Raptors Take Centre Court

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


Toronto has always been a Leafs town first, and a Jays town second, with basketball struggling to gain the same kind of following. Those days are over, for now. Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals produced national ratings comparable to the Jays playoff numbers in 2015 and 2016, far exceeding the Leafs’ round 1 games. The Raptors’ unexpected trip to the Finals has also brought in a huge splash of cash for Rogers and Bell, as advertisers are scrambling to get airtime during the broadcasts. While some long time advertisers were given first dibs, lots of others are breaking the bank to get in on the party. Here’s hoping these new revenues for Sportsnet and TSN save some jobs, as rumours swirl of more cuts coming at Rogers due to the poor NHL ratings. Their media partner TVA just announced significant layoffs.


This exhilarating run will breed, metaphorically and literally, a generation of basketball fans across Canada. The demographics argument is an old one: most first and second generation immigrants don’t have a cultural or emotional connection to the Leafs or hockey in general. This is because there has not been much from the Leafs about which to cheer but also because the game itself lacks global presence. Hockey’s parochialism is actually a plank in Gary Bettman’s plan for the league.



By contrast, the NBA benefits from having an established global footprint, which people bring with them when they move to Canada. The failure of the Grizzlies killed basketball out west but it also cleared the way for the Raptors to become Canada’s basketball team. As we have seen with the Jays since the loss of the Expos, having a coast-to-coast connection means the possibility of huge ratings, packed streets, and rocking stadiums. In order for that to be sustainable you need people to root for a team they didn’t grow up cheering for. The current Raptors run is doing just that for millions of current Canadians and millions of future Canadians.




Meanwhile, we still talk about hockey being Canada’s game yet the ratings show over and over again that once home teams bow out, most of the market tunes out. Playoff hockey without Canadian teams still draws a national audience but it’s not the juggernaut media execs hoped. This has been a costly lesson for Rogers.





With the NBA Finals in full swing the international sports world is turning its eyes to our city. The local media have also been getting a turn in the spotlight as outlets from elsewhere look for expert opinions on Khawi’s team and what this moment means for Toronto. This is a chance for local personalities to expand their reach, grow their own brands, and establish credibility on a much larger scale. Speaking of credibility, for a look back to last summer at what some local media were predicting for this season, see here.


Almost everyone you see or read with a national profile started as a local sports media person. See e.g. Bob McKenzie. With that in mind I wanted to congratulate a few people whose work I enjoy, but more importantly people who have been grinding the Raptors beat in relative obscurity. It will be interesting to watch over the next few years which of these folks take their careers to the next level.


Josh Lewenberg – TSN




Josh has been covering basketball for Canada’s hockey network for roughly 7 years. In terms of “insider” name recognition at TSN he probably ranked behind their curling reporter for most of that time. Over the last several years he has done a great job covering the team without controversy or disingenuity. He’s a solid follow on twitter and looks and sounds professional on air. I am really happy for Josh that he’s working the Finals.


Michael Grange – Sportsnet



I have been reading Grange on basketball since the From Deep days at the Globe. Since moving to Sportsnet Grange has taken on all kinds of roles from being a PTS regular, to covering NHL lockouts, to writing about the Jays. This is what is expected in a multi-platform media role but it comes at a cost. It’s clear that Grange’s passion and expertise is in basketball and in writing about the team and the game. With the Raps becoming a 12 month a year beat Grange has been cranking out articles for .ca and, in my opinion, is back to the quality we enjoyed from him at the Globe. He is the first person I read on any Raptors story and the most credible basketball columnist in the country.


Eric Smith – Sportsnet



Eric has been at 590/Sportsnet for a generation and in that time put in a lot of long hours in every role imaginable, including Blue Jays Xpress. It has all paid off as he now gets to be the face and voice of the team on TV and radio. He’s grown into a solid broadcaster, is accessible on twitter, and has seen more Raptors basketball than most media covering the team. If you want to debate Kapono vs Delfino, he’s your guy. Really happy for Eric that he’s getting international exposure.


Eric Koreen – The Athletic



It’s hard to describe the rollercoaster Eric has been on in the last 3 years. He was a young guy, working for a small sports department, covering a fringe Toronto sport. Then he was sacked along with the rest of the sports writers at the National Post. He then quickly becomes a ground floor hire for The Athletic back when no one knew what that meant. Now he’s being promoted to the national American basketball audience as a Raptors expert. Sometimes life comes at you fast in a good way. I am happy for Eric Koreen most of all.


Kayla Grey – TSN


Late addition. Kayla is lapping the field when it comes to her post-game questions and the answers she is able to draw out of her subjects. TSN is nuts if they don’t give her a bigger platform after the playoffs.



Over to you: whose work have you been most impressed with this season and post-season? Kate Beirness, Tim & Sid, James Duthie, Cabbie, Rob Leth?



thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)


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June 6, 2019 11:15 am

Will Lou.
His 10 Things column for Yahoo is essential next-day reading.

Blake Murphy too.

Mike S
Mike S
June 6, 2019 11:37 am

The Raptors are playing in Game 4 of the NBA Finals tomorrow night and 590 has the radio rights for the game…………but the game won’t be on 590 (not right away, anyway)…………..it will be on 680 News because the moribund Blue Jays will be on 590………….that’s embarrassing…………I assume the reason is because there is some sort of policy or agreement that says all Jays games must be on 590……….but if there was ever a scenario where an exception needs to be made this would be it

June 8, 2019 11:44 am

Couldn’t agree more on Lou Will being essential reading. Just technical enough yet concise to know why you saw what happened and what to look for next game. With all due respect the guys mentioned above like Michael Grange are just re-telling what happened.

Question on the advertising dollars for MLSE. So TSN and Sportsnet split the pot evenly or does, for example, Sportsnet make more if their games have more viewers? Like if it just works out they have the clinching game, or less competition that night, etc.

June 8, 2019 7:41 pm

No Doug Smith?

Gary Middleton
Gary Middleton
June 9, 2019 12:58 am

Very hard to find a negative thing to say about any Toronto Raptor but I dug deep. Kyle Lowry is infinitely more respectful in post-game interviews with ABC than with a Canadian network.

With TSN/SN, he looks put out, barely pays attention, gives Popovich-style short answers, stops in the middle to talk to his kid or share an inside joke with another player in the vicinity. With ABC, he listens intently and gives through and focused replies.

June 9, 2019 10:17 pm

Perhaps, as with the other media personalities, you might put up a real picture of Eric Koreen? 

June 10, 2019 6:13 pm

Yeah, gotta say that if anyone deserves a shout out for their years of Raptors coverage, it is Doug Smith.

June 10, 2019 7:35 pm

Been listening to more local radio lately because of the Raptors. I’ve said this before but – I just don’t think JD Bunkis has the right personality to drive a show. He definitely knows his stuff, and I’m sure there’s some other role for him that’s right but… I just don’t think that show works with him as host. Maybe swap him out for Faizal Khamisa or Donovan Bennet? Pair them with Ennis?

Big congrats to the Raptors on their run. I much prefer living in a city where several sports matter, not just one – more to enjoy. I loved that Jays run a few years ago, and this has been even better.

Mark Coale
Mark Coale
June 11, 2019 3:00 am

So, baseball central is “hiatus” to allow the Blair Show to be 3 hours.

But will it really come back after basketball is finally over?

Or is it gone for good, given vladdymania has not really moved the needle?

Mike V
Mike V
June 11, 2019 9:10 am

One very low point, written after game 3 by what is essentially the only person The Globe thinks is worth keeping in it’s once highly-regarded sports department.

“Without Klay Thompson (hamstring) and Kevin Durant (motivation), the Warriors are the Houston Rockets”

Honestly, Cathal Kelly can GFH. Even before the achilles injury last night, what an absolute classless thing to write about the 2x defending Finals MVP. Durant suffered potentially career-altering injury coming back to help his team and that guy has the gall to claim he missed earlier games because he didnt care enough.

And it also says a lot about the other Toronto media personnel who continually praise CK as some sort of writing gift to the city.

Mike S
Mike S
June 11, 2019 11:05 am

I’m pretty sure I heard a member of the media drop a “we” when asking a question to Nick Nurse at the post game press conference last night…………not sure who it was…………..it went something like this: “why did you decide to call a timeout when we were on a roll, uh I mean when the Raptors were on a roll?”

June 11, 2019 3:49 pm

CK has delusions of grandeur – He thinks he is the second coming of Red Fisher…and
that’s a bad thing –

June 11, 2019 10:17 pm

6.4 million for the Raptors game last night – that is insane. Here is a comparison to other recent major sporting events:



June 18, 2019 4:41 pm

Whoa – TSM tweeting that this could be Bob’s last week on PTS? Damn. I know this forum loves to complain about PTS, but I’d be truly bummed if the show ended abruptly like this. Been listening to Bob since I was a teenager. I also thought the quality of the show was on a major upswing since Deitsch and Brunt were brought in.

I don’t really know if I’d bother listening to local sports radio if he was gone. Maybe Blair here and there. Hope the report isn’t correct.

Mike V
Mike V
June 20, 2019 12:14 pm

Since the Bob retirement post doesn’t have comments thought I’d post this here. Feel free to move it in the back end if it gets sorted out.

I find it ironic that this news is coming out on the same day the CRTC released the latest financial summaries that showed Sportsnet (National+One+360) going from 149mm pre-tax profit in 2017 all the way to… 174mm in 2018! Hate to repeat myself but there is still no evidence in the numbers that the NHL deal is hampering anything. There was a bit of decline in ad revenues (likely Jays falling back to earth) but that was more than made up for by yet another increase in sub revenue. Contrast that with TSN (the perceived “winner” by losing) that saw the PTP go from 99 to 45mm on a large increase in programming expenses. Rogers is cutting SN jobs because Rogers wants to cut SN jobs not because they need to cut.

As for Bob going, I haven’t listened to him in about 6 years now so makes no difference to me but it does seem odd to let him go in the middle of a contract that they are paying regardless. I sense there is a larger story about it not being told yet.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x