Sports Media Stories to Watch in 2019: Damien Cox

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

Good morning sports media fans. Happy New Year to all our readers.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to those of you who take the time to contribute to the discussion in the comments section. The best part about writing for TSM is being able to dig into sports media topics with likeminded folks. Thanks as well to the people in the industry who reach out via email, DM, and text to provide feedback and background. I am very grateful to those who maintain professional working standards with me despite differences of opinion, occasional disagreements, and the odd error on my part.

Over the next few posts I’ll be discussing some stories to watch in 2019. This is part one.

 

The Curious Case of Damien Cox

 

News broke late in 2018 that Cox and Sportsnet have parted ways.

This is not a surprise to anyone who has followed Damo’s career at Sportsnet over the last few years. He was part of Scott Moore’s original hiring spree when Rogers locked down national TV rights for the NHL. This was a time of unbridled enthusiasm at Sportnset, and Cox decided to leave The Star for a full-time gig with Rogers. If you want to see what that looked like, here is a clip from May of 2014. You could also read Damo’s goodbye piece on his Star blog (edit: link deleted by The Star).

The piece begins with this gem:

It wasn’t that Sportsnet necessarily outbid TSN, more that Rogers executives did a brilliant job of convincing Bettman that they offered more in other ways for the next 12 years.”

I’ll leave it to you to decide what those “other ways” are. Here is one possibility:

Cox continues:

[TSN] have not been particularly gracious losers in all of this and signed off their final broadcast earlier this week without wishing their successors good luck in the usual tradition. That’s their choice. Everyone likes the series-ending handshake line a different way.”

Recall that Cox was courted for a full-time position at TSN but he spurned them at the last minute to join SN’s hockey coverage. Cox continues:

“Rogers has a big hockey job ahead of it, led by Messrs. Pelley, Scott Moore and Gord Cutler, but these are people who have taken on big jobs like this before and succeeded. They have vast experience in hockey and broadcasting all sports […] We’re all excited and intrigued to see how the unique, skilfull George Stromboulopolous leads the parade.”

Two years in to the deal Cutler and Strombo would be fired by Moore, with Pelley also leaving for greener pastures. Cox would also be part of that cull.

Cox continues:

“Those of us involved in the project know there will be early criticism next fall no matter what – heck, it’s already started before a single light has been turned on – and that’s part of how things work. Those with a stake in this will wax poetically about how good things used to be while pretending to be neutral. […] People can try to create an atmosphere of panic, or that some great disaster is at hand, or that TSN has some sort of birthright to broadcast hockey in this country that somehow been unreasonably extinguished. That’s unfortunate.”

Panic is exactly what would characterize the response to the ratings after two years, with many people at SN losing their jobs.

After publishing the piece on The Star site, Damo added the following notice:

” (CONFLICT ALERT: After working with TSN for many years, I moved to Sportsnet three years ago. At the end of next month, I will be leaving The Star as a full-time employee after 29 years (!!) to take up a role with Rogers and their new hockey enterprise. In the fall, I will return to write a once-a-week column for this fine newspaper, still the country’s best daily and by a fair bit. There, it’s all on the table. Now hopefully others commenting on this subject will also declare their conflicts.)”

As you can see, Cox was very concerned about the lack of neutrality by others, and saw jealousy as the reason for all the negativity surrounding Rogers’ coverage of the NHL. Eventually Moore made the decision that Cox was not part of the solution and shifted him over to PTS on 590 for a while. When PTS’ ratings started to sag Cox was eventually given an Andrew Krystal “special projects” role, covering tennis and other sports for SN.ca. Now, a little less than 5 years after his big moved to SN began, it is over. (SN has not yet updated their talent bios website)

Since getting Krystalled at SN Cox has picked up an extra column with the Star and has been writing twice a week for the last couple of years. One interesting story to watch is what happens next. It is unlikely that TSN will offer him a hockey role at the television network. They have a limited number of games and panel shows. TSN’s big name hockey stars are locked up for a while and someone would need to leave to create an opening for Cox to slide into. They have also been investing in homegrown younger personalities such as O’Neill, Mike Johnson, Frank Seravalli and others.

TSN’s website has steadily devalued its written content since the redesign so that doesn’t seem like a place for Cox either. They recently let go the talented Scott Cullen, who was promptly scooped up as a contributor by The Athletic.

TSN radio, on the other hand, is still searching for any traction and Cox could be a fit somewhere there. However, if Greg Brady’s case is any indication, TSN seems to remember those who rip them publicly.

The most logical place for Cox to grow in 2019 is back at The Star but this presents a bit of a logjam. Feschuk and Arthur already step on each other’s toes to an extent when the playoffs roll around for Leafs and Raps. Rosie and Cox also take up columnist mindshare at the moment. It’s not clear if there is room for even more Cox, or if The Star is in a position to offer him any more salary. Maybe The Athletic will swoop in and hire Cox to their team of hockey writers …

I’ll confess to an unpopular opinion: I think there is room in the market for agitators like Cox. SN employs so many interchangeable hockey personalities that having someone with different opinions can be a good thing. I’d argue that Cox brings more value than someone like Shannon, for example. Cox was a disaster on his last tour on PTS but that doesn’t mean he’s terrible on the radio. I think SN could have found room for him somewhere else in the line-up or on Leafs pre and post game shows.

2019 will likely be the first year in a long time with this little Cox content. Given the kinds of contracts he has commanded over the last decade he can probably afford to sit out for a while and wait for new opportunities. He could also take the Mike Richards and Dean Blundell route and go out on his own. It’s also possible that new Scott Moore will want Cox back at the network.

Over to you: where does Cox fit in the 2019 sports media landscape?


thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

photo credit: Sportsnet PR

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