Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


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
  • Strombo
  • 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?


Quick Hits


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)

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October 6, 2019 11:42 am

What do you mean by the Hayhurst comment? I got blocked on Twitter by Blair for saying Hayhurst and Scott Richmond should do baseball central. And I enjoyed Blair on radio, since then I have no use for him. My cousin who was a accountant for Bell tv side told me TSN made more money when the lockout was on. So they knew the smart financial move. 

October 6, 2019 12:12 pm

HNIC is not as bad as it once was since Rogers first year of control, more enjoyable to watch but still needs some fine tuning. Having Brian Burke on more frequently be a experience voice.
Now Sportnet Leafs game could use a upgrade , when the changes were made the quality suffered.

October 6, 2019 1:54 pm

Changes I would like in SN coverage:

1) LESS IS MORE – stop the incessant talking by the Jays broadcast crew. It is annoying and nauseating to the nth degree and the result is that they continually repeat themselves game in and game out. That is the reason my mute button is worn out and I can no longer read the word ‘mute’ on it.
But on the plus side, by design or luck, after only a decade or so, they have FINALLY figured out how to successfully iso a home run ball such that its landing does not make you go cross-eyed any more.Yes,they discovered perspective! Who new?

2) STOP INSULTING US – having to see a communist Chinese company advertising on HNIC while that country holds hostage fellow Canadians ( and every other damnable thing they are up to) is weak and pathetic. If they want to improve their image then dump the contract, pay the consequences and earn our respect. Us…you know, the democratic viewers in this democratic country who pay to watch the games? Yes I know, a company has no conscience but gee-whiz! Yes, I know, SN demonstrates disdain( being owned by Rogers makes it de facto) for its customers – in their DNA, maybe – as easily as breathing, but again, gee-whiz!

Hey SN! Try something new for a change. Try doing the right thing. I will supply all the crying towels you need. We can do this!!!!!!!!!!!!

WestDale Rocks
WestDale Rocks
October 6, 2019 2:14 pm

 It’s shocking how SNET has basically capitulated in the NHL news and information department.  TSN has blown them away since the TV deal was signed.  McKenzie, Button, Miller, Duthie vs Friedman, Marek, Burke and ?????.  Friedman is the only one at SNET who can hold a candle to TSN.  The rest are also rans.  What its SNET going to do on trade deadline day and free agent frenzy day?  Have Luke Fox standing there with a cell phone?  Puh-leeze.  
 Speaking of Luke Fox, it’s getting tiresome seeing his puff pieces front and centre on the SNET app.  It’s quickly getting to the stage where, if I see a Luke Fox byline, I don’t even bother.  
 Interesting to see what happens in the coming years with the hockey deal.  Clearly, the status quo, even with all the layoffs, won’t work fiscally for SNET.  I wonder if they’ll try to sell off some national games….but is TSN even interested in those?  Hockey fans don’t care about national games.  Local contracts are valuable and TSN has locked up most of those.  And I’m also interested in seeing what happens when the deal runs out.  Bettman (if he’s still there), won’t get nearly as much as he did with this deal.  Does HNIC come back as an independent producer of games?  Do all three nets split the national package?  And does a new player like DAZN come in?  One thing I think is clear.  There won’t nearly be as much hockey on TV then, as there is now.   
 You hit on something with Ashley Docking compensating with loudness.  It’s true, and it creates the opposite effect to the one she wants.  It tunes people out.  Some advice:  a good point is a good point, Ashley.  People will hear it.  And THAT’S what makes good sports radio.  Not the volume of the voice.  
 Bang on about Blair.  If you have time, go dig up the interview between him and Brunt with Dr. Harry Edwards a day or two after Trump was elected in 2016.  I swear to God, the preamble to Blair’s first question was north of 2 minutes!  Great guest….and the right questions got asked (eventually).  But geez…….

Gary M
Gary M
October 6, 2019 4:05 pm

Great article, Mike (not really in Boston). The Zito question genuinely made me laugh out loud.

I think the “sports rights fees only go up” idea is going to be shattered in the next half decade. Just as there was a time when movie star salaries only rose and then that trend fell apart. And there was a time Olympics rights were golden, and then suddenly the IOC could find itself without a Canadian broadcaster less than 2 years before the Games.

A lot of the underlying reasons for escalating sports rights fees are likely to evaporate.

Bingo Bango Bongo
Bingo Bango Bongo
October 6, 2019 4:42 pm

I find it interesting that you say the Fan’s Lead Off is better than the two previous iterations and then go into what it needs to work on, which is 67% of the talent on the show. I may be the only one to say it but I’m not ready to give Scott MacArthur better marks than Greg Brady just yet. Docking will be a work in progress for awhile and Zigomanis sounds like a nice guy but has miles to go before being remotely ready for prime time. I’m not a fan of Landsberg or Coloaicovo either. I just hope both shows improve. 

Bob Jones
Bob Jones
October 6, 2019 11:31 pm

Speaking of low hanging fruit, the continued employment of the conjoined term Shapkins and its’ various iterations remains childish and borders on xenophobic at times. Certainly we’re allowed to criticize the work of these two men but what’s with the playground name calling? It’s not cute and only serves to undermine the credibility of this site which generally gets it right.

October 7, 2019 9:43 am

Jeff Blair’s idea of a question is a 60-second recitation of his own view with “isn’t that right?” at the end.

October 7, 2019 10:04 am

Bob Jones.  “Xenophobic”?  How so?  The conjoined term “Shapkins” or “Shatkins” refers to the fact that Atkins is definitely not an independent GM.  If the term comes with some derisiveness, so be it……many think they’ve done a terrible job.  

Original Mitch
Original Mitch
October 7, 2019 1:47 pm

HNIC has become unwatchable. After giving it an honest go this past week, I’ve rarely seen a more boring broadcast of a professional sporting event. I know you all love him, but Friedman is awful. He brings nothing. His “news” is stuff he read on twitter and his opinions are always both sides of the fence. “I talked to his agent and he may or may not sign soon” – thanks pal, great insight. The second intermission had the combined charisma of a funeral. Not to mention the play by play and colour commentator are just brutal. “That was a good  save when his team needed it” – thanks pal, great insight. 
Say what you want about previous incarnations but at least they tried stuff in the past. This is a new low.

October 7, 2019 4:31 pm

I think it’s a handy and useful exercise to compare the Rogers top NHL hockey team (both in the booth and in the studio) to their counterparts in other sports.

-NBA: TNT leads the way with the highly-respected duo of Marv Albert and Kevin Harlan splitting play-by-play duties, while the studio show Inside the NBA is widely regarded to be the best studio show in all of sports.

-NFL: FOX has had the #1 studio show forever and Joe Buck/Troy Aikman are solid. Meanwhile Tony Romo has single-handedly revitalized CBS and over at NBC Michaels/Collinsworth are nothing short of excellent. NBC has also turned Football Night in America into a household brand, edging out Monday Night Football in the process.

Meanwhile, Rogers trots out a boring, bland duo with laughably clear anti-Leafs animus as their #1 play-by-play team. It’s so bad that when the Leafs were in the playoffs I’d stream the NBC feed instead. Not only that, but they forced a far superior living legend into retirement who’s been sadly reduced to doing commercial voice-over work. In the studio, the situation isn’t much better. Nothing but good things to say about Ron Maclean, and Cherry is Cherry (you either love him or you hate him), but is there anything else on the broadcast that makes you want to watch? I like Friedman, Hrudey, and Burke individually, but the parts don’t fit that well together. There’s no chemistry or personality to the show. Contrast that with the NBA on TNT or the NFL on FOX shows, which are so good precisely because they have fun and distinctive personalities. The Rogers show has the personality of a wet napkin in comparison.

I think the biggest indictment of HNIC on Sportsnet is that they wanted to become the #1 voice and destination for hockey in Canada. They wanted to be the authority on hockey in this country. Instead, the TSN guys are still more highly-regarded and their play-by-play is so bad that people would rather watch NBC in the playoffs. Hockey fans in Canada are under-served compared to NFL and NBA fans, though that shouldn’t be a surprise given Rogers’ longstanding track record of being a terrible company.

October 7, 2019 6:56 pm

The NBA/China story was on my political/foreign policy feed today yet I don’t see any of the usual Sportsnet guys talking about it on Twitter. Did Prime Time Sports, or whatever its called these days, cover it? Surely when a sports league, particularly a property of Sportsnet/TSN, moves beyond the back pages into politics that’s a big story, no?

(Another) Andrew
(Another) Andrew
October 7, 2019 7:16 pm

The NBA/China story was on my political/foreign policy feed today and yet I don’t see any of the usual FAN/Sportsnet guys talking about it on Twitter. Did Prime Time Sports, or whatever its called these days, cover it?  Surely when a sports league – and a property of Sportsnet/TSN! – is being pilloried by political observers/human rights activists and a foreign state is cutting ties to a franchise owner that’s a big story for a serious sports radio/TV channel to discuss, no?  Maybe too sensitive and unPC for our corporate sports media? 

October 7, 2019 11:57 pm

The “less is more” model is worth studying in the States. Sunday Night Football, which used to be the black sheep of the weekly schedule before NBC took over, is now the highest rated program in America. That’s NBC’s only game, and the amount of resources they throw at that one production is highly impressive. ESPN also has just one game and they make a go of Monday Night Football (never quite settling on a stable crew, unfortunately) and though they never reach the heights of SNF they do have one of the most followed insiders in Adam Schefter, and they do break most NFL stories. For these two networks it’s about quality over quantity, as opposed to the packages of games divvied up by FOX and CBS.

Unfortunately, this is not an option for Rogers or any network that decides they must have exclusive rights to the NHL. With the way the NHL deal is scheduled to get more expensive year after year, Sportsnet has to do both more and less with hockey, simultaneously. They have to reduce headcount in front of and behind the camera to save costs, and at the same time they will try to show more games than ever to try to get as many ad spots as they can. It’s not an enviable position to be in, nor is it a recipe for quality.

Paul G.
Paul G.
October 8, 2019 2:12 pm

@Donny…”reduce headcount…nor is it a recipe for quality”.

You have perfectly summarized the current state of SN’s broadcasting product; both television and radio.

Mike S
Mike S
October 8, 2019 2:34 pm

The sports media cost cutting appears to have made its way to Leafs radio broadcasts……… the past on 1050 Jim Tatti has always had a sidekick (Jeff O’Neill, Patrick O’Sullivan, Greg Gilbert, etc)…………..but so far this year he has been solo and there have been people on the phone to provide the “analysis”…………….last week during one of the intermissions it was Matt Cauz…………….and last night one of the guest analysts was Ian Tulloch (The Athletic)…………it was a bit awkward when Tulloch started the discussion by referring to Tatti as “Ken”

October 9, 2019 12:25 pm

How does Steve Dangle have any qualifications to be on a hockey broadcast, other than he did a blog out of his parents’ basement? Any time that fool is shown on my TV it goes to another channel. Does he buy the coffee and donuts so the real talent will talk to him? He passed his expiry date several years ago.

Slim Whitman
Slim Whitman
October 10, 2019 5:17 pm

@ Rob…Ya kinda like watching See-Pee 24 in Toronto
Whoever brings in a tray of Tim’s double doubles gets to read the news for a couple of hours.

chiming in from the '6'
chiming in from the '6'
October 11, 2019 4:39 pm

couldn’t have said it better Rob, about the talentless Steve Dangle. He used to call in to Jeff Blair when he had his md morning FAN 590 show, and always sounded deranged and over the top in his comments about sport. Part of the problems SPORTSNET AND FAN 590 are having.

I supported on twitter having Docking and Mike Z. having more radio time on FAN 590, and they are combined now full time morning on LEADOFF. I have great confidence in Ashley being a very good sports cohost, and like her potential to AMY LAWRENCE who FAN590 airs overnight. Zig will have time to comment about other sports besides hockey, as time goes by. ScottyMac will keep they other cohosts in the loop and will become a show that will beat FIRST UPV competition at TSN Radio.

Speaking of FURST UP – I can’t stand how Lands and producer Korolnick prop up and complement CC every time he brings up relevant stats on a sport issue or topic, and ooh and awwh him like he was a Grade 2 students and what a good boy he was bringing up said facts or stats.

I’ve always appreciated when Ziggy was on HOCKEY CENTRAL how calm, concise and collected he was on tv and he continues being rational without having to be prompted by his new morning cohosts. Something CC should be trying to emulate along with ML not pouting on how smart CC is .It’s CC’S job to be up to date and relevant with pre show research, as he’s no longer a newbie in sports radio broadcasting biz

chiming in from the '6'
chiming in from the '6'
October 11, 2019 4:43 pm

Couldn’t agree more with talentless that is Steve Dangle, who used to call in to Jeff Blair during times on his mid morning show RAMBLINHG ON endlessly like a fanatical general fan

October 11, 2019 8:32 pm

SN and TSN dropping podcasts after only a year screams to be that their sales department has no idea how to sell advertising for them. This isn’t surprising though considering both networks are over five years too late to the podcast game.

Chance Vought
Chance Vought
October 11, 2019 10:29 pm

Michael Grange parroting actual Chinese government talking points on the final PTS roundtable was quite the thing to hear. And then him calling the NBA’s handling of the issue “brave”…wow. Access “journalism” really requires one to just abandon all professional integrity, eh?

Bob Jones
Bob Jones
October 12, 2019 12:05 am

I heard that too and almost drove off the road.

October 12, 2019 8:50 am

I’d add in that with Grange being a Rogers employee also meant he probably had to tow the pro-China line, Rogers having that deal with Huawei and all.

As for the final PTS – it kinda felt like it went with a whimper rather than a bang. A little talk about old shows in the 4pm hour but otherwise they treated it like it was any other show. As much as I like Grange and Friedman why couldn’t Roger spring for bringing back some of the past people more associated with the show for the one last gathering of the roundtable? I suppose that shows more than anything how Rogers feels about the show, its legacy, etc.

Paul G.
Paul G.
October 12, 2019 9:22 am

@Hans…SN could care less. As one who watches the simulcast on SN360, I once again was forced to switch to the radio feed at 6:30 since they recently began scheduling a wrestling show in that 30 minute slot.

For the last PTS I had hoped that they would leave the cameras on for the final 20 minutes; but the powers that be obviously just wanted the show to go away!

October 12, 2019 5:05 pm

I really like Grange but he completely bottled it on the roundtable yesterday. Drawing false equivalencies between China and the U.S./Canada with regards to human rights abuses was an insult. (Yes, Trump-era America is pretty ugly, but still nowhere near what goes on in China – at least yet.) And defending Adam Silver as being “brave” for basically rolling over to the Chinese position was hard to listen to. Silver was regarded as very progressive before (when money wasn’t on the line), but he now looks like any other commissioner Very disappointed with Grange – I guess he’s as “owned” as any other SN employee.

Bingo Bango Bongo
Bingo Bango Bongo
October 12, 2019 8:00 pm

It’s really easy to judge the comments of others and decide they were towing the company line. The NBA/China issue isn’t as simple as most sports stories. Say what you will but the fact is the Chinese government doesn’t have to do anything . It does what it feels is right for them, like every other country. I think their reaction to Morey’s comments is ridiculous and shortsighted, but they make the decisions there, not some woke dorks who don’t like it. And because there’s billions…with a b…at stake, of course Adam Silver has to tap-dance. The mistake was not allowing a reporter to ask a question of the players about how they felt about it. That looked weak. People all love freedom of speech…until it costs money

October 12, 2019 11:29 pm

Very good post.

October 24, 2019 7:31 pm

A couple days ago there was a newer ‘latest post’. I only saw the icon for the page and didn’t have time to post at the time. Now it is gone – what happened?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x