photo credit: Twitter
by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail
Good morning sports media watchers. The two local program directors could not have asked for a better week to debut their new radio shows. With the Bautista fireworks, Leafs trades, and Raptors shooting the lights out, there was a ton of exciting sports content to discuss. Along with this came several interesting media angles, which is what I will focus on today. As always, feel free to email or DM to report errors or to suggest topics for future columns.
A New Era in Jays Media?
Back when JP Riccardi was Jays GM a common complaint was that he would rarely leak info to the local media, preferring instead to rely on allies in U.S. outlets. This became an ongoing sore spot among those working for Toronto sports papers and networks, and some were not afraid to publicly call JP out on this. Here is a fantastic write-up by Jeff Blair, then of the Globe before he gave up serious writing in favour of being a multi-platform guy. Really, go read it. It’s a skillfully written comprehensive summary of JP’s tenure in Toronto.
As JP struggled to deliver a winner despite a term-limited infusion of cash from Ted Rogers, he eventually sought out friends in the local media. Blair has admitted publicly that, in order to maintain the lines of communication, he would occasionally spin his articles to paint the struggling GM in a more positive light. Eventually, no amount of media allies could save JP, and he was fired.
After JP came Alex whose nice Canadian personality led to him saying yes to every interview. He quickly became a darling to the local media, despite the fact that he rarely said anything of value. At the same time, Paul Beeston confirmed that there was no one better than himself to run the business side of things. The change from the JP/Godfrey era was clear, and people like Bob McCown ate it up. Despite his willingness to talk to the media, AA ran a very tight ship when it came to leaks. His nickname of “ninja” developed out of the fact that his trades were often ones no one saw coming.
As the AA era unfolded, both he and Beeston developed relationships with the local media such that news about the Jays broke locally on a regular basis. Shi Davidi‘s rise as a baseball insider is largely due to his name being attached to several major Jays stories over the last few years. Sportsnet affiliated reporters began to get the scoops more often than established baseball writers like Griffin and Elliott. Beeston’s friendship with McCown was also on display at times.
As we all know, Beeston’s time in Toronto came to end a year before his actual retirement date, with the ill-conceived Ed Rogers head-hunting scheme of 2014. Ownership doubled-down on strange management techniques by hiring Cleveland President Mark Shapiro in August without establishing whether or not he could work with the team’s golden boy GM Anthopoulos. As we all know, that ended in tears with Alex walking away from the team he carefully built over 5 years.
So here we are in 2016 with a new GM, and a new President. And with new people in charge comes a new era of Jays media, or so it seems. Consider the evidence: the Jays met with Bautista two weeks ago to discuss a contract extension. No one reported on the details of that meeting. Then, once Bautista let it be know that he has given the team his number, the first person to come up with a concrete set of terms is Rick Westhead of TSN. According to Rick’s article, “Toronto Blue Jays’ all-star outfielder Jose Bautista is demanding a contract extension for more than $150 million for at least five years, two sources familiar with the matter told TSN.”
Rick’s scoop was later confirmed by both Ken Rosenthal of Fox and Jon Heyman:
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 24, 2016
Bautista reported ask of $150M, 5 yrs is indeed not exactly accurate, as Joey Bats said. At least years and total $ r MORE.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 24, 2016
At the time of Rick’s story some Sportsnet insiders jumped on air to pour cold water on TSN’s reporting. A notable rountable of baseball experts featuring McCown, Blair, Barker and … John Shannon met on Feb 23rd to discuss.
Here’s Bob: “There’s unfounded speculation out there that Bautista’s number is $150/5 years.” Here’s Blair: “Anyone can pull that number out of their ass! All you need to do is look at [comparables].” After major US-based outlets confirmed the contract demands I have not heard much apologizing from those folks, but that’s hardly surprising given the climate and the personalities involved.
So here is the media question for Jays observers: has the hiring of Shapiro created a new playing field for Toronto Jays media?
Since Beeston’s departure Rick has been right on two major stories: 1) the Jays $140 million dollar payroll, and 2) the Bautista contract range. If you want to add a third, he also reported that the Jays never made an offer to David Price, which was later confirmed by Price’s agent. Those are some pretty big stories that have come from non-Sportsnet reporting. I don’t want to downplay the good work that is being done by many hard working baseball folks at Sportsnet. However, I suspect that a year ago these stories would have come through Davidi first.
Here is one more question for you to ponder: did the Jays intentionally leak the $150+ number?
The overwhelming consensus is that they did. If that is true, why would they leak it to TSN? It’s possible Rick was simply the first guy to call. It’s also conceivable that Rick has sources at the board level who are partial to him over Davidi/etc. But it’s also possible that Shapiro & Co want to send a message to the assembled Sportsnet crew that the cozy relationship they had with AA is not automatically going to transfer over.
Regardless, I hope this marks a return to the kind of reporting we enjoyed when the team was not owned by one of the major media employers in the market. One imagines that under the old system relationships were built based on individual bodies of work and not by corporate kinship. This might be a romantic view of history, but it’s hard to resist the idea that good reporting thrived when the media market was more of a state of nature.
Personal opinion: the Jays should buy out Bautista’s final/current year and make it Year 1 of a new 5 year deal. In return, Bautista should give them a number under $30/AAV. This would bridge the semantic gap between the sides on whether or not he gave them a hometown discount. By ripping up the last year the team would be acknowledging he far outplayed the contract.
The Jays will be switching to a dirt infield in time for Opening Day. John Lott has a freelance piece for Vice where he discusses the issue of how the dirt will play relative to the “slow” AstroTurf we saw in the Dome last year. This could become a topic as we move into the summer months. The dirt will need to be managed on a day to day basis without relying too heavily on watering, since as we all know the facility lacks drainage.
Other off-season changes are afoot. BJH has a write-up on the switch to “dynamic pricing”. What this means is that you can lock-in at a certain price now or risk paying more closer to the date if that game turns out to be in demand. What I have not seen is how far below face value tickets can fall under the new model. For those of us who make last minute decisions to catch a game and watch from the centre field hangout area or any of the other great standing spots around the park, the only thing that matters is the price of the cheapest ticket.
Brendan Kennedy of The Star writes about the Jays’ annual tradition of threatening to leave Dunedin.
Lastly, Dave Shoalts has an interesting and well researched business of sports story outlining the accounting rule that will forever prevent the Jays from tying payroll to baseball related earnings. “The accounting rule means the profit or loss of any majority-owned asset such as the Blue Jays has to be included in Rogers’ earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), which can directly affect the company’s share price.” Something like this seems to have been what Bautista was trying to express when he went off about Rogers’ accounting practices.
Chris Zelkovich of Yahoo! has a story on declining sports viewership across a range of sporting events. As CRTC-mandated skinny cable packages drop next week, this will be an interesting trend to watch. Sports are mindless viewing for many people. If those channels disappear from your line-up, many people will mindlessly watch something else rather than pay to keep them.
David Alter has been doing work for The Score lately. Nice to see him land on his feet and here’s hoping this is a sign the Score is going to start investing in content again.
The charges against ex-TSN hockey analyst Aaron Ward related to a domestic violence incident have been dropped.
TSM and I will do a comprehensive write-up on the new radio shows soon, so here are some quick first impressions on the shows I had time to catch this week:
Naylor & Landsberg
This is working. Both guys sound great on the air, and any worries about whether Landsberg could handle the pacing of radio vs. TV have been allayed. The first day was a little rough but things improved quickly.
- Landsberg’s aggression level sometimes goes to 11 when a 7 would suffice.
- Both hosts need to learn than not every anecdote is a story worth telling on the air. This was a problem that plagued Naylor’s last show. Here’s a tip: if you find yourself about to start a sentence with “I remember I was living in …” then hit the abort button.
The “breakfast club” hour was OK, but needs some work. Simmons and Arthur both talk a lot. Naylor kept trying to shout over them. Landsberg did a much better job staying back and picking his spots while moving the discussion forward.
Overall, lots of promise and definitely a different product than Blundell and Richards. Good for listeners.
The extended version of the bro-show kicked the testosterone into high gear in its first week. The guys are great on hockey, were able to handle pop-culture sports topics — like the Knicks coach who liked porn on Twitter — with humour, and were out of their depths on the Bautista story.
- I still think the concept of having all three guys there for all three hours is flawed. Give Hayes a solo hour to talk about things that are beyond the skill set of Noodles and the Dog. But the branding of the show is very Dog centred, so I’m guessing that means they really don’t think of this as Hayes’ show.
- Rely on guests to fill in the knowledge gaps. The drive time shows have big budgets so identify some experts who can carry the conversation on MLB, NFL, NBA, etc.
As long as you don’t mind the show grinding to a halt when someone burps, then the fun and light-hearted style of OverDrive should provide contrast with PTS.
The Andrew Walker Show
The first week was clearly an attempt to exorcize the ghost of Greg Brady from the time slot. Walker went out of his way to say he wants to be your friend, that he’s a guy just like you, and that you could call in and not be berated for your stupid opinions.
- First four guests on Day 1: Kypreos, Grange, Wilner, Eric Francis. Oof. No thanks.
- The show features a seemingly endless number of bits — think Match Game — that call for audience interaction. The consequence is that if you’re not interested in debating the top 5 “snows” then you’re probably going to turn the dial. The one segment I enjoyed was called “tell me I’m wrong” where Walker gives an unpopular opinion and the callers have a highly constrained window to rebut the point. Drop the bits that aren’t working.
- The other notable aspect of the Walker show is how much he incorporates producer JD Bunkis. I didn’t keep detailed notes, but it seemed like the producer chimed in at least once per hour. For me that is too much, but this is a matter of personal taste. Dan Patrick works his supporting cast in on a regular basis, and I don’t care for that either. Maybe bring him in for the last segment of Hour 3 each day to recap the show that was.
Overall, this is a well-rounded hardcore sports show to get you through the afternoon.
Low Hanging Fruit
Naylor: “I think we’re all familiar with hosts who talk tough and then back away when the guest is on.” Wonder who he has in mind …
- Landsberg: On the name of TSN’s Breakfast Club hour: “I swore I would never work on a show that had a round table.”
- This will never stop being funny.
— Dean Blundell (@ItsDeanBlundell) February 23, 2016
- Star tech reporter Raju Mudhar wrote about Andi Petrillo being the first woman to host a regular sports show in Toronto. (Apologies Mary Ormsby!) Given how long it has taken the toronto sports radio stations to get over this hump the gender issue deserved deeper discussion. Further, there is a tiny mention of TSN’s bad ratings but no analysis of the state of competition between the two line-ups. I understand Raju’s a tech reporter not a media critic, but this didn’t serve the audience very well.
- Continuing on the paucity of good media writing, this piece by ALEKSANDRA SAGAN of the Canadian Press was syndicated in both the Globe and the Star. In the first paragraph she writes “Rogers Media coffers could also suffer at the hands of the teams’ lacklustre performances three years after the company made a big investment in Canadian hockey talent.” In the remaining 10 paragraphs or so there is no discussion at all of the financial implications of the loss of viewership. You would think that would be a central component of the analysis.
- Lastly, nice to see a tweet from Bob Mackowycz this week. On behalf of all of us at TSM, we hope you’re in a good place wherever you are.
— Bob Mackowycz (@BobMackowycz) February 22, 2016
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)