Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Good morning sports media fans. Last post of the summer so I’ll be clearing out a bunch of things that are clogging up my notepad. I’m on a tablet so please forgive the mountain of typos and mistakes. Corrections welcome.

 

Next up for TSM is our annual Fall Report Card where we size up the radio line-ups and assign meaningless grades that hurt people’s feelings. I can’t write about all the things I am told, but when you dig into things a little it becomes clear that some of the shows were hastily made plan Bs by management to compensate for unexpected turns of fate. Both lineups are the product of circumstance rather than design. My prediction: look for significant changes at both shops by Fall 2018.

 

Give some thought to your own listening habits over the last year, check out the 2016 report card (which burnt a thousand bridges) and get ready to vote in polls about where you spend most of your listening hours.

 

5 Questions with … Andrew Walker (FAN590 SN650)

 

With SN650 launching this brings an end to the speculation regarding which Toronto radio talent would be leaving for wetter pastures. Despite sources within The FAN saying that John Shannon was lobbying hard for a move to Vancouver, it was plucky upstart Andrew Walker who got the tap.

 

Walker has made Seen & Heard numerous times, as he has been at the centre of many of the big moves at the FAN over the last few years. He was brought in to replace Lang as Brady’s co-host. Then, he was told he would be joining Halina Balka as a member of Dean Blundell’s company. He balked at that move and opted to stay with Brady in the deadzone from 1-4, only to become the leading man when his partner was laid off as part of the sweeping HNIC ratings cuts. 

 

After a year or so going solo, Ben Ennis was unexpectedly brought in as a co-host with the show being renamed The Andrew Walker Show (withbenennis). Now Ben has moved into the A-Chair and Andrew is days away from hosting PTS-West. I reached out to ask some questions about all the changes, what it takes to get ahead, and more. Here is our conversation:

 

Q: You are about to start in your 3rd market in the last 6 years. What kind of research do you do when changing markets? What stays the same no matter what market you’re in?

 

AW: I think good smart informed experienced thoughtful radio never goes out of style, but you have to give the listeners the respect of making sure you know their teams, players, and history. Seems like a common sense thing to say, but if I can’t recall who the Canucks drafted in 2012, that’s not a great look.

 

Q: You’re going from a city with 3 major sports teams to a town with only 1 major sports team. What is that going to require of you as a broadcaster?

 

AW: The content doesn’t write itself as much, so building 3 hours of compelling must listen radio takes some creativity. If you rely on “see the games, react to the games” type of radio only … you’re in trouble. Localize big stories and make them interesting. I’m not the guy that wants to devote 20 minutes to a 4th line conversation … we can all be better than that.

 

Q: SN650 enters the ratings battle as the upstart. What’s the station’s strategy to take listeners away from TSN1040?

 

AW: If you look up and down our lineup, its obvious.  We’ve gone young, we’ve made most of the hires based on ceiling I think.

 

The talk radio world isn’t littered with a plethora of prospects, yet we’ve put together about a half dozen guys 35 and under. It’s going to be a different sounding option for listeners here. The Canucks rights are massive, obviously, and will at least guarantee some sampling, then its up to our guys. Pleased to say the 650 signal is a strong one too. If you can’t hear the station, you’re set up for failure from the start.

 

Q: During your FAN time you have seen lots of young people/interns try to break into the business. Looking back on your own start, what do you think made you stand out as a kid in the industry, and what has made you successful at a young age as a radio host? 

 

AW: Simple answer. I moved around and lived on the air. I went wherever I got the most air time. 

 

You have no idea of how talented you are or polished you can become unless you log thousands of hours. Money and content are irrelevant when you’re trying to get to a baseline of development. I’ve been ” in the gym” so to speak for a long long time.  What we do is really hard, and even harder to make it look easy.  You need some talent … but experience is just as important.

 

Q: It seems that radio hiring in sports is skewing younger. Do you have a theory as to why that would be?

 

AW: Adapt or die. When your demo is 25-54, it seems irresponsible to have too much invested in hosts outside of your own demo, does it not? 

 

The immortals like McCown don’t grow on trees. With everyone else … the clock is ticking. You have to keep an eye on what the industry and demos look like in a year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years. 10 years ago nobody is worried about a 15 year old listener.  Well now that kid is 25. It’s simple math. How do you reach him?

 

Q: The FAN gave you lots of opportunities. One opportunity they gave you was to be Dean Blundell’s co-host. Can you explain why you declined? 

 

AW: A number of reasons. I just didn’t feel it would be the right fit for anybody. 

 

I had a good thing going with my current partner.  At the time, Blundell and co. was marketed as a bit more risqué, which was off brand for me, and Dean was coming off a highly public dismissal and was associated with some pretty intense labels.  As a young guy in the market, I guess I didn’t feel it should be on me to say “I want everyone to know that I’m ok with this”  it wasn’t some huge public human rights statement, I was just looking out for my own career.

 

Q: Coming to Toronto from Calgary, what was one stereotype that turned out NOT to be true about Torontonians, Leafs fans, etc.?

 

AW: People are at the core, decent.  Torontonians have a bad rep, but can be just as friendly as anybody else when given a chance.  You don’t have to be scared of people in the big smoke, they wont bite.

 

Q: What was one stereotype that DID turn out to be true?

 

AW: The centre of the hockey universe doesn’t care about hockey. Not like the rest of the country does.

 

Toronto is a world class, major market sports town, and should have an NFL team. They love the leafs, and don’t care about anything outside of that in the sport.  It’s a Lebron and Jeter town, it’s not a Monohan and Schiefele town. Toronto won’t support junior hockey, can’t sell out non-Canadian international games.  I would suggest that even most of the radio hosts in the market don’t really have a deep hockey knowledge.  It’s become way more Americanized from a major sports standpoint.  It feels at times like a big soulless US city.

 

 

Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have questions for him please leave them in the comments below. If he has answers I will post them.

 

CBC has a story on the radio battle between TSN and SN and the generational gap between those who like Seinfeld and those who like Game of Thrones.

 

CFL Blows it; TSN Loses It

 

Full disclosure: I only pay attention to the CFL when something newsworthy happens outside the lines. I could not name 5 players in the league. 

 

The Art Briles story shot the CFL to the front of the line as far as sports stories go this week. Hours of radio and thousands of printed words were devoted to unpacking how something like this could happen, who knew what when, and whose decision it was to rescind the contract offer to the disgraced coach.

 

Just so we are all clear about the topic, here is how SI.com described Briles’ tenure at Baylor:

 

“At least 52 acts of rape committed by 31 different players between 2011 and ’14, including five gang rapes, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a former Baylor student. Multiple instances of Briles and his staff either ignoring or covering up reports of assault and interfering with police investigations. Players not disciplined while victims were encouraged to keep quiet or leave the university. A blind eye toward accepting players with a history of violence toward women. Recruits enticed with alcohol and drugs at off-campus parties, with the coaching staff allegedly paying for women to have sex with them.”

 

On Monday Ti-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell did an interview with 3DownNation — in which the word rape is never used — and said the following:

 

“Art Briles is a good person who deserves the opportunity to be a coach. Clearly, some serious mistakes were made along the way but we feel strongly that people deserve second chances and that’s what we’ve decided to do with Art Briles.” […] “Art was exonerated by his own university, he certainly had nothing to do with no criminal discussions or proceedings. That doesn’t excuse what went on there by any stretch or the horrific experiences that some young women went through. But as an organization we have to decide whether we’re going to give people a second chance and judge them for their own character, morality, and ethics. I can tell you there wasn’t one single person that we spoke to who knows Art Briles that didn’t think he deserved an opportunity to work in football.”

 

“It’s my hope that fans get as accurate a portrayal of exactly what happened as possible, I hope they understand that there’s the world we live in with the quick rush to judgment – which again, is not to diminish a very, very serious issue – but at the end of the day I think people would agree that people deserve second chances. We’ve proven our track record is taking subjects seriously and doing our due diligence. It’s a terribly unfortunate background to it but that doesn’t take away that people feel strongly that Art Briles is a good person who deserves the opportunity to be a coach.”

 

If you want to read more about Briles a new book called Violated is being released soon. The job offer, supposedly bathed in due diligence and general consultation, was rescinded a day later. Owner Bob Young had this to say, again to 3DownNation, about his involvement in the decision to hire someone who comes with “baggage”:

 

“So I Googled him and didn’t like what I found but I did not stop it and that was my mistake for which I am responsible for which I have been appropriately flogged, as has the organization.”

 

The rest of the interview is worth a read and less tone-deaf than the above quote. Everyone needs to draw their own moral lines in the sand. On the topic of the NCAA, I can’t in good faith support an organization that has done very little to clean up its culture of sexual assault. This is not to mention the fact that they don’t pay their players while making billions for the very same people who end up being fired when the cover ups of gang rapes are discovered. If you can say Go Irish! or Roll Tide!, that’s your business. It is noteworthy how many parents don’t seem to care too much about how other people’s children are treated by the NCAA. 

 

Lots of Toronto media checked in to weigh in on the decision to hire Briles, the defence of the decision, and the subsequent change of course. I read most of them and the one that resonated most was this from Jeff Blair (SN):

 

“I want to know who first thought that a guy like Briles, who lost his job because he was either too incompetent to realize his program had fostered a climate of sexual assault or – worse – thought it was one of those “boys being boys things”, deserved to be put in a leadership position. That person has no business being in this league, let alone my community.”

 

On first reading I thought the “not in my town” line was a silly attempt to establish a personal connection to the story, but on reflection that was the wrong reaction. More than any other league the CFL has the ability embed itself into the local community. This is one of the major failures in Toronto. The Argos should be in all grade schools in the city, establishing connections with future fans. A decent amount of football is played at the high school level here but the Argos don’t have very much to do with it. Their Huddle Up program seems like the right idea, but the website lists two posts in all of 2016. That’s not going to cut it.

 

Blair is exactly right to be pressing the local angle. As a tiny league with few binding agreements with the NFL, the CFL could be a leader on so many of the issues where the former fails. Sadly the league has not made player safety, ethics, technological and coaching innovation, or rule creativity leading priorities. It would be hard to find anything the CFL stands for that makes it distinctive. Again, I’m not a knowledgeable fan of the league. I’m the kind of person they need to convince to care about anything they do on the field. Right now, I’m with Damien.

 

 

The story led to some memorable twitter outbursts. As per usual, Arash Madani was all over the league in real time. This has become an enjoyable spectator sport whenever CFL news happens.

 

 

As much as I enjoy the passion with which Arash pursues all things CFL, it’s easy for him to take shots while others wait for the story’s concretization before weighing in. Sportsnet won’t promote a competitor’s product no matter what, so bad news is always good news.

 

Beyond the league of extraordinarily inept gentlemen who run the TiCats, Arash also had condemnatory words for the female execs at the CFL:

 

 

They are guilty of what exactly? Not quitting on principle? Not calling out their own bosses? I agree that the league did the bare minimum to take responsibility for the decision, but specifically calling out women for the sins of their bosses is way out of bounds. I don’t blame the women at Sportsnet for Scott Moore’s strip club tweets.

 

 

On the Bell side, most people stayed quiet, however some decided it is never too early to make moral comparisons:

 

 

In case you’re not paying attention Arash and many of Sportsnet’s top paid talent were partying it up in Vegas for the circus fight last weekend. This is a horrible opinion by Naylor. There’s simply no reason to make this comparison other than out of anger. Naylor is a journalist and has to know that this compromises his credibility covering a league in which his bosses have a huge financial stake. 

 

The point about the league’s finances was not lost on a man who refers to himself in the third person AND by his initials. Derek Taylor — DT — opened the 2nd hour of Overdrive on August 29th with this:

 

“I am getting angrier and angrier with the Ti-Cats as this day goes on […] This is self-serving and I will admit that […] you have a radio station in your town that broadcasts your games and you are intentionally bypassing them to give your people to do interviews in Toronto. And you have a TV radio network in Toronto that broadcasts every game and saved this bleeping league in the 90s. And you’re not giving interviews with your people to them; you’re very intentionally giving those people to the competition. Are you kidding me! Do you know what the CFL owes to TSN? […] They are very intentionally punishing TSN and I don’t get it […] He who pays the piper calls the tunes. You owe it to the people who pay you money.”

 

MiB can understand why DT is upset. The CFL should have tried to work with its media partner to manage the story. And if TSN were thinking clearly they should have insisted on putting their top people on it and covering it journalistically. 

 

The above monologue on money gives one a pretty good insight into how the relationship between leagues and rights-holders works, at both places. Many people made similar comments when Rogers and Bell bought MLSE.

 

This is the strange state of media in 2017. When Chris Colabello tests positive for PEDs Sportsnet airs an interview with Jamie Campbell. They employ about a half dozen people with serious journalistic heft yet they go with Jamie for the interview? (I know … the player would not have done the interview with anyone else … don’t buy it). Shortly after TSN enters into a new licensed jersey deal they air a report on counterfeit merchandise from China. Nothing wrong with the original reporting, but the connection makes you wonder if the story would matter absent the business incentive.

 

Every time I make this point I hear from people in the business that I am being naïve. Ok, but it is becoming incredibly hard to be a consumer of sports media. This leads to some fans writing off “the media” as bought and paid for by the two big companies. Here’s a fun game: name sports people whose names you know who don’t collect some portion of their income from an outlet that owns a local sports team. I can count them on two hands if I try hard, and one hand if I don’t.

 

Quick Hits – Future Stories

 

Here’s some stuff I am working on:

 

 

The internet and forums are synonymous. Since the major outlets have entered this space, comments sections have been disappearing. How important to you are discussion forums? I want to know specifically for those of you who are serious sports fans, does the ability to debate and discuss enhance your sports enjoyment? A glance at twitter would say yes. But is that enough or do you also want something more than 140 characters? Where do you go for that discussion? Would you care if discussion boards were entirely disconnected from sport outlets?

 

 

Buck’s Get Up Ball signature call has been around for a couple of years now and one thing I have been discussing with various folks is whether this makes it harder for people at Sportsnet to fend off charges of being shills for the company in their coverage of the baseball team. Some people are very insistent that each media member is judged on the merits of his or her own body of work. Others are more dispirited and will say that this drags everyone down. I think there’s a good topic in here somewhere but I don’t quite know how to frame it yet.

 

 

Here’s a question I want to dig into further: suppose all outlets were to draw from wire services — CP, AP, Reuters — for the bulk of their sports coverage and then exclusively rely on their own writers for analysis, features, and opinion. No more game stories, no more local coverage of non-local events, etc. What value would be lost? Do you really care that the Leafs story was written by Kevin McGran rather than Jonas Sigel?

 

I can see many sides to this issue and want to explore the topic with people in the media. Think of how many near identical stories you read from the Sun, Star, Globe, SN, and TSN on something like the Jays game from last night or Kyle Lowry re-signing. It’s amazing to me how outlets compete with each other for generic news at the expense of chasing stories no one else is covering. More on this later.

 

 

Another story is just how bad the network websites are, and how the papers have not been able to capitalize on this. Above is Sportnset wedging a feel good piece on Tim Raines (auto-play video) below a headline and the lede of a report on Jays ticket price increases. Horrible layout and user experience. TSN is equivalently bad in different ways.

 

It’s not just about layout though. I ran a script to count the number of stories at SN.ca one Saturday over the last few months: 86 different entries. Why would anyone bother to check in with that much disposable content? Papers can do so much better here by having core content from real journalists, and then value-added stuff like blogs and discussion forums. None of them currently offer anything worth paying for.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • It is very hard to find a niche these days. Dan Robson of Sportsnet is doing just that. Here is a great piece on race with Cito Gaston and another one on the CFL’s Diversity is Strength campaign.

 

  • Speaking of diversity, Sportsnet has a new campaign focusing on unity. 

 

 

Mr. Moore declined to comment to TSM on the concept behind the new campaign. Some Rogers employees were quick to endorse the obvious political message:

 

 

  • Rather than letting the political message speak for itself, Sportsnet management decided to build a whole campaign focusing on how sports unites us with everything that matters in life. They are running a cringeworthy radio ad that tells us that the jersey is not just a jersey but our skin, and the crest/logo is our heart, and the Skydome is home. Hokey. 

 

 

  • Morgan Campbell of the Star (business? I must have missed him moving off sports …) did a stint with Greg Brady this week. It mainly reinforced how hard radio is. As a listener I want professional broadcasters not just guys talking sports. It’s a subtle difference but makes all the difference to me.

 

  • Good on the FAN for trying out people who are not already part of the bench crew. Between Campbell and Sheri Forde they are going far outside their comfort zone.

 

  • Congratulations to Dan Riccio on the promotion. His exact role has not been announced but presumably he isn’t moving unless it’s a bump along some dimension. He had the good fortune to be in the announcer chair as TFC grabbed the local attention and made the most of it. 

 

 

  • With Riccio off the FAN590 roster this prompts more questions about what to do with The Andrew Walker Show (now with more Ben Ennis). I beat the drum for Ben to get a full-time gig and am happy Dave Cadeau rewarded him for the 10 years spent grinding away. That said, the worst thing for him will be if they either let him go solo or continue using the slot as The Bullpen (for people who are not ready to be starters). Find him a straight-man/woman. The zanier the show gets the worse it is.

 

  • Another option is to rebrand it as DriveNation with Joey Vendetta. He can interview stars and celebrities. Do they know things? Let’s find out! Plus, think of the promotions. Listen in to hear Coldplay talk about how much they love playing Toronto and you could win tickets to see them play at Ontario Place.

 

  • “If you took offence to my comment about MMA, that’s why I made them. Please call in!” Blair has talents as a sports media member. Talk radio is not one of them.

 

  • Another topic for discussion is this one:

 

 

  • A story with no local connection involving a farce of a fight and all the papers say to themselves “we have to be there”.  One of the biggest open secrets in the industry is how much sports departments spend on travel. This is seen as a basic perk of the job, and the more famous you are the bigger the expense account and the more comfortably you travel. This is fiddling while Rome burns.

 

—–

 

thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

photo credit: CBC.ca
About the Author