Sportsnet Prepares for Massive Layoffs

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Updated from earlier to reflect public statements by Sportsnet, McCown, and others.

 

Bob McCown Removed from Prime Time Sports

 

 

Sources have confirmed to TSM that Sportsnet is preparing to make significant cuts to their on-air staff as the network tries to cut costs in the face of disappointing revenue. This comes at a time when the Globe is reporting that advertising revenue for the Raptors and the NBA playoffs was up about 350 per cent this year on Sportsnet compared with last year.

 

There is a list of possible names from all platforms circulating but we have decided not to publish it here until the changes are announced or confirmed by the parties themselves. The only name we will confirm at this time is Bob McCown. The current reports are that today – Thursday June 20th 2019 Friday June 21st 2019 – will be the final show with McCown at the microphone.

 

In a confounding decision, Sportsnet.ca posted a Canadian Press story instead of a press release. The Toronto Sun did not do any original reporting on this story yet somehow managed to screw up transcribing a tweet

 

 

CBC and the Globe ran versions of the CP story while The Star assigned it to their general staff desk. Yahoo Canada Sports mistakenly referred to Bob as 57 years old and also mentioned Bob’s tweet “ensuring us” that we have not heard the last from him.

 

 

The news that Sportsnet is moving on from Bob McCown is a little surprising given that he was recently renewed with much fanfare.

 

 

In that piece Dave Cadeau, National Format Director for Sports Radio at Rogers Media, states:

 

“Bob is the most prominent and revered sports talk radio host in the country for good reason. He’s the single best interviewer in the industry. He elicits the most interesting responses from his guests and guides conversations in a way that is relevant to his audience. These are unique abilities and he has mastered them.”

 

The press release also boasts about Prime Time Sports being the most listened-to sports talk radio program in the country “by a wide margin for average minute audience for males (12+), average minute audience for males 25-54 and share of audience for males 25-54.”

 

The natural question to ask is why Sportsnet would be moving on from someone with such unique talents who delivers such impressive numbers. The proof is plainly in the pudding. Bob’s numbers have been slipping consistently. As we wrote in March of this year, TSN1050’s Overdrive has been making impressive gains against PTS. The broader picture is that radio revenues are declining as podcasting takes over.

 

Additionally, while McCown’s talent for interviewing is undeniable, he has not been able to sustain enough interest in his subjects to fill 15 hours a week. When Bob is uninformed or unmotivated the show suffers tremendously. The expensive additions of Richard Deitsch and Stephen Brunt have shored up some of these deficiencies. However with the Jays toiling away at a rebuild Bob is simply out of his depths on many of the big stories in the marketplace, especially hockey. With the Leafs moving back into the spotlight and TSN’s strong hockey offerings as competition it seems likely that both the ratings and Bob’s interest would continue to be a problem.

 

Finally there is the issue of cost. Bob and others have made public comments about his close to one million dollar price tag. This would make him three to five times more expensive than comparable Toronto salaries for high profile radio jobs. It’s unknown whether Rogers approached Bob about restructuring or moving to a part-time role. Bob has enjoyed a long career and presumably doesn’t need to work anymore, except maybe to support his other business ventures. He recently noted that “I would have quit but my wife won’t stop spending.”

 

What Comes Next?

 

 

My own view, based on no inside info, is that he could still have a presence on TV:

 

 

Beyond TSN, McCown could try the Blundell route and see if his brand can attract advertisers. He did this in the past with his now defunct Fadoo content aggregator website. Given the age of McCown’s core audience and the very crowded marketplace this doesn’t seem very promising. Another option would be to see if The Athletic would give him some company shares in exchange for a weekly or semi-weekly podcast. They are still in content-acquisition mode and have a fledgling podcast project so there is some merit to this idea. Bob could also work from home.

 

If you have ideas for how McCown can plausibly stay “on the air” then leave them in the comments below. As I have written here before, I don’t think Bob has much relevance beyond Toronto so any kind of “national” product is not very viable. If you are reading this from other parts of the country then please leave a comment about that. I continue to find it puzzling that Canada doesn’t have sports media personalities that can drive conversations coast to coast.

 

 

Sportsnet’s website has been updated to show Jeff Blair as the new host of PTS, keeping Deitsch and Brunt as co-hosts. As TSM reported first, this is the plan for the summer but no commitments have been made beyond that. Not everyone considers the swap Blair for McCown to be an upgrade:

 

 

Rumours indicate that Tim & Sid are being considered as a replacement for PTS.

 

 

This would make a lot of sense as it would effectively counter-program Overdrive. Fans of morning zoo style radio would then have two flavours from which to choose on the drive home. This would also solve Sportsnet’s incoherent TV schedule, with Tim & Sid and PTS competing with each other. Having lived in other markets, it is common for the drive home show to run from 3-6:30, leaving time for pre-game shows on both radio and TV. One could imagine a version of Tim & Sid that is both for radio and TV, with some dedicated local radio time and some dedicated national TV time. Sources tell me that their TV show has not significantly outperformed the packaged clip show it replaced on Sportsnet, despite being significantly more expensive.

 

Much of this decision, as well as cuts to other shows, will fall to current Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley, who took over from Scott Moore in November of 2018. He inherits a very bloated Sportsnet line-up that is a miss-mash of splashy moves made in the wake of the NHL rights deal in 2013/14, cuts made in 2016 after two very bad years in the ratings, a large roster of baseball folks from the halcyon Jays days of 2015 and 2016, and a lot of writers who were primarily assigned to the now defunct Sportsnet Magazine. If he is intent on starting fresh with a sustainable multi-platform plan for the next five years then the network may look very different in September.

 

While TSN has also made cuts it’s worth pointing out that Rogers’ media division bears full responsibility for the national NHL rights (for another 7 years) as well as the Jays (indefinitely). Neither TV property is delivering what was hoped in terms of ratings. These will surely rebound at some point, but the people losing their jobs in the next few weeks will not be around to benefit from this. Most of the people who signed these restrictive deals moved on to other jobs over the last few years and were highly rewarded on their way out the door.

 

As a final point for the time being: it would be astounding for people like Jerry Howarth and Scott Moore to be given victory laps by Sportsnet but to deny one to Bob McCown. According to company statements, McCown doesn’t want a farewell tour. Since he is effectively being fired, this makes sense. I imagine things would be very different if he were leaving on his own terms.

 

To make sure Bob goes out in style we would like to hear from you about your favourite PTS memories. I’ll start:

 

 

Weekend Update: we will be adding content related to the end of PTS as it comes in.

 

  • Howard Berger writes about his time on PTS and has some juicy anonymous quotes from current Sportsnet staff:

 

“Everything that goes on around here, with respect to a financial issue, stems from that hockey contract”

 

  • It probably means nothing but Sportsnet’s website has some significant gaps at the moment

 

 

  • Most of his SN colleagues tweeted things about Bob. Deitsch penned a long statement that you can read here. Blocker Blair acknowledged Bob’s role — and that of ex-PTS producer Ryan Walsh — in putting him in a position to be the heir to the chair

 

 

  • There was not much from non-Rogers folks. Bruce Arthur and Steve Simmons both had something nice to say:

 

 

 

  • Simmons also added a lot more in his Sunday column:

 

“Bob McCown was like a great piece of Canadian furniture you didn’t want to part with. An antique of sports radio that made your house look better, feel better, got you through the day and then on to the next day.”

 

  • TV/Radio veteran Bill Brioux has a great write-up on the staying power of McCown and the end of that era.

 

“It was even fun listening when he didn’t appear to get along that well with his co-host of the moment. McCown had a way of treating those folks like “temps.” I don’t think his cantankerous approach was that much of an act, and if you understood that, I think, you got him as a co-worker as well as a listener.”

 

  • Elliotte Friedman spoke about Bob in his 31 Thoughts column:

 

“It was Bob McCown who gave me some of the greatest advice I ever received: “Don’t *&%$ With Happy!” He’d tell me constantly about people who left great situations for reasons that weren’t good enough and regretted it later.”

 

Monday Update: Rogers dropped the axe on dozens of jobs at Sportsnet after the media division posted an $84 million dollar loss in Q1. Rogers’ partner in the NHL rights deal TVA cut 68 jobs earlier this year. Canadian Press reports a Sportsnet statement explained the cuts as follows:

 

“Sportsnet is repositioning for the future by changing how it delivers content to audiences.”

 

Recently we caught a glimpse about what its repositioned vision might look like:

 

 

Best wishes to everyone at Rogers, especially those of you whose names we don’t know. DMs open, as well as email and text. See twitter handle.

 

 

Thanks for reading. Updates to follow …

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