Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette


by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail


Good morning sports media watchers. Last column for a while as things wind down for the holidays around here. Thanks to everyone who reads and comments. Also, thanks to those of you who reach out privately to continue the discussion offline. Apologies for typos and grammar this week. My editor is on vacation. Here’s the major sports media news of the week.


Radio Ratings


The fall book was completed and compiled this past week. Since Numeris doesn’t disclose the ratings to non-members we have to wait for the leaks to get specific numbers. And even when the leaks drip out, recall that Numeris seems to feed raw data to its members, and each station can slice it up in different ways to make things look as good as possible for their side. So the comparisons are not exactly accurate, to say the least.


Lastly, recall that there are fewer than 300 PPMs in the GTA being used by males 25-54, the market after which advertisers lust. Those PPMs are split among music listeners, news/talk listeners, and sport radio listeners. So these ratings are based on the listening habits of a tiny number of people. By way of contrast, the sample size used to generate TV ratings by Nielsen in the US will soon jump from from 26,000 to 40,000. They believe this increase will lead to more reliable ratings by 30%. This makes Numeris’ PPM system seem like a high school science project by comparison. With that out of the way, let’s see how things shook out.


Early word is that there was a fall off across the board at the FAN in November. This is hardly surprising. The Jays playoff run kept all of us on our toes, and the Leafs and Raps are not nearly as exciting by comparison. There’s also lots of political news these days that might be driving listeners over to the talk stations. Most FAN shows, including Blundell, are however showing healthy numbers overall.


After a rough start in the spring Blundell is now doing much better, though still not getting the numbers that Brady & Walker posted in spring 2014. So Blundell went from being parachuted in as the saviour, to being a pariah, to being just another guy at the #1 sports station. That’s a lot of perception changes in a short 8 months.


As you may have noticed, since taking over as PD Dave Cadeau has been trying every possible co-host he can think of to catch lightning in a bottle on the morning show. There have been 5 or 6 co-hosts over the last few months, since Rusic was relegated back to doing updates. One of the recent hosts, Eric Francis, has also made appearances on other FAN590 shows, and has the Calgary glow that seems to be prized by program directors. He seems well situated to be given a shot at joining the morning show full time.


Here’s the question management at Sportsnet will have to answer: how much more money are you willing to invest in Blundell’s show? He’s already making over half a million dollars. If you bring in a co-host, that’s going to cost you another significant salary. So now the show is costing 2-4 times what Brady & Walker did. While it is still beating the competition, the show is not posting the numbers Don Kollins and Scott Moore paid for. As we move into the dog days of winter with the rebuilding Leafs and the so-so Raptors, there is a risk that the FAN morning show could really struggle to hold listeners. Or it could be just fine, since nothing the FAN does seems to make that much of a difference to the ratings. That’s the power of heritage brand inertia.


The sole FAN show that is objectively struggling is the Jeff Blair Show, featuring Jeff Blair. I’m told the show’s 3.1 (M25-54) is the worst number for the time slot over the last 15 years. (I have not been able to get a second source to confirm Blair’s number). Here are some possible explanations:


1) the show is being hurt by the light sports content on Blundell’s show, especially from 8am onwards


2) Blair is not a sufficiently engaging personality to hold down 3 hours by himself


3) By 9am people are ready for something other than phone calls


4) Blair’s style would do better in the afternoon where a slower pace is more tolerable


The really interesting question for me is whether Blair is in the running to take over PTS or not. If yes, then you have to keep him around regardless of the ratings. Maybe you encourage Bob to take more time off, and start getting the PTS audience used to Blair’s style and delivery. But if Blair is not the future of PTS, then it seems like it might be time to consider building up whoever that is, and you have a struggling time-slot in which to put him/her/them.


The Future


So here’s a question I have been mulling over the last few weeks: who will be hosting the major radio time-slots 5 years from now on the FAN and TSN1050?


Obviously by that time Bob will be well in to retirement. My guess is that Dean Blundell will have moved on from sports by that time. I have no real sense of what TSN1050 is up to I won’t guess whether Richards or Naylor will still be in their current roles. So you have to look at who is working now and try to predict who will step up to take over the power positions in Toronto sports radio. Let’s have a quick glance at two groups


A) Mid Career


Here I have in mind guys in the 45-55 bracket, with broadcast experience, who could take on bigger roles on radio in the next few years:


  • Greg Brady
  • Bruce Arthur
  • Damien Cox
  • Elliotte Friedman
  • Ron MacLean
  • Arash Madani
  • Dan Shulman


B) Early Career


  • Andrew Walker
  • Bryan Hayes
  • Matt Cauz
  • Gareth Wheeler


There are obviously more people I could have included in both categories but this is a good enough start. (Feel free to add more options below). There are also lots of reasons why some of the guys mentioned would never voluntarily leave their main jobs to do radio full-time, but who knows how the job market in sports media will look in 5 years time.


There are very few examples of young people being parachuted in to key slots. TSN1050 decided to leapfrog an unproven James Cybulski into the drive time slot over other more senior options. I don’t think they will go that route again. By contrast, the FAN has gone from established personality to established personality in the morning show during most of my life. So it is very likely that the next group of hosts is already working somewhat prominently in the Canadian sports media.


The main question I have for you this morning is whether any of the young guys have shown enough to move ahead the more established mid-career people on the depth chart.


Over to you: who do you see being in the key radio timeslots in 5 years time? Would you rather see younger guys or more senior guys get the chance to take over?


TV Ratings


Forbes is claiming that streaming and home media hubs could be game changers in the valuation of sports rights. The traditional cable model is networks pay huge sums for rights, charge cable providers large carriage fees, which then get passed on to all or most cable subscribers. Under this model, non-sports viewers subsidize sports viewers to a large extent. The idea of cutting out the middleman is especially intriguing since the CRTC’s requirement that cable providers offer “skinny” packages is about to go into place. The long and short of it is that networks like ESPN, SN, and TSN face the prospect that a certain gravy train is about to leave the station. This will affect how much they can afford to bid on sports rights.


All of this is taking place at the same time as Rogerss struggles with its mammoth NHL rights deal. As we know from previous reporting, ratings were significantly lower than what was promised to advertisers in Year 1. The news for Year 2 continues to be bad. Shoalts is reporting that “the combined ratings for the Leafs on all the Rogers-connected networks that carry them, CBC, Sportsnet and City, are down 30 per cent from Oct. 7 through Nov. 21.”


Raju Mudhar had a similar story last week but his reporting was filled with quotes from Scott Moore about how this was all going according to plan. I’m not sure why Moore declined to chat with Shoalts for his story, but I suspect part of the explanation is that he might have faced slightly tougher questions from Shoalts. That’s not a shot at Raju, but Shoalts has spent most of the last year establishing himself as a full-time media reporter and has written a lot of tough articles on the Rogers NHL deal. Raju writes a lot about movies and video games.


It’s clear that when the Leafs improve, the ratings will too. The main question is how much money will Rogers lose in the meantime. Everything they have done has been expensive: from the hirings, to the sets, to the mobile studios, and so on. At the end of the day they are a publicly traded company whose bread and butter is an industry that is undergoing significant changes. That 5.2 billion could have been spent in other ways, and investors might eventually start asking questions about the value of sports to Rogers.


Quick Hits


The Canadian dollar could not have tanked at a worse time for the fine folks in Quebec City. Here are a couple of good articles on the state of NHL expansion, one by Eric Duhatschek, and one by Scott Stinson.


As the concussion movie is about to hit theatres, much to the chagrin of the NFL, the family of the late Steve Montador is suing the NHL for the role concussions played in his death. The crux of this case, and most of the other cases, will come down to three factors: 1) what the leagues knew, 2) what they should have known but failed to investigate, and 3) what steps they took to inform players.


The Players’ Tribune continues to be a source for amazing writing. This week’s story is heartbreaking but essential reading. Patrick O’Sullivan details the daily abuse he suffered as the child of a hockey dad. Two quick thoughts about this: 1) I wonder if this story ever gets written if the athlete has to sit down with a journalist to tell the story. That takes a lot of trust. It’s much easier if you can write it yourself and publish it through TPT. 2) This is exactly the kind of story that ought to be highlighted over and over again on Coach’s Corner. Let’s hope Don finds time.


Bell is stockpiling any sports rights they can get their hands on. They recently locked up tennis for a while. With the rise of Milos and Genie this seems like a good investment.


John Lott provides a nice breakdown of how the low Canadian dollar is hurting the Jays, despite their astounding ticket sales this fall.


Low Hanging Fruit


  • The Robot Brady segments on Brady & Walker are incredibly stupid but incredibly funny.


  • Hearing Dan Shulman on PTS was the best Xmas present the audience could ask for. That said, it can’t all be reminiscing about the old days. Shulman is one of the best baseball analysts in North America and hopefully they have him on often to discuss the Jays and MLB.


  • Simmons did a great job hosting TSN Drive, as per usual. He also dropped this tidbit going to break (Dec 9, Hour 2): by the time Alex left the Jays he did not know what the budget for 2016 would be. If true, that is not good news for Jays fans.


  • Nice to see Ben Ennis getting some recognition by being given the host chair in Blundell’s absence.


  • Best wishes and condolences to everyone at CHCH.


  • This week in bad Twitter features Greg Brady vs David Langford:



  • Lastly, in case you missed it, Bruce Dowbiggin interviewed Ken Reid. You can listen here.




thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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