Complete Carnage At Bell Media Radio: Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton Sports Stations Eliminated

by TSM & Mike

 

Developing… Bell earlier this am flipped the switch at three stations from regular programming to ESPN radio with staff being alerted that their station was being gutted today, transitioned away from Sports. Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Hamilton are the stations gutted. More later …

 

Early afternoon update:

 

 

The rationale for the decision is as follows:

 

“While these are relatively modest changes to our overall radio business (we have more than 100 stations in 58 markets across the country), they align with our strategy of focusing on serving the largest possible audiences with the content they want the most while leveraging the efficiencies of our broader organization.” – Bell Management email

 

We are also hearing details about that this decision was not announced to staff prior to the shut down, and that employees were told they had 30 minutes to remove their personal belongings from the premises.

 

Jeff Marek provided some of the best commentary on the situation:

 

 

New Bell President Wade Oosterman addressed the recent wave of cuts in an internal email saying among other things that many of these changes would have happened in 2020 were it not for the pandemic. This implies that the structural inefficiencies in the media wing were seen to be systemic rather than circumstantial.

“We’re streamlining the way we work to enhance our efficiency, reduce our costs, and make Bell Media more accessible and easier to deal with for all stakeholders – audiences, creators, technology partners, advertisers and distributors. The adjustments were making to some of our radio stations this week offer a good example of Bell Media’s readiness to change when it’s right for the business, especially when our costs are too high to justify or we simply have a better model to serve a given market place. […] While these are relatively modest changes to our overall radio business (we have more than 100 stations in 58 markets across the country), they align with our strategy of focusing on serving the largest possible audience with the content they want the most while leveraging the efficiencies of our broader organization.”

 

While Rogers’ cuts over the last 5 years have been perceived to be responses to the weight of their underperforming investment in NHL rights, Bell has no similar liability. They have smartly diversified their rights deals to include the NFL, soccer, basketball, regional NHL games, some marquee MLB matchups, golf, and a sprinkling of other sports. In other words, Bell is positioning itself for what it sees as the future of sports media rather than trying to make up for past mistakes.

 

It’s worth noting that radio makes up a very small portion of sports media revenues. Running a sports radio station requires a large staff of hosts, producers, technicians, as well as salespeople and various other support services. This is much more expensive than music and other formats that rely on pre-recorded content.

 

However, as seen in Toronto, a strong radio brand like FAN590 helped develop the profile of Sportsnet’s personalities. Radio also provides cheap content for idle hours on TV. In abandoning 3 markets TSN now has 4 remaining radio stations: Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, and Ottawa. Sportsnet competes with them in Toronto, and now has Vancouver and Calgary to themselves.

 

In other news, Brian Burke is leaving Sportsnet. We will discuss that more fully another day.

 

 

Analysis: (Mike)

 

We have many questions, but the most pressing one is why Bell is bailing on a market like Vancouver, where they have been the voice of sports for more than a decade.

 

Sportsnet has been competing with them for the last three years but TSN1040 is still winning the ratings battles. To provide some context for Toronto folks, imagine if FAN590 walked away from sports radio 5 years ago? What possible explanation would have been convincing for why this was a good decision?

 

Second, we have been talking about the demise of sports radio as a format for a few years now, but there is still lots of money to be made, especially for big media brands like Rogers and Bell. Sports radio helps fuel sports media in general, which in turn sells cable subscriptions and cell phone packages. To see the incumbent just walk away from a market like Vancouver is shocking. What do they know about the future that would make this make sense?

 

It’s striking that they didn’t even try a half-measure, like running ESPN content for most of the day while slimming the line-up down to just a morning and afternoon show. TSN1050 has been doing a version of this for years. Another compromise would have been to try a national format where content from some of the remaining stations would be syndicated across Bell’s network. This could have reduced costs, albeit at the expense of truly local content.

 

 

Third, Sportsnet did their due diligence and decided that Vancouver was a big enough market to make it worth their while to try to pull some advertising dollars away from incumbent TSN1040. If that’s right, why is Bell simply handing all of that over to Rogers at this time? How can it be a good business decision to abdicate when you’re in the lead? Some answers might be found in the fact that both stations are near the bottom in the overall market ratings. See this helpful thread:

 

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