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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