems kind of silly in 2015 to have a team named after an Indigenous population, especially when the term itself is regarded as somewhat of a slur.


  • TSM (and the readership) did a great job with Elliotte but let’s be honest: Elliotte did a great job taking the questions seriously. In particular, it was great to read that he cares about getting better at the craft of radio because he should be in the PTS co-host rotation (during the NHL off-season, I guess) to hone his skills for when Bob retires. Elliotte could very well become the best generalist in the market.


  • Andi Petrillo (66k followers) has been holding down the fort while Bryan Hayes takes paternity leave (congratulations Bryan). Any reports on how well she is doing? It’s pretty clear TSN1050 is considering her for a bigger role on the station …


  • … this would be a good thing because, as far as I can tell, Candace Devai has the distinction of being the only woman with a regular on-air gig on toronto sports radio right now (unless you include Halina Balka of course). Congratulations Candace!




thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

About the Author