by mike in boston @mikeinboston and TSM @yyzsportsmedia
With 2016 coming to a close we here at TSM HQ sat down and took a look back at the year that was in Toronto sports media. Here are our our picks for the Shakies in 2015. Add yours below. You can check out last year’s winners here.
Mike: The AthleticTO. This is the first new thing to happen in Toronto sports media since Sportsnet Magazine (RIP), and the first thing to break a mould since … radio streaming? Daily podcast feeds? Regardless, it’s a big deal because it’s something that hasn’t been tried before. Sports media is a very conservative industry which is why TV, radio, and print have all been selling the same thing, essentially, my entire life.
Whenever I write about TheAthletic I get snarky notes from traditional media folks, reminding me that their concept is not proven, and that most of their staff were available for a reason. I don’t want to debate that here (I have a post coming down the road on that). I do agree that TheAthletic should probably tone down their slogans advertising that they have the best writers in Toronto. That’s the sort of thing other people should be saying about you before you start saying it about yourself. Also, there are some pretty darn good writers at other places.
Slogans aside, the concept they are trying is just right: compete with both the newspapers and the blogs and hope to draw from both installed user-bases.The business side of the model is a little more speculative: they need to prove their value over the value of “free”, and there is plenty of good quality free stuff out there. I can fill my morning reading with free content almost every day of the year.
Part of their strategy to get people to pay is to provide “unique” content. (You can read my interview with Editor in Chief James Mirtle here.) To be honest, I have not read anything so far that meets that high bar. In fact it seems like most of their writers are doing basically what they were doing at their last employer, just more of it.
Further, they advertise themselves as a “mobile first” publication. Their iOS app basically works fine on my phone but it is actively unpleasant on my iPad. If you do most of your reading on yours, you might find yourself using the website exclusively (as I am). Lots of work still to be done there.
Given those criticisms why are they being fêted here? One very big reason: they are not an established media outlet. Here is why that matters. During my lifetime I have witnessed:
- All Toronto sports teams fall under the control of 2 media companies who, in most cases, own the teams together.
- Those same 2 companies establish media empires whereby they control all the broadcasts of all the sports teams in Toronto.
- Sports journalism cut and slashed at traditional outlets.
- The remaining journalists either supplement their incomes by going to work for those same 2 companies. Or they jump ship altogether to work exclusively for one of those 2 companies covering the teams those companies own.
Let me be clear. No one asked for this, and this is no one’s idea of a healthy media environment for objective sports journalism. I am not blaming anyone in the media for the choices they have made.
My point is rather to remind the audience: it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when there was genuine competition for broadcast rights. The Score, CBC, Global, AM640, AM1010, CHCH … all used to carry games or be in the bidding for rights. There was also a time when we had (much maligned) individuals as team owners. There was even a time when almost none of your favourite writers worked for an employer that owned the team they were covering. That time wasn’t that long ago.
Therefore, the reason I am most excited about The Athletic is that they are independent. Yes, Mirtle is still affiliated with TSN for the time being. But overall their operation is free of corporate meddling due to worries about losing or gaining rights. As such, their writers are going to be far less encumbered when they do their jobs.
Whether The Athletic will use this unique position in the market to write stories others wouldn’t is yet to be seen. Whether they will be able to survive without capitulating to corporate media coercion is also yet to be seen. Fingers crossed.
That is why I am a subscriber. It’s not because I think all their writers are worth paying for (I don’t). It’s because Toronto sports fans should be rejoicing at the presence of an independent voice in Toronto sports media. That is why The Athletic is my winner for Best Overall.
(p.s. – I wasn’t going to say anything nice about them but they gave me a cool t-shirt on Wednesday.)
TSM: While I am totally geeked about The AthleticTO I am not prepared to give them the crown. To me there were two contenders for best of the year in the Toronto Sports Media world and that would be, collectively the Blue Jays Beat and the Toronto Raptors Beat. Perhaps it’s a cop out but covering winning teams is likely easier than covering losing franchises but in my mind those who cover the teams day in and day out for these two teams hands down deserve the credit.
On the Blue Jays side you have the radio crew at the Fan 590, the Sportsnet TV guys and a slew of newspapers and website writers. Buck Martinez, Jerry Howarth, Mike Wilner, Pat Tabler, Dan Shulman, Jamie Campbell, Gregg Zaun, Joe Siddall, we can add in Shi Davidi, Barry Davis and Hazel Mae there are too many Jays writers.
On the Raptors side you have radio crew at both TSN 1050 and Fan 590, TV on both TSN and Sportsnet and then the same newspapers and website writers. Eric Smith, Matt Devlin, Jack Armstrong, Paul Jones, Rod Black, Sherm Hamilton, Leo Rautins, Sam Mitchell, Josh Lewenberg, Meghan McPeak, Duane Watson, Doug Smith, Mike Ganter, Ryan Wolstat, Eric Koreen, Rachel Brady, Michael Grange,
To me, after much consideration I’ve voted for the Raptors reporters. I admit, with the team winning and going deeper into the playoffs I found myself watching more and games, listening to more interviews and games and reading whatever I could about the league and the team and I can say that Raptors fans were really well served in 2016!
As you now I spend a ton of time on the road and I get to watch and listen to many teams play by play teams and I am happy to report that I would put the Raptors crew up there against most other NBA teams reporters.
It’s a really long season with tons of peaks and valleys, we don’t always win and we have a GM who has been, for the most part, hands-off. There haven’t been a ton of trades, there’s not a huge amount of rumors and yet the coverage is really good. More importantly it’s really good consistently.
Especially important the coverage is REALLY good in a town that is Maple Leaf first and second and Blue Jays third. The Raptors had yet to advance in the playoffs before last season and many a fan had a ‘show me’ attitude. So, despite lots of content and information from the journalists, fans were skeptical. So, in my mind I think those who covered the Raptors join in the award of Best of 2016.
TSM: Damien Cox (FAN590) I will admit I, like others found Damien’s appointment to the perma-co-host chair of PTS a curious move given is history on the show. Well, consider me convinced that Damien the radio co-host is damn good at his job. PTS with Mccown and Cox at his side is really good. They are no longer all negative all the time. Much of what was wrong with the show when they appeared together before is now nonexistent. They feed off each other well, they complement each other well in interviews and truth be told they are equally as insightful in their “monologues” as they are with guests. What surprises me the most is that they both seem to be really enjoying what they are doing. The knock (more on Mccown) is that of boredom and being tired. At least when these two are together I don’t get that sense at all.
Mike: Arash Madani (Sportsnet). Improved is not really the right word here. Arash has always been a good journalist and a good broadcaster. What I mean is that in the last 3 years or so his profile has rocketed to the top of Sportsnet’s power rankings. Since 2012 he has covered 3 Olympics for Sportsnet, the Superbowl, in addition to regular coverage of tennis, CFL, Jays, and hockey. When Sportsnet NWO’ed Hockey Night in Canada he started appearing across the country as a rinkside reporter. He has also slotted in as a regular co-host on PTS. Finally, he does play-by-play for university football and basketball.
I can’t think of anyone at any network who is as versatile as Arash. I’m not competent to evaluate some of his portfolio, but for the parts on which I can comment he is (in my opinion) doing a great job. As someone who cares a lot about radio, Arash has been a breath of fresh air on PTS. He nicely avoids getting sucked in to Bob’s favourite sports: arguing about nothing. He’s almost as good when it comes to Bob’s second favourite sport: making his co-host debate dumb positions no reasonably intelligent person holds. Bob is yet to meet a straw man he didn’t want to spend hours fighting. Arash also avoids the common PTS co-host flaw of trying to sound like the smartest guy at the table by talking over everyone. In short, he’s very good at radio. I think he can be even better.
Sportsnet is not always great at putting people’s talents to best use. They deserve a ton of credit here for how they have handled Arash. (Aside: you can see them doing the same good thing with Arden Zwelling now. He could be a star at the network.) In 2017 I would like to see them streamline his duties and make him a regular voice on the biggest stories. Keep him far away from Tim&Sid and Dean Blundell and Ken Reid.
There are few people in Toronto sports media who I think couldn’t easily be replaced. Arash Madani is one of them. That is why I am awarding him Most Improved in 2016. (Just stop taking sideswipes at the CFL on Twitter.)
Mike: if I had to pick one, I would probably go with this one from Bruce Arthur (Star) on the growing pains in the Jays fanbase. It very nicely captures the sense in which the “torture” of 2016’s wildcard race is part of what we have missed all these years. I’m also partial to it because I lived in Boston when the Red Sox broke the 86 year curse. Jays fans are only 25 years — less than a 1/3rd of the way — into their own World Series exile. As I have quoted here before, in the words of Cormac McCarthy: “There are no absolutes in human misery and things can always get worse.” Let’s not get too satisfied with making the AL finals.
Mike: Worst Article: No contest. This article by C-Kelly (Globe) on Tim Raines is the perfect combination of pretension and condescension. Here’s a taste:
“I’m going to do you the favour of assuming you have real problems. If Tim Raines’s hall-of-fame tragedy ranks near the top of that list, then congratulations. Your life is blessed beyond measure.”
Mike: To be honest I probably unfollowed more accounts than I added in 2016. So without anyone specific in mind, let me give this award to those of you who don’t tweet out scores or “Bautista bomb!!!” while you watch the game on TV. It is very much appreciated. Anyone who is already watching the game knows what happened. Anybody interested in the game but not watching probably follows the media who are at the game giving live updates. Those tweets are both redundant and an active nuisance. No one is going to retweet them. This award is for those of you who exercise a modicum of restraint on Twitter. You are the real heroes.
TSM: Jon Morosi and Bruce Arthur immediately came to my mind, however the hands down winner for me this year is Richard Deitsch. A favorite to listen to for sure, however his focus on media and business make him a big favorite of mine.
Mike: Leave it to Bob McCown to perfectly express this thought. Whenever I find someone cluttering up my feed I check their tweets to followers ratio. If you have 1000 followers and 46,000 tweets might I suggest re-thinking your social media strategy. Give “less is more” a try.
30K tweets to nobody? Wash the car, do the dishes, read a book, get a life!!!
— Bob McCown (@FadooBobcat) June 24, 2016
TSM: Tie goes to:
- Rosie: you make it easy to
— jonah (@yyzsportsmedia) July 14, 2016
- Mike Commodore after Donald Trump won the election
All American Women…I am single and a Canadian citizen. I am now taking “wife applications”. Email me your resumes. [email protected]
— Mike Commodore (@commie22) November 9, 2016
Mike: this was hotly contested all year and ended in a tie with two very deserving candidates
Ottawa's Grey Cup win is akin to the Cubs win in baseball. 40 years in an 8 or 9 team league. Franchise folding twice. Rejoice.
— Dave Naylor (@TSNDaveNaylor) November 28, 2016
This is me telling you to suck my dick.
— Rosie DiManno (@RDiManno) October 18, 2016
TSM: Sorry Mike, Naylor wins hands down.
Most Annoying Media Twitter habit:
Mike: when several people at the same outlet retweet every single thing one of their colleagues writes. This clogs up my feed with the same content, each time enhanced by your comment that this is the most important thing I’ll read today. This makes me less likely to read it.
TSM: Media members who go on blocking binges.
Mike’s Miscellaneous Awards
- The Buffalo Bills award: TSN1050, because there’s always next year. Seriously, you would think that just the law of averages would have helped their ratings at some point. That said, I have been doing some digging on PPM technology, its history and its outcomes. I also have been fed some serious dirt on Numeris that I’m mulling over. Watch for more radio ratings talk in 2017.
- Worst Sports Department: The Globe. I have no idea what they are doing.
More than ever I am leaning towards them just shutting it down.Roy MacGregor wrote the early contender for best article in 2017. Heartbreaking. This story has been told before, but never better. New idea: the Globe should forget about a daily sports section and just publish one big one on Saturdays filled with content of this quality. Heck, make it a bi-weekly or monthly digital magazine. I’d subscribe.
- Best New Regular Guest: Marcellus Wiley on Overdrive. Great analysis from a player’s perspective. The fact that he was a defensive end rather than a QB/WR/LB/CB makes him really unique. Smart get by TSN1050.
- Worst Interview: Kristina Rutherford interviewing Gary Bettman for Sportsnet Magazine. Looking at the body of work I see that fun profile type interviews with athletes is her thing. Cabbie (170k followers) does the same kind of thing for TSN. Nothing wrong with that. But you’re interviewing Gary Bettman, one of the most controversial figures in hockey, for a Canadian audience in a magazine that focuses on journalism. Do you think Ron MacLean or Stephen Brunt would ask Gary how well he skates? If Gary is not going to let you conduct a proper interview then why bother printing it? Rutherford is clearly capable of doing excellent journalism, for example this beautifully written piece. To give her a cupcake interview with Gary undermines her credibility, and reflects poorly on the magazine and the network.
- Best commenter on TSM: whoever called Jonah a department store lawyer. That one is framed and on the wall at TSM HQ. Makes me laugh every time. In all seriousness: this award goes to all of you who can disagree without being disagreeable. Thanks for commenting on my columns.
- Worst aspect of TSM: the number of people in the industry who come here to anonymously slam others. Venting is healthy but I would much prefer you do that on your own website. We like that you read us. Please don’t use the comments to troll each other.
- (Jonah): I’ll add … Those come here and change their names and think we don’t know who you are. Secondly, attack us all you want, but to run and hide when we respond, not cool.
- The “Because it’s 2016” award: TSN/TSN1050 for hiring 3 women to do something other than narrate highlights or read traffic updates: Andi Petrillo (Leafs Lunch), Kristen Shilton (Leafs beat), Meghan McPeak (Raptors 905)
- Co-Worker of the Year award: Dean Blundell (FAN590). Look forward to Shi Davidi’s next appearance.
- Best Media Coverage award: easy, Jack Todd (special to the Montreal Gazette) — this is, after all, his field. He had so many unforgettable sports media columns in 2016. I couldn’t pick a favourite.
Don't presume to explain to me how sports media works. This is my field.
— Jack Todd (@jacktodd46) November 22, 2016
- The “Milford Academy” award: MLSE’s new CEO. He was neither seen nor heard in 2016.
Jonah’s Miscellaneous Awards
- Mulligan award: Knee jerk reaction to sh!tty ratings on HNIC and Rogers in general that led to a blood letting, the flogging of George Stroumboulopoulos and the return of Ron Maclean. Lousy Canadian teams, too much hockey were what plagued ratings. Screwing with people’s careers is not cool. Funny how those who make bad deals don’t seem to pay the price. Ratings may go up, it will have nothing to do with the change in on air talent.
- ¡Ya basta! award: I get that the industry is in deep trouble. I get the papers are all but dead. I get that Mike and I and a few others are the only ones who listen to sports radio. I get that digital has not caught on in the newspaper business. I get all of that. What I can’t accept is that the only answer ownership has is to lay people off. It was one thing to cover the media business when all they did was rip on my teams. I despised the negativity but I got it. This, I can’t stomach anymore. Shame on those outlets who did little more than let good people go this year. Find away to cut costs in ways that don’t include severance checks. Find ways to grow revenue. Take your collective heads out of your a$$e$$ and recognize that times have changed and you need smart(er) people to figure this out.
- Bo Knows award: 2016 was a crazy year for much more than sports. 2016 was the year that the world watched in
awe horror amazementas the Donald run for and then got elected President of the United States. Several sports personalities took the time, and lots of it to comment on the political games. Like or hate what he had to say, no one in Canada on the sports side owned the election banter like Bruce Arthur. Arthur is a must follow on Twitter for all things current events.
- And The Oscar Goes to: Lots of outlets spend big bucks on video. They think that’s what we the consumer wants to consume all the time. While they are wrong on many accounts, it’s a tad ironic that the best video piece in the sports world this year is the “low budget” looking SCTV meets Carpool Karaoke piece by Elliotte Friedman with Bruce Boudreau:
- Worst sports website: Tie — Toronto Sun and TSN. Both are embarrassing. Yes this is a repeat from last year’s Shakies but neither outlet has done F all about their lousy platforms.
- Rookie of the year: Mike’s covered it above in great detail but without question The AthleticTO is the runaway winner for this award.
Those are our awards for 2016. What are yours? Also feel free to give out any awards we missed … Best traffic updates? Best new radio show? Best sports editor?
Happy New Year everyone.
Thanks for reading.
Consider making your new year’s resolution a commitment to commenting here more often. Discussion is what keeps us motivated to write.
Mike and Jonah/TSM