Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo credit: #RobFord2018


by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail


Happy 2016 everyone. There is still time to get your awards in for the best and worst of 2015. We had a great time debating the merits of all the nominees in last week’s thread. Today’s column will mostly clear out the queue on 2015 and look ahead to what we can expect in the year ahead. As always, feel free to take the conversation any direction below, and please let me know via DM or email if there are stories you want to see covered in this space.


Ok, let’s go.


Closing the Book


The Jays making the MLB playoffs for the first time in 22 years was by far the biggest sports story in Toronto in 2015. However the team’s success was only one aspect among many that made this story as big as it was. One other major plot line involved the machinations of the meddlesome media mogul Ed Rogers. As everyone knows by now, the board at Rogers decided to move on from Beeston prior to the 2015 season, and sought to replace him without giving him the courtesy of letting him know. All of this went very public — here’s Bob Elliott’s (Sun) version of the events, and here’s Scott Stinson’s (Post) take — and ended with Beeston sheepishly returning to the team for 2015 as his final season before “retirement”.


The closing chapter in this saga came when Beeston appeared on PTS (Dec 22nd). You can listen on the FAN’s website but it’s kind of a waste of time. The much hyped interview was as dull as dishwater. When the whole Beeston fiasco was unfolding Bob promised the audience that as soon as Beeston’s contract was up, he would have him on the show for a tell-all, and that Beeston couldn’t wait to do it. Measured against those expectations, the end result was disappointing.


Beeston has clearly mended fences and forgiven the relevant parties at Rogers and had no desire to rehash old transgressions for our consumption. His answers to Bob’s questions were polite and brief and often led the conversation down the dreaded “remember when …” rabbit hole. Bob tried his best to get the answers Jays fans wanted, but it proved futile and the two old friends enjoyed a pleasant chat.


I can understand why Beeston chose not to air his grievances (even though it was Festivus after all). He is a rich man thanks to Rogers and the Jays, is probably collecting an amazing pension, and still gets to work in the building and be part of the team. The problem of course is that Bob must have discussed the interview with his pal Paul many times in the preceding weeks. Bob must also have sensed that Beeston wasn’t interested in the kind of interview the audience was primed to expect. Beeston may have even told Bob that certain issues were off the table and not to press him too hard. If that is indeed what happened, then why go through with a 43 minute interview?


Bob appeared on Brady&Walker (Dec 23, Hour 3) to discuss the interview with solo host Andrew Walker. Aside 1: I wonder if Bob appears on the show if Brady is there? If I can remember some of the shots Greg took at Bob while at 640 then I’m pretty sure Bob does too. Bob’s not known for his thick skin. Aside 2: Bob has finally acknowledged that Brady&Walker exist. It only took 10 months. Once bitten twice shy by the whole Tim&Sid experience? Who knows.


Walker’s interview with McCown was excellent radio. Aside from Wilner there are probably no two bigger Jays fans among the Toronto media, and this made for great rapport during the discussion. Walker did a good job of letting Bob talk. One could hear the disappointment in his voice at how the Beeston interview went. Bob’s attachment to Beeston is clearly part of the explanation for why Bob has been so hard on Shapiro. Walker on the other hand is in the driver’s seat of the “he’s not that bad” Shapiro bandwagon. Again, this made for good radio. Walker also had a good solo interview with Stepen Brunt the day before (Dec 22) where both men laid out their case for why Jays fans need to embrace the Shapiro era.


So this closes the book on Beeston. He will stroll sockless into the sunset, with his name forever flying high above centre field. Here are my final two cents:


  • I was happy to hear the Jays were moving on from Beeston at the end of 2014. His fatherly relationship with AA was endearing but did not appear to lead to good organizational structure. When you combined that with AA’s protective relationship with Gibby, I thought the team would benefit from a more clear separation of powers between the various offices. That said, the way (Ed) Rogers went about it was dishonest (not to mention dumb), and didn’t do much to combat his terrible public image.


  • The false dichotomy trap into which many have fallen is that one must choose between being angry that AA is gone, and giving Shapiro a chance to be evaluated on his own merits. I’m choosing to do both.


Over to you: are you ready for a new chapter in Jays management? Is Gibby on the chopping block if the Jays struggle out of the gate? Did the Storen trade rekindle your faith in Shapiro? 


TSN’s Terrible 2015


Since Gary went for the gold and gave Rogers exclusive national rights to the NHL, things have not been pretty for TSN or their parent company Bell. On the company side, Bell’s president was caught interfering with the news division and was eventually fired. That probably won’t help the credibility of CTV News in the short term. On the sports side TSN has seen Sportsnet overtake them for #1 sports channel in Canada. That’s the culmination of a 20 year fight for credibility from the network that once hosted a pizza party as part of their NHL trade deadline day coverage.


On the radio side, David Shoalts chronicled in a series of tweets the continued lack of market share for TSN1050 in the fall ratings book. While TSN’s TV heritage brand status proved surmountable for Sportsnet, the FAN’s heritage brand status on the radio side has been an impenetrable fortress.


The net result is that Sportsnet is now claiming Canadian sports media domination on radio, TV, and the web. One has to give a lot of credit to the strategic minds at Rogers who made this all happen. This did not happen overnight. One also has to point fingers at management at TSN/Bell for squandering such a huge lead. While Gary’s “all-in on celebrating the game” partnership strategy for TV rights is partly to blame, TSN clearly lacked a back up plan in case this worst case scenario came to pass. The results speak for themselves.


The annual World Juniors hockey tournament is the one date on the calendar when TSN has the nation all to itself. They have masterfully created a well-hyped event that gives families a reason to tune in to to TSN together during the holidays. Unfortunately, in a year where TSN needed some good news, the hockey gods were not in a generous mood. Canada’s team flamed out in the quarterfinals, depriving TSN of two more nights of sports ratings domination. As it turns out, the remaining games were exciting and led to a good tournament overall. However the ratings (and revenue) loss to TSN will undoubtedly be significant.


So here are my questions for you this morning: 


  • If you’re named the head of Bell Media, what is your plan for TSN? We’re in Year 2 of the NHL deal so you need to keep the brand afloat for another decade before you get a chance to bid for hockey again. Where do you invest? What’s your identity?


  • The TSN radio line-up has been fairly steady since the station’s inception. Do you hold the course or is it time to try something radical?


  • How have your consumption habits changed over the last 5 years? Sportsnet is claiming the crown. Have they drawn you over for TV and web? If so, other than live sports, what/who are you watching/reading?


Ratings Ruminations


In light of TSN’s fall from the #1 spot, it is interesting to think about whether ESPN could ever suffer the same fate. TSM favourite Richard Deitsch has a cool article on ESPN’s bad year and what they can and should do to turn around the network’s image. It’s hard to quantify just how devastating the impact of Bayless and A. Smith has been. The ratings are still very good. However those two have, in my opinion, hijacked the identity of the network and this could eventually bring bad results. You can only dance with the devil so long without becoming one yourself.


Speaking of ratings, I often check in on my previous hometown of Boston to see how upstart sports radio station The Hub is faring against the established giant WEEI. It turns out in their 6 years in the market they have overtaken WEEI and claimed number #1 spot for 11 out of the last 12 books (according to this article from September). Note, that is #1 overall among males 25-54, not just #1 sports station. 


Here’s a crazy quote from the above link: “From 6-7 p.m., The Sports Hub’s “Baseball Reporters” hosted by Tony Massarotti was first with a 13.4 share. In the same window, WEEI, which typically has the Red Sox pregame show in that hour, was tied for sixth with talk station WBUR (4.9).” The radio station without the rights is trouncing the rights holder in pregame ratings. That’s nuts.


A couple of further thoughts about this: 1) if I’m TSN PD Jeff McDonald I am getting on a plane today and spending a week at The Hub, trying to learn as much as I can. 2) Maybe Toronto is not such a great sports market after all. Boston can support 2 all sports radio stations with very healthy ratings. TSN is barely registering, and despite its dominance, the FAN is often far behind the music stations. Who do so few people listen to sports radio in Toronto relative to Boston? 


Lastly, after much shuffling and vacations both radio stations will have their complete line-ups back in the game starting next week. Bobcat comes back, Vendetta goes back to California, Blair goes back to mid-mornings, Naylor is back full-time as are his regular co-hosts, and Brady & Walker are each done with their vacations.


So the spring 2016 rating book will be a good measure of the worth of each station (insert usual caveat about the statistically laughable sample sizes being used to generate the ratings). Both stations have most of their regulars back, they share the Leafs and Raptors, and there is no Jays playoff run to artificially inflate various timeslots. If I’m a betting man, the spring ratings book will be the last one with these two lineups. I expect major changes by this time next year. Remember that 2016 is scheduled to be the last full year of Bob’s tenure on PTS.


Quick Hits


Skinny cable bundles are on the way this March thanks to a CRTC ruling from last year. This will lead to a loss of revenue for the cable industry, and possibly an increase in complete cord cutting as people see how few stations they actually watch. No one really knows what the downstream consequences of that will be but the unions are already sounding the alarms.


John Lott continues his stolid and under appreciated work for the Post. Here is his long piece on Shapiro. As usual, a great read.


Cathal Kelly got his year off to a very good start with this article on AA’s departure for Los Angeles, and on Shapiro and the “truthers” at Sportsnet who back him.


I had never heard of The Cauldron until this week. They published a story on how certain websites “use social media as a weapon” by releasing their army of angry misogynistic and homophobic followers on those with whom they disagree. As blogs become more and more part of the mainstream media, there are some complex issues here worthy of further discussion.


Lastly, Vice continues to publish interesting stories. Here’s an inside look at what it is like to teach “student athletes” at a Division I school. I have no idea what it would take to force US schools to abandon the farce that is referring to these athletes as students. There’s a lawsuit brewing against UNC by those who feel their degrees were tainted by the school’s academic fraud on behalf of athletes. Something like that, but on a much larger scale, might force some change.


Low Hanging Fruit


  • This Week in “Strange Bedfellows” Twitter: Bruce Arthur and Andrew Krystal getting along



  • This Week in “No Matter Who Loses, We Win” Twitter: Rob Ford v Dean Blundell


  • Dan Riccio seems to be getting more opportunities under new PD Cadeau. Hope he makes the most of it.


  • Popular US host Dan Lebatard was on TSN Drive this week and delivered a complete dud of an appearance. Despite Arthur’s efforts to shower him with praise, Lebatard could not have sounded less interested.


  • Greg Brady tells lots of jokes. A lot of jokes. Some of them go over my head. He made a reference (Jan 6, 3pm, last segment) to TSN radio’s signal issues as part of a complicated thought experiment whereby Colin Cowherd is brought in to compete with his show. If anyone can piece the joke together for me, please do.


  • Tim&Sid fans. Question for you: how are you liking life now that the boys are back on TV and off radio? I tried to podcast the TV show for a while, but with all the visual gags it is no longer designed for an aural medium and I had to bail. Is the TV show what you were hoping for? Do you miss the old Score podcast?


  • If you had any part in writing or approving this headline about Canada’s loss at the WJC you’re a real jerk. The jingoism around this made for television tournament — it’s not the Olympics, remember — is hard to bear when things are going well, but we should shut the whole thing down if the media can’t keep it together when Canada loses.




thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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