Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo credit: Twitter

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by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail

 

Good morning sports media insiders and observers. Sorry for being a little late — you’d be surprised at the number of people who try to write this column for me and how long it takes to fend them off.

 

Lots of things to talk about this weekend. As always, if there is something I’ve missed drop a link or note in the comments. If there are things you want to see discussed here in future weeks, DM me (you can contact me via Twitter even if we’re not following each other), or send me an email.

 

Missing Dean

 

Dean Blundell is on holiday this week. You’d never know it if, like me, you mostly know what he’s up to by following him on Twitter. The intern who co-runs his account has been actively promoting interviews all week. But these interviews are being conducted by the fill-in duo of George Rusic & Ben Ennis with a heavy dose of producer Ryan Fabro mixed in for good measure.

 

Regular readers will know that over the last year I have been touting Ben Ennis as having lots of potential as a radio host, and a perfect fit to take over JaysTalk and put its current incarnation out of its misery. So you might expect me to write about how great it is to see promising young talent being given a shot in a major timeslot. Under different circumstances that would be the case but the decision to go with this line-up in Dean’s absence is a major blunder, and points to some significant lack of vision in the FAN’s program director office.

 

Here is why. Recall that when Dean was brought on board on March 1 2015 he was advertised as being surrounded by a company of quality supporting characters. The logic for this was sound: 1) when people hear the name Blundell, many associate it with casual bigotry towards women and gays, and 2) when people describe Blundell’s strengths, sports would be pretty far down the list after music, strip clubs, pop culture, wacky news, etc. So, assuming you think hiring Dean makes sense in the first place, the strategy of softening some of his hard edges by having other people to share the load makes a lot of sense.

 

While the idea made sense in theory, its execution left a lot to be desired. The “company” consisted of an evening FAN host of no great distinction (Rusic) as co-host, Brady & Walker’s producer as the occasional laugh track or 3rd voice, a low profile female to do the updates (Kayla Harris), and the best damn traffic update person in the business (Halina Balka).

 

The starting line-up on opening day was underwhelming. By contrast, had the “company” consisted of Andrew Walker and Jackie Redmond you would at least have brought in people with their own established profile to supplement/counteract Dean’s. There are surely internal reasons why Dean ended up with the “company” he did at launch, but I won’t speculate about them here. So the composition of Dean’s company was not ideal, but at least you were going ahead with the concept of a team.

 

Fast forward to fall 2015. George has been relegated to doing updates and Harris has been fired. The co-host chair is being filled on a rotational basis by the like of ex-MLB player Matt Stairs, Calgary radio personality Eric Francis, and a bunch of other names I’m forgetting (Dean deleted all tweets before January 1 which hampered our TSM intern’s research efforts). In other words, six months in to the great experiment the team has been blown up and we are back to the drawing board.

 

We are now in 2016 and by all internal rumblings the FAN is committed to keeping Blundell through the calendar year. That means the Superbowl, Jays spring training and a whole regular season and (hopefully) playoffs, NBA and NHL trade deadlines and playoffs, etc. The show is going to have to drive the sports conversation on the FAN through all these various topics. Presumably that is why all those higher profile co-hosts were brought in on a trial basis.

 

That is exactly why I think it is a mistake to turn the show over to the current crew during Dean’s absence. Now is the time you need to be building the show’s credibility as a sports show.

 

Re-instating Rusic as a host does nothing to help. Remember, he’s the guy you already decided couldn’t cut it. Same goes for Ben Ennis. (You don’t let him fill in for Blair on a regular basis (or at all?) even though baseball is Ben’s biggest strength. (Edit: Ennis does fill in for Blair regularly, I’m told). You don’t let him co-host with Brady or Walker when the other is away. You don’t give him JaysTalk. You communicate to the audience that this guy is not ready for prime time. But then you give him the FAN morning show at a critical time on the sports calendar? Makes no sense to me.

 

All of this promotes the idea that PD Dave Cadeau either has no budget to bring in someone with more profile to sub for Blundell, or that he believes this combo is an adequate morning show for the most important sports radio station in Canada. Cadeau seems smart, and judging by the surveys he is sending all of you, he is keenly aware that the morning show is a problem.

 

So maybe the budget is to blame. This would certainly explain why Blair (with the worst ratings on the station among the big 4 shows) keeps getting the PTS gig when Bob is away. Moving him up is payroll neutral, whereas other options might not be. But if you’re going the cheaper route, why not give other internal options a try? Greg Brady is certainly at the right career stage to be given a shot. Or let Arash Madani host the show for a week and see what he’s got? Or, go to your bosses and make the case that spending money on higher profile fill-ins makes good business sense.

 

Right now you have two sub-optimal fill-ins on your two premium time-slots. Here are a few names that could easily slide right in for Dean or Bob and would instantly be more credible than the current offerings:

 

  • Ron MacLean
  • Dan Shulman
  • Richard Deitsch
  • Joey Vendetta
  • Tim &/or Sid
  • Stephen Brunt

 

We can argue about the merits of these options, but the point is that it is not hard to come up with viable alternatives within the company or at least close by. So that is my take: either Rogers is tying Cadeau’s hands financially or Cadeau thinks any old fill-ins can work in the short term. He’s wrong about that.

 

Over to you: who should be the go-to fill in hosts for PTS and the morning show? Are you satisfied with the current offerings? 

 

Juicing the Taxpayer

 

We normally don’t pay too much attention to Calgary around here. Right now that province is mostly a dirty word since they are 100% responsible for why none of us can afford to travel to the States anymore, given the state of the Canadian Peso. But Calgary made front page news this week as the city’s politicians debated the merits of the almost $1 billion dollar project that is being proposed. To refresh your memory, here are a couple of articles about the proposal — Stinson (Post) and Spector (SN) — dating back from this summer.

 

Things weren’t moving fast enough for the NHL so Grizzly Gary rode into town on his monorail trying to put pressure on the local decision makers to break out the taxpayers’ cheque book. He loudly pointed across the way to the great success of Shelbyville Edmonton with its public-private deal. Eric Duhatschek of the Globe has a run down of where things stand right now.

 

The transparency of Gary’s pressure-tactics were not lost on most people, though some people did take the bait. Eric Francis, who does some intermission work for the Flames as well as some writing for the Calgary Sun, took to Twitter to call out the city’s mayor for not being on board with the great success that he believes the CalgaryNEXT will be. Eric used to have a radio show but was let go by Jack FM after a 10 year run.

 

Here was his opening salvo:

 

 

After the next tweet, the mayor replied:

 

 

Not one to back down, Francis shot back:

 

 

And this is exactly the way that Gary is hoping the issue is framed: those who love hockey (let’s call them Real Calgarians) versus the politicians who only care about their spreadsheets.

 

Bettman took a lot of pushback on his suggestion that the deal is ready to be approved now. Many local politicians are worried about the feasibility and cost of decontaminating a piece of land that is central to the project. Bettman had a less than compelling interview with a local host, which ended abruptly after a mildly heated exchange.

 

I don’t have a horse in this race. Obviously there are examples of successful public-private arena/stadium deals. But there are also plenty of examples of private companies bilking millions out of government. The Skydome jumps to mind as a local example: it cost $600 million to build, half of which was paid with tax dollars, and Rogers bought it for $25 million in 2004. Due diligence and precaution are obviously the only tools politicians have to make sure their sports partnership turns out to be one of the successful one.

 

The Toronto sports media angle to this story is that Francis has been courted by the FAN in the recent past. He appeared on PTS and the morning show (over the summer, I think). As we have seen with Sportsnet, once they like you, they tend to force you on the audience (see e.g. Reid, Shannon) across many platforms. I have no strong recollection of Francis’ radio appearances but perhaps some of you do.

 

His last tweet on the subject was a little more measured:

 

 

 

Quick Hits

 

The UFC is the Donald Trump of sports leagues. One of their top current stars just signed a deal to promote a PED that the US FDA has deemed illegal. The supplement is also banned by her own league. 10/10 UFC … couldn’t have made this up if I tried.

 

Corus acquires Shaw to become the leader in programming for kids, women, and families. They’ve gone a very different way since the MOJO RADIO days. I remember listening to Jeff Marek and his female co-host discuss oral sex techniques on 640. Good times.

 

The Buffalo Jills successfully sued to be given at least minimum wage for their services.

 

The Toronto Star cut more jobs. The sports section has been able to dodge the axe swings so far, but one wonders how much longer that will continue. Buyouts are often the next move in these cases. How much would you pay Rosie to get her to stop writing sports stories?

 

Jessica Mendoza has officially replaced Curt Schilling on Sunday Night Baseball. She and Dan Shulman had a good thing going last season.

 

Finally, TSN’s Rick Westhead has a thorough analysis of the effect of the low Canadian dollar on NHL revenues and the salary cap. Rough times ahead.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • Brady&Walker facetiously asked last week: who is the worst in the media for retweeting compliments sent to them by followers?

 

  • Kate Beirness does a solid job when she co-hosts on TSN with Dave Naylor but someone needs to explain that radio is not a visual medium and the over the top exuberance comes across as artificial. Just have a normal conversation.

 

  • TSN Radio: fire the person who allowed that Nicorette ad to go to air.

 

  • The combination of Bob + Shannon on PTS continues to be awful in 2016. If you’ve decided that Grange can’t be a co-host then please commit to Madani.

 

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thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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