by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Good morning sports media fans. Forgive the self-indulgence of what follows. I try to make these columns mostly about opinions rather than about myself but in this case the two ended up merging.
When I was a kid my parents banned TV from the house. They believed it turned brains to mush and that it contained bad messages. As a result I missed out on many staples of Canadian childhood. The consequence of the lack of TV in the house was that I spent all my time listening to the radio. And it was through listening to radio that I developed a deep appreciation for the craft of sports talk. Like most kids in Toronto I loved the Jays and stayed up every night listening to Tom & Jerry, followed by Scott Ferguson taking your calls. I still can feel the disappointment when 1430 would switch back to oldies after the game.
When CJCL announced they were going all sports it was like winning the lottery. Sports talk all day? I promptly asked for a new Walkman (sports model) with a beefed up exterior and long battery life for my birthday. I would sneak an ear bud in during class to catch Howard Berger’s Leafs line-up updates so I would know whether Ken Baumgartner would be on the 4th line that night. Do you remember Ken’s first full season as a Leaf? I remember the goal he scored for his one and only point in 63 games that year.
Like so many of you I grew up with sports radio as the soundtrack to my formative years. As a teenager I would eagerly await the media columns in each of the the papers. We subscribed to the Saturday Globe and reading the sports section was the weekend’s highlight. My favourite column was William Houston’s “Truth & Rumours” since the names I listened to every day would sometimes appear there as their contracts came due for renewal or the station made programming changes. Houston’s columns provided a peek behind the curtain of the world’s most fascinating industry, at least to me. This led me to seek out Chris Zelkovich’s column in the Star and to dig through old piles of copies of the Sun at work to see if Longley had written about media for the Sun.
I have been a reader of this site since it launched and I wrote my first Seen & Heard column here in October 2013. Over the last 4 years writing about media has been easy. Two sports radio stations, two networks, a handful of smaller players, 4 newspapers, loads of business of sports news, and big egos occasionally slagging the competition. The stories almost write themselves. The writing has been easy in part because of the wealth of content but also because I was consuming so much of the content in my daily life: 30-60 minutes of reading over breakfast, podcasts throughout the day or at the gym, more listening while making dinner, then more reading on the couch.
Since I was consuming so much it was not hard to provide mostly balanced coverage and find something to say about almost everyone. Like any human being I have my own tastes, but every week I would try to wipe the slate clean and look for the best in sports media, while encountering plenty of low hanging fruit to write about.
I have had professional interactions with most people in the industry during this time. Some have politely declined to talk to me, some have done so not so politely, but most have understood that this is primarily a fan site. People who don’t care don’t take the time write their thoughts and reach out to carry on the discussion. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has written or called and started the conversation with “if you’re going to write about media, let me tell you how things really work …” And that has worked out well, with a few exceptions. The overwhelming majority of people I talk to are professionals who care about their work, are frustrated by lazy journalism and reporting, are open to constructive criticism, and can maintain minimal standards of decency even when they disagree with something they read here.
My goal with this column has been to talk about things worth talking about. I have not sought to break news or get a lead on the hot rumour about the next big change. Almost everything that has appeared here is analysis of things that have already happened. I have never pretended to be anything other than a consumer of sports media. Yet, as the media columns completely disappeared from the mainstream Canadian media landscape I have felt an increasing pressure to write about the industry rather than just my own opinions of the work people are producing. As one source put it to me about a brewing controversy “if you guys don’t write about it no one else will, and then no one will ever know about it.”
Some time in the last 4 years the focus of my writing shifted from being an advocate for the viewer/listener/reader to being a voice for people in the industry itself. That’s not easy as an outsider and it’s not a role I enjoy. If there are issues that need light shone on them then shouldn’t there be an outlet with more credibility than two “anonymous” bloggers?
But that’s the strange state of sports media in 2017. Almost everyone draws a cheque from Bell and Rogers. Few people have the stature to speak out without risking their meal ticket. At the same time accountability to the audience has all but disappeared. The professional media criticism columns are gone. Comments sections are disappearing. The Program Directors don’t talk to the audience anymore. Networks have a lot at stake in protecting their relationships with the leagues they cover. In newspapers, sports editors are also becoming a thing of the past. The sports media world that exists now is, oddly, both consequence-free and extremely precarious for those in it.
All of this brings me to today. I have written at length about the failure of Sportsnet to put women in positions where their opinions matter in Toronto. In the 25 years I have been listening to the FAN the only woman with a prominent voice has been Barb DiGiulio, who provided a pop/entertainment diversion from the real sports talk. In the last year Scott Moore and Dave Cadeau have made 5 on-air hires at the FAN: all white men. The lack of movement on the issue of diversity by the industry leader can only be interpreted as a hostility to giving women a place on the air where it matters what they say rather than what they look like.
With all due respect to the people working there, I can’t in good conscience continue to listen to a station whose values are so different from my own.
Up the dial, TSN1050 is now 6 months in to the great experiment of running syndicated American programming from 10-11am. When the station launched we shook our heads at their decision to air non-local programming as competition to the FAN. You are TSN. Your brand is the biggest name in sports in Canada and has been for 30 years. Use that to your advantage. It is exactly that hubris that informed TSN1050’s approach to local programming. Rather than competing with the FAN with their strongest personalities they brought in a bunch of people from outside the market to talk to Torontonians. The assumption seemed to be that slapping the TSN logo on any show would instantly draw listeners.
After 6 years of failure to make a mark on the market PD Jeff MacDonald has decided the best strategy is to let people hear about the NCAA and the Washington Wizards at a time when all the local teams are playing or making news. The cherry on top is that they just gave a radio show to Dart Guy. We can talk about the optics of this move another day, but the message there is that they want to air a “fan-friendly” radio show. Great! How about taking that same attitude towards a time of day when plenty of people are still grinding their way into work? If you really want to air American programming, why not save that for evenings or on weekends?
I can’t in good conscience spend time listening to a station that has no idea what it is doing with local radio.
I have greatly enjoyed writing about radio over the last 4 years but I have not listened to either station for months and don’t plan to start again any time soon. I have switched to weekly podcasts and will continue to seek out other good listening in that format. I have the luxury of not being stuck on the QEW at any point during the week so there is simply no reason for me to listen to daily sports talk radio. It’s not for me.
Once you subtract radio you’ve lost half of Seen & Heard. So I am going to retire this column for the time being. I will continue to write about issues as they arise and try to read as much as possible and highlight good (and bad) work there when I can. If someone else wants to take up the challenge of covering local radio, now would be a good time to send us some pitches.
I am trying to get as much background as possible before writing about the Jays tumultuous off-season. After Game 162, the Jays announced they were reorganizing media relations. Around the same time Stroman put the media on blast on Twitter for not being team-friendly enough, rumours broke about a Sportsnet personality having affairs with multiple Blue Jays, Shapiro decided to buy advertorial content in the Sun, and several critical articles were written — some by the Sun — about the priorities of the front office. Whether there are cause and effect relations between any of these events is something to which I have not yet received a clear answer. It will be interesting to see how these events shape the coverage the team receives in spring training, and whether we will see any changes on the team broadcast front.
Awful Announcing is reporting that ESPN might be prepping for another round of cuts. The obvious motivation would to shed salaries to compensate for the lost revenue due to cord-cutting. This would protect the stock price by keeping profits high. The question I have is how much more can they (and Sportnset/TSN) cut before they run out of programming or seriously dilute its quality? This connects to the loss of The Reporters on TV and radio. Presumably TSN’s reasoning was “we can put something else on that will be cheaper”. If you follow the logic of that reasoning then most shows could be replaced with something cheaper, like American syndicated programming for example. Don’t forget that the very expensive Tim & Sid show replaced a highlights loop that drew about as well as their current show draws. Even though Tim&Sid is not for me, I think original programming can be good and networks should invest in it. That said, is there a nearby future where the daily TV schedule is highlights shows on loop until the pre-game show? I hope not, but the trend seems to be that studio shows are getting too expensive.
The Globe reported this week that the new CEO is talking about dumping non-key assets. The media division is a tiny part of the overall revenue portfolio and would yield a huge cash infusion to invest in other units. It’s interesting to imagine a world where Rogers doesn’t own the Jays. Think about how this would instantly remove the endless “shill” discussion that surrounds their Jays coverage. At the same time, I wonder how many Jays media Sportsnet would keep if they were no longer the sole voice of the team? If TSN were to get some Jays games down the road it would be a great thing for consumers. Right now they ignore baseball for the most part, relying on out of town commentators to carry the heavy load. They also didn’t send anyone to the World Series. Leafs fan have a lot of choice when it comes to coverage. It would be nice if Jays fans had similar options. Another interesting thing to think about is how valuable the Dome would be to a prospective buyer given that the land underneath it belongs to the Crown. Could a buyer take the team but not the stadium? Could that lead one day to a new stadium back at the Ex next to BMO?
Low Hanging Fruit
- Many sites ask you to disable ad-blockers. Sportsnet recently started being one:
- I fully support sites asking regular readers to endure some ads for the sake of the content they are reading. I have whitelisted all the newspaper sites I visit. There is something galling about Sportsnet — the home of embedding unrelated videos with sometimes two ads into stories — asking people to look at even more ads. As I have written before, Sportsnet should have two sites: one for all their “you gotta see this!!!?!” and “watch Sid eat a hot dog??!?!” and one for their respectable journalism. Wedging the two together devalues the latter and means I likely won’t read.
have a good Saturday everyone
talk to you down the road