Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


Good morning sports media watchers. I have had precious little time to listen to radio/podcasts in the last month so apologies for the drop in commentary lately. As always, if you hear (or produce or host) a segment/interview worth a listen, shoot me a message. Thanks to those of you who send me items each week. 


Suggested Soundtrack: Avalanche – Nick Cave covering Leonard Cohen


Programming note: I am planning a piece for next month on the final issue of Sportsnet Magazine. If you have thoughts about that topic please be in touch. 


Musical Chairs



The topsy-turvy world of written journalism continued its turbulent voyage into the great expanse this week. Where it stops, no one knows. Here's a quick round-up of the moves and interesting assignment changes:


The Star: It has been a terrible year for Canada's largest paper with plant closings, poor financial results, newsroom culture controversies, tablet disappointments, and layoffs.


  • Brendan Kennedy leaves the Jays beat for investigative news. No replacement announced.


  • Sports editor Jennifer Quinn moves on to head up a new Breaking News unit "with a digital-first philosophy". Replacement announcement to come "in the coming weeks".


  • Laura Armstrong is re-hired after being part of the recent round of cuts.


  • Chris O'Leary, also recently cut, is back doing freelance basketball work for the Star. Where is Doug Smith?


  • Richard Griffin has also been writing about the Raptors. Where is Doug Smith?


  • The tablet edition of the paper now (perhaps always) links out to Star blogs rather than displaying relevant content in the app. I have no idea why they think this is a good user experience. Perhaps it has something to do with ad revenue. Anyway, that's where I accidentally found Doug Smith … on his blog. Is this part of the re-shuffle? Who knows but it is very confusing for the user when content is spread around different outlets. One might have thought all digital content would be natively displayed inside their flagship digital app.


  • Damien Cox wrote a Monday column about the U.S. election and football ratings and another one on hockey's refusal to allow women into the HOF. I wonder if this signals a new "don't just stick to sports" editorial direction for Damo at the Star. Anyone who follows him on Twitter knows that politics and gender equality are topics about which he is very passionate. Could he be in the running to replace Quinn as Sports Editor?


The Globe: The window on voluntary buyouts is either closed or will soon be closing. We will see in the new year whether they hit their target of cutting 40 positions without needing to lay anyone off. I have written at length that I think GlobeSports should go all-in on opinion + business of sports and leave recaps and game analysis to other outlets. Here are some changes of note from the last several weeks:


  • David Shoalts has been covering TFC for the last month, which is a departure from his established repertoire of Coyotes/NHL, and sports media/business. 


  • Robert MacLeod has been shifted to the Raptors beat from the Jays.


  • Rachel Brady is now doing both basketball and hockey features rather than game recaps, and has added the CFL playoff beat to her portfolio.


  • Cathal Kelly has been writing about politics, UFC, McDavid, Quebec filmmakers, Leafs, TFC, and the Jays in the last month. He also spent 75% of a column on the NBA Warriors talking about an 80s soccer team from Milan. So no big changes there. 


The Athletic: the subscription start-up has ramped up coverage and personnel in the last few weeks. They also had a 20% off sale this week.


  • Sean Fitz-Gerald (Post then Star) is hired as Managing Editor and features writer.


  • Kaitlyn McGrath (Post then Yahoo) is hired as Associate Editor.


  • Despite only showing logos for the Leafs, Raps, and Jays on their site they have been covering TFC for the last month.


  • Their account tweeted that Argos coverage is coming.


  • They managed to fix the Twitter link on their website since I last wrote.


PostMedia: Nov 8th was the deadline for voluntary buyouts with Paul Godfrey claiming that they will keep cutting until they hit bone and then they will cut some more. No major changes in either personnel or assignments as far as I can tell, but they did have Steve Simmons on their podcast.



Further Thoughts


  • Good news: recently laid off writers are landing on their feet at The Athletic. 


  • Possible Bad News: convincing people to subscribe might be a little harder if the perception is that this is mostly the same corps that could be read for free in the National Post not too long ago. 


  • Radical Proposal for The Athletic: hire a "name" retired general columnist to do a regular column. Al Strachan and Dave Perkins come to mind as writers with strong opinions who might sell subscriptions. Both had high profiles when the industry was flush with cash so it might not take much to get them. Also, hire a sports media critic so I can retire.


  • Looking ahead: The landscape may be very different in just a few months once the Globe and Postmedia buyouts are complete. Here's hoping there is work for everyone when the dust settles.


Forum: Brand Portability


Two items from south of the border: 1) Bill Simmons' HBO show is dead 17 episodes in to a 37 episode commitment, 2) Skip Bayless is not delivering big ratings for FS1 (yet).


The two cases raise the following very interesting question: how portable is brand in sports media?


The Simmons case is a little complex because he went from ESPN to Grantland then to HBO and there is also a very popular podcast to factor in so comparisons are hard to draw. But obviously HBO thought he would bring in way more viewers than he actually did.


The Bayless case is more clear: ESPN viewers have not followed him over to FS1. The next few years will be a fascinating test of the value of a heritage network brand vs an individual sports personality brand. If the audience starts to build over at Fox then it will show that original programming (as opposed to obscenely expensive live sports rights) can make a big difference to ratings. If the audience flatlines then it shows that live sports rights + channel positioning + the formidable power of inertia still rule the day in the 21st century. (Note: Richard Deitsch — please cover this general question in a future column or podcast. I'm curious what other evidence there is on the subject. See e.g. WEEI v The Hub)


Rather than debate the details of those cases let's focus on the locals. Here's my question for you: which Toronto sports media personality would bring instant results by switching teams?


Here are some names that come to my mind:


1) Bob McKenzie — Sportsnet and TSN are in a healthy competition on the TV front. It seems likely to me that his TSN audience would follow him over to SN and this would instantly give them the ratings win on trade deadline day and July 1. Am I over-valuing the Godfather's standalone value?


2) Bob McCown — unlike the TV side, TSN is in Year 6 of getting trounced by SN on radio. Suppose Bob were to shift to 4-7 on TSN1050. What would the ratings impact be? This is closest to the FS1/ESPN case. Skip's audience won't change the channel in droves. Would Bob's? 


3) Simmons/Cox — the Globe has not been on the forefront of sports opinion since Brunt left. Would luring one of these controversial characters over make a difference? Neither really fits with the Globe brand, obviously. Anyone else come to mind who could sell subscriptions?


4) Jay&Dan — this one is a little out of left field but what difference would these two make to TSN1050? Would a morning show of Jay&Dan get 1050 on the radar or is there no evidence anyone at TSN TV can yield a ratings bump for TSN radio. (I suppose they could do both radio and TV since mysteriously some people will watch radio on TV). Or, suppose SN hired J&D to replace whoever currently does their flagship evening desk show. Would that lead to ratings success over rival TSN?


Quick Hits


Race in Sports: Lebron James harshly rebuked Phil Jackson for using the word "posse" to describe James' business associates. Two points here: 1) It was really interesting to see some people use the opportunity to reflect on their own casual use of coded language. Personally I don't think there is a necessary connection between the term posse and race, but it is definitely used disparagingly. The same negative connotation accompanies "entourage" (see e.g. Johnny Manziel) or the word "crew". All of these imply people who are hangers-on who may be up to no good. I think they could all be used interchangeably. 2) Lebron masterfully turned the conversation away from Jackson's substantive criticism: Lebron demands special treatment that puts others in difficult positions. 


Football Ratings: NFL Sunday afternoon games are up 14 and 7% YOY on CTV/TSN. Monday is up 12%. This is in contrast with the sustained drop in ratings for the same games in the US. CFL playoff ratings are also up by 14%. (Disclaimer: numbers are from Numeris so take them with a grain of salt. That said, these are TV numbers not radio, so they are probably not based on a sample size that could fit in your kitchen.) John Kryk at the Sun has a very detailed analysis of the numbers. Nice to see the Sun devoting space to ratings talk. Let's hope they cover the upcoming very important fall radio book. More on that topic another time. 


Crime: The horrific Stuckless sexual assault charges continue to haunt Toronto into their third decade since coming to light. It is heartbreaking to think how many lives have been destroyed by one person. It is infuriating to think that no one has ever been convicted for aiding him, or for knowing this was happening and turning a blind eye. How could he keep using tickets and access as a lure without anyone noticing? I believe there were Paternos at Maple Leaf Gardens and I believe some people know who they are. 


Low Hanging Fruit


  • Best of Twitter this week: Kate Upton (200K interactions!)



  • Noted advocate for women Dean Blundell asked his followers to weigh in:


  • Upton did a much better job of being a sports spouse than Bills kicker's wife Kaela Carpenter. She deleted then not quite apologized. The apology didn't go over well.



  • Mike Bullard joins the list of Toronto male radio personalities getting in trouble with the law. Bell had this to say about the subsequent end of his radio show on 1010: "Mike’s show had been part of the Newstalk 1010 lineup since 2010, when the station was owned by Astral Media. Bell Media acquired Astral and its media properties including Newstalk 1010 in July 2014.” That is a vicious and masterful PR statement.


  • A recent Jeff Blair Show promo says something to the effect of: "Jeff has covered lots of big events as a journalist so talking 3 hours of sports radio is easy for him." The #1 complaint I hear from radio people is that print and TV people think they can just drop into radio and blab and have it sound professional and interesting. It's surprising that Canada's first sports radio station would promote this idea.


  • The above mentioned TSN press release is celebrating their 26% increase in ratings with "Millenials" aka "the key 18-34 demographic". This the same demographic whose earning power is vanishing and who are more likely than ever to be living with their parents. Fool's gold if there ever was any. Other than cell phone contracts what can you sell to this demo?


  • Overdrive co-host Bryan Hayes recently mused: "I'm not sure if TFC have surpassed the Argos in popularity …". I initially chortled at this take but on closer inspection B raises a good point. TFC have great attendance and a devoted young fan-base but the Argos have TV ratings that TFC aren't close to matching. Which is more valuable in today's Toronto sports market?


  • Still with TSN1050, they have been using Jonas Siegel as a low-carb Noodle replacement on Overdrive and also as a roundtable guest on the morning show. To my ears he's pretty dull. Far be it from me to suggest that Overdrive needs more personality but they might consider looking elsewhere in the TSN ecosystem for a fresher voice.


  • Worst interview of the week: Bob and Damien with NFL expert Don Banks wasting everyone's time talking about a television show from the 1960s. That's not going to play real well with the Millenials. You know it's a bad interview when the paid guest mentions how poorly it is going. 


  • Finally, the worst tweet of the week about Leonard Cohen's death goes to Canadian fashion icon and current Style Editor at the Shopping Channel Jeanne Beker (79K followers!). For some people it is impossible to resist the urge to make it "all about me":





thanks for reading and commenting,

to read past columns click on the "mike in boston" tag below

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

photo credit: Reuters/Eloy Alonso
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