by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Good morning sports media fans. Busy couple of weeks in sports so I’m clearing out the queue before it gets too large. As always, if there are things you think we missed please add links in the comments or email/DM me.
Speaker For The Dead
I had intended to do a long compilation and analysis piece on the Kobe reactions, but by mid-week it seemed like there were really only two camps. You either thought it was too soon to talk about his sexual assault charges or you thought that this was an important part of his life and so it had to be part of the story of his death.
I am in the latter camp. I would feel differently if it were, e.g. Michael Jordan’s gambling allegations, or Alex Rodriguez’s fondness for Toronto’s exotic dancers. If one of those men died tragically in an accident involving their children and the children of others I would agree that the salacious details can wait for another day. But Kobe’s case involves the forcible confinement and rape of a 19 year old hotel worker by a massively powerful athlete. As Bruce Arthur put it this week, “[i]t’s a huge part of a huge life.”
If you want a glimpse into the other side of this debate, here is ex-Sportsnet radio star Dean Blundell: “Any parent with a heart would have focused on the heartbreak of a family forever changed in an unfathomably painful tragedy.” Dean also wrote this: “Bruce probably rubs his hands together when the unpure suffer horrific tragedies and rubs himself like Buffalo Bill in Silence of The Lambs in anticipation of his next big chance at achieving Twitter diety. [sic]” There are 4 comments on The Star’s site in response to Bruce’s story. Two of the four refer to his article as “classless”.
Insults aside, I have some sympathy for the “too soon” perspective: the bodies have not yet been buried, and it’s reasonable to want space and time to be able to grieve and come to grips with the loss. But the larger context swings it in the other direction, for me. Society has been trying to teach boys and men that “no means no” is no longer an acceptable standard for consent to sexual relations. Instead, you should not proceed unless there is affirmative, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent. According to the published facts of the case, Kobe flunked both of these tests and was still welcomed back into all areas of professional and social life. That’s part of his legacy, the NBA’s legacy, and society’s evolving standards as well. For those reasons, I think it’s fair to talk about Colorado alongside all the things that made Kobe great as a player and a father.
There are not a lot of interesting local angles to the Kobe tragedy; the 81-point game is his most well-known connection to the Raptors. Richard Deitsch compiled a list of notable pieces over at The Athletic. He also has an excellent podcast (outside The Athletic) discussing Kobe’s life and death. In addition he put in 15 hours on FAN590 this week. I’m not sure how someone manages to do two full-time jobs plus a podcast, but if you’re not following the Sports Media Mamba you’re missing out. If you want a deep dive on the ethics of writing about tragedy, here’s my discussion with Dan Robson who delivered the definitive account of the Ray Emery story.
Over to you: Are you in the “too soon” or “not soon enough” camp? Is there a better position somewhere in between?
Biggest Sports Media Story of 2019
I have been bouncing this question around for the last few weeks trying to come up with options to put in a poll. All my discussions came back to two and only two stories: 1) Bob McCown, and 2) Don Cherry. We covered both of these in depth here and here. Of note, the Bob McCown bombshell registered about 7 times more clicks than the Cherry firing.
Other big sports media stories in 2019 included the continued rise of The Athletic, who hope to earn a profit in 2020 on an expected worldwide readership of over a million subscribers. Their strategy, according to their co-founders, is to wait out the bleeding legacy outlets, poach their best writers, and then worry about delivering a “large” profit back on the $140 million investment of their partners. The 2019 annual sticker price of $60 (USD) continued to be a bargain, even before the 40% discount.
On the other side of this coin, The Star and the Globe both shrunk in 2019. The Star has cut road travel significantly, and began to fold their sports section inside other sections. Dave Shoalts and Robert MacLeod took buyouts from the Globe and have not been replaced (as far as I can tell). The Sun continues to travel and has not cut staff significantly.
Finally, 2019 was the year TSN1050 caught up to FAN590, both numerically and in terms of mindshare. One of the biggest questions for 2020 is whether Overdrive will establish itself as the radio show of record for the market now that PTS is done, and whether this tide will lift the other time slots at 1050 into prominence. The station continues to broadcast US syndicated programming in the mid-mornings.
With all that in mind here is the specific question I am posing: which story from 2019 had the most impact on your viewing, listening, and reading habits?
You can pick up to 3. If the Cherry firing hasn’t affected you at all, don’t vote for it. If you stopped listening after McCown was let go, vote for that but don’t vote for Overdrive if you haven’t actually started listening to it more as a result. Same point for legacy media vs The Athletic. I am trying to get a sense of whether and how these items have an impact on you. Please explain your answers and add anything I left out in the comments.
In sports media roster moves, Dave Zarum was let got by Sportsnet. He was their digital editor for basketball, as well as a writer going back to the magazine. No replacement has been announced. Nick Ashbourne was part of the recent Yahoo! layoffs, and has landed baseball writing gigs at both The Athletic and Sportsnet.
It’s February which means there’s a ton of Jays coverage coming. The Star’s Gregor Chisholm gets the year off rolling with this controversial take on the Stroman trade: “The final verdict won’t be known for another year or two, but the perception has started to shift in Toronto’s favour, and for a front office that used to be only bombarded with negative press that must count for something.”
Still with The Star, Dave Feschuk had a good article on what will happen if the Leafs’ season stays off the rails: “If the Leafs don’t right the ship and win a round, it’ll be seen as the GM’s fault that the franchise wasted 23 games with Babcock in charge when the firing was inevitable.”
The NFL’s New Orleans Saints are implicated in an attempt to cover up Catholic sexual abuse. We have seen leagues punish owners harshly for their private actions. This one will be interesting to follow.
The NHL’s All-Star weekend is over which means it’s a good time to discuss what they can do better next year. With the failure and cancelation of Gary’s Olympic alternative, the ASG seems like a good time to try out some more nationalistic competition models.
Low Hanging Fruit
- Congratulations to everyone who had to go on air on Monday and speak semi-extemporaneously about Kobe. This is a difficult part of the job and it’s hard to avoid falling into platitudes. While I could nitpick specific phrases or arguments I heard, overall I think the work was good.
- Of all the Let’s Talk tweets, this one affected me the most. Thank you to everyone who took time to share their stories.
— Paul Bromby (@PaulBromby) January 29, 2020
- This tweet garnered some attention. There’s a lot of Hollywood math when it comes to the raw data from Numeris – this graphic doesn’t even manage to show an apples to apples comparison – so we will need to wait until season’s end to get a complete picture of the HNIC ratings for Year 6 of this great experiment.
Despite firing Don Cherry, HNIC sees 5% YOY increase on Saturday nights.
Real Canadians have spoken. https://t.co/WcSP0jW7gm
- Remember Gregg Zaun? #baseballapp
— Gregg Zaun (@GreggZaun) January 24, 2020
- Typos are the ultimate low-hanging fruit but when you work for a media company and have spent the last few seasons struggling to get your point across then it’s fair game. Respect to Mark for leaving it up.
Fired up to speak w our prospects in town for our Development Program. Always fun to be around our players and staff who are driven to GET BETER EVERYDAY! pic.twitter.com/nTElFO39CW
— Mark Shapiro (@MarkShapiro) January 17, 2020
- When you systematically underhire women, this is what you end up with. TSN deserves all the ridicule they are receiving for this graphic.
To commemorate Black History Month, TSN will celebrate the achievements of Black Canadian athletes, highlighting their stories, and showcasing their impact in shaping the history of Canada. pic.twitter.com/RCaDs8tzIg
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) February 1, 2020
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)
photo credit: The Star, uncredited