by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Good morning sports media fans. We had a very busy week and rather than posting several short stories I have collected the big news here. As always, if there are things you think we missed please add links in the comments or email/DM me.
The Godfather, Part II
When Rogers secured the national NHL rights for $5.2 billion in 2013 there was an immediate rush to lock down high profile hockey insiders. According to multiple published reports Scott Moore’s plan was to raid TSN’s roster by offering lots of money and the opportunity to be part of the exclusive home of HNIC and playoff hockey. The deal was announced in mid November, and by early December TSM reported that TSN’s three biggest names had signed new deals to stay with their home network. A week later Dave Shoalts wrote that Duthie, McKenzie, and Dreger all chose to stay at TSN without even receiving a formal offer from Sportsnet.
The fact that the top talent chose TSN over SN despite the disparity in hockey broadcast rights was surprising at the time but portentous in retrospect. As we now know, the new rights deal has been a disaster for Sportsnet and many bodies have been sacrificed to appease the accounting overlords. It’s possible that an HNIC hosted by Duthie with McKenzie and Dreger on the panel would have fared better than the Moore-designed dream team of Stroumboulopoulos, Cox, Kypreos, and Healy. However the consistently poor ratings since the Sportsnet takeover suggest a deeper disconnect between the purchase price and the value of a whole season’s worth of NHL games. Hockey is Canada’s game, but during the regular season unless your home team is playing that night most Canadians seem happier watching The Bachelor.
With the start of Season Six (of twelve) of the Rogers NHL deal news broke that Bob McKenzie – The Godfather of Canadian hockey – had re-signed for another five years with TSN. In the Bell press release McKenzie said:
“I could not be more proud, honoured, and excited to know I’m going to continue to be part of the TSN family for so many years to come. This is home for me. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
The last line seems rather pointed in the context of the battle between TSN and SN for hockey supremacy. Both networks refer to themselves as “#1” in public statements, and compete quarter by quarter for ratings dominance and the annual top spot in the specialty channel rankings. The prediction (by some inside Rogers) that the rights deal would decimate TSN turned out to be woefully mistaken. As we have written many times in this space, competition is good for the marketplace as it allows talent to leverage their value to earn better wages and working conditions. Right now it is the wealthiest workers who enjoy these negotiating benefits for the most part, as we have seen with TSN’s hockey insiders. In an ideal world the people working at lower rungs at Bell would also benefit from TSN’s shrewd handling of the loss of national hockey rights.
Retaining McKenzie in 2013 was a coup for TSN. Re-signing him now in light of Sportsnet’s struggles is another decisive win. This ensures that TSN will continue to be the leader on trades, firings, and signings for the next several years. McKenzie has made several public statements about wanting to retire after his next deal so TSN needs to think about how they will succeed after The Godfather moves on.
Sportsnet Hockey v3.0
The news that McKenzie will not be taking his talents to One Mount Pleasant is bad for Sportsnet but hardly a surprise. After a year that featured a second round of deep cuts at Rogers, Sportsnet is preparing for a much leaner approach to their hockey coverage. By way of quick recap here is a list of public facing names from the last 5 yeas who are no longer part of Sportsnet hockey in year six:
- Nick Kypreos
- John Shannon
- Scott Morrison
- Daren Millard
- Bob Cole
- Glenn Healy
- PJ Stock
- Damien Cox
- Billy Jaffe
- Chantal Desjardins
- Corey Hirsch
- Leah Hextall
For a fun walk down memory lane have a look at this Star article from 2014 trying to predict where all the insiders would end up in a Rogers HNIC rights world. Some people probably moved on willingly, and others were likely let go on the merits, however the public line from Rogers has been that most of the recent departures are strictly about money. I’m not sure what that implies about those who remain: are they good or are they cheap?
Fortunately Sportsnet employs the tirelessly talented Elliotte Friedman who provides boundless credibility despite the constant rotation around him. Sportsnet’s priority should be on giving him the support he needs to do his job, and greater creative control. If he were to leave for greener pastures there is no one internally who could fill the void. The slimmed down coverage in 2019-20 will feature a lot of Ron McLean, Don Cherry, Friedman, Jeff Marek, David Amber, Chris Johnston, and Brian Burke.
The Twitter partnership on the #IceSurfing show will continue. The show begins this Tuesday with Marek, and contributions from Steve Dangle.
Moore described the concept of the show as a way to drive audiences to subscribe to Rogers’ hockey packages, on cable or on streaming:
“An 18-year-old hockey fan on a Tuesday night is not necessarily tuning in to a whole game, but they’ll watch bits and pieces of a game … If we drop into a Jets game and that game is really exciting, we’ll say, ‘You can watch that game on Rogers NHL Live, click here to subscribe; you can watch this game on Sportsnet Now … This is the type of program you have to do to go find your audience.”
Moore was apparently unsuccessful in securing a title sponsor for the show, which was another of his stated ambitions as he tried to generate more revenue from Rogers’ $5.2 billion dollar investment in hockey. New Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley made the rounds recently to tout his vision for the network:
“It is definitely a fragmented entertainment market, and we are always fighting for eyeballs and listeners, but we’re doing well. What we’re doing is trying to position this company for the next five, 10 years. We’ve been really successful the last few years on the strength of our hockey, basketball, baseball programming, (becoming) the No. 1 sports media brand. We know we’ve got a lot of work to do … to adapt to our viewers, listeners and clients — actually with advertisers. So really, anything we’re doing is positioning us for the future.”
The future Yabsley describes is a world that de-centralizes the bread and butter of traditional advertising models, namely the guy sitting on his couch for three hours watching the game and all its commercials and promos. PVRs disrupted that 20 years ago. Time-shifting disrupted that again 10 years ago. The next disruption came from second screens, which significantly devalued commercial spots. All of this takes place against the background of cord-cutting and a shrinking installed user base for cable.
The American NHL rights deal is up for renewal after 2021-22 and will provide a good indication of where things are headed. Leagues are very much invested in the future of streaming, both for games and for secondary content like panels, highlights, and fan engagement. The current deal with NBC is worth $200 million per year, while the Rogers deal is around $435 million (with TVA paying $120 million of that). Rights fees only ever go up, so networks will need to figure out how they can pay more for the privilege of broadcasting games on declining traditional revenues.
This is the main question that Yabsley will need to work on for the next six years, while the back-loaded NHL contract costs his company more in the years to come. Until new revenue streams are found, Sportsnet’s hockey coverage will be a very tight ship.
Questions for you: What further changes would you like to see to Sportsnet’s coverage? Have you watched IceSurfing? What are your 2nd screen preferences during the game?
Both TSN and SN dumped some high profile podcasts this year. On the SN side, neither A Swing And A Belt (Dan Shulman) nor The Lede (Brunt and Blair) saw second seasons. TSN canceled The Bobcast. Dreger’s podcast is no more but he is now doing one with Ferraro “in partnership” with TSN. Ferraro’s podcast also went dark last year. It will be interesting to see where this is headed as the economics of podcasting are still very new and in flux.
ICYMI: there has been a lot of discussion of Bruins radio’s Jack Edwards referring to a hockey injury as “karma”. Awful Announcing has the latest.
Gregor Chisholm of The Star has a good end of season piece on the Jays, and how Shapkins will handle this offseason: “It must be mentioned that, as per usual, Rogers appears to have bungled this entire situation. It’s never ideal to have a president or general manager entering the final year of this contract without some type of assurances from ownership. That often leads to decisions based on survival, instead of gut instincts.”
TSN has hired Nathalie Cook to replace Mark Milliere as VP in charge of production and digital strategy. She makes her TSM debut via the McKenzie press release: “Bob McKenzie sets the bar that makes TSN’s hockey coverage the best in the business. Bob’s encyclopedic hockey knowledge, deep connections in the industry, and consummate professionalism make him a model of excellence for our entire organization, and we could not be more thrilled to have him with us at TSN for years to come.”
Low Hanging Fruit
- FAN590’s new morning show Lead Off finished their first week. It’s an improvement over both of the previous iterations but still has lots of work to do. Three hosts is a lot of talking and there is a pecking order, whether they know it or not. Zigomanis is obviously the expert on hockey, but lacks a lot of broadcasting experience. MacArthur is clearly in charge of the show, knows a lot about baseball and enjoys talking NFL. Docking has a reputation for being knowledgeable about basketball, and with camp starting next week should get some more airtime. Right now she’s a bit of a third wheel and seems to get loud as a way of compensating.
- Remember when we cared about what Dirk Hayhurst had to say about the Jays?
- Jeff Blair is a terrible radio interviewer. Exhibit A: here he is asking Wendel Clark a 30 second question about opening night for the Leafs.
- Jeff Blair is a terrible radio interviewer. Exhibit B: here he is asking Barry Zito a 75 second question about his book.
- Richard Deitsch is a good radio interviewer. Here he is following up on Blair with Wendel.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)