by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
Good morning sports media fans. As the industry continues to evolve in 2021, sports media news drops in fits and starts. We are in a bit of a lull as the industry recovers from COVID, and prepares for a return to normal life in the fall. Here are some stories from the last week or two. As always, if there are things you think we missed please add links in the comments or email/DM me.
The Alomar Story
News broke on Friday that Roberto Alomar had been dismissed from his roles with MLB and the Blue Jays. This was the result of an independent investigation commissioned by MLB into sexual misconduct allegations brought forth by a former employee. The league issued the following statement:
“Having reviewed all the available evidence from the now completed investigation, I have concluded that Mr. Alomar violated MLB’s policies, and that termination of his consultant contract and placement on MLB’s ineligible list are warranted […] We are grateful for the courage of the individual who came forward. MLB will continue to strive to create environments in which people feel comfortable speaking up without feat of recrimination, retaliation, or exclusion.”
The Blue Jays followed up with their own statement, doubling-down on distancing themselves from Alomar:
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 30, 2021
Alomar himself issued a statement, citing the current social media climate, and promising to defend himself if given the chance:
My statement: pic.twitter.com/4AXQeDH6vd
— Roberto Alomar (@Robbiealomar) April 30, 2021
Here are some notable moments from the local media coverage of this story.
The Athletic published a summary of the events, credited to “staff“, but provided no analysis or original reporting by their Toronto writers. The outlet lost John Lott to retirement and fired Andrew Stoeten in 2020 and have not replaced them despite claims they would do so. This is the kind of story on which paid subscribers would want detailed local coverage rather than wire service copy.
By contrast, The Star published stories by three of their four baseball writers. Here is Rosie Dimanno, criticizing the decision to remove Alomar’s name from the level of excellence:
“The vacuum of information leaves a worrisome gap for warranting so ham-fisted a decision. And this comes from someone who was once called a “f—— c—” by a player in the Jays clubhouse; who, on another occasion, had a player simulate pelvis thrusting from the rear while I was bending over to conduct an interview with another player at his stall. These were not incidents I reported to the club or to my employer. I’m just not that delicate a flower.”
While MLB is trying to enforce professional standards from its employees and provide safe working conditions for media, DiManno chooses to refer to complainants as delicate flowers. Her colleague Mike Wilner had this to say:
“When the Jays saw the results of the independent investigation, they made the unprecedented decision to remove Alomar’s name from the Level of Excellence and take down the banner retiring his number and celebrating his induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. As fans, we feel angry, hurt, sad and betrayed for admiring, maybe even loving, someone who could behave in such a way. We don’t know what happened, and we may never know. MLB revealed no details out of respect to the complainant, whose lawyer Lisa Banks told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi that her client “has no plans to file a lawsuit or take further action … She simply wants to ensure that Mr. Alomar is held accountable for his wrongdoing.””
It’s unusual to see a baseball writer refer to himself as a fan, but since moving to The Star after being fired from Sportsnet Mike Wilner has been refreshingly honest. The quote from the complainant’s lawyer is also notable here, since it contradicts a report by the recently resurfaced Rick Westhead, in which he quotes a source as saying that a lawsuit is in the works:
“A person familiar with the issue said that a complaint against Alomar was filed with the Blue Jays months ago, alleging he acted inappropriately in an incident that occurred several years earlier. […] The complainant has retained attorneys and is believed to be preparing a lawsuit against Alomar, the Blue Jays and MLB, the person said.”
I would have thought this story was right in Cathal Kelly’s wheelhouse, but instead he filed a meditation on fighting in hockey. Maybe he’ll write about this next week. Once again, the Globe misses a chance to be part of an important sports conversation. Scott Stinson of Postmedia provides some good procedural analysis to the mix:
“This is the rare case where the process reached its conclusion absent any of the media uproar that typically follows such accusations. So far, none of the parties have aired any of the details. And, given Alomar’s beloved status in the game, it also follows that the investigation’s findings must have been serious for the league and the Blue Jays to cut ties with him so completely. With a few exceptions, Major League Baseball is not often accused of overreacting in disciplinary matters.”
The absolute best thing on this topic came in this morning from Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.
“The process and outcome are really important for the league and its clubs to truly make their workplaces safer and more inclusive. Those viewing the allegation against Alomar, and those related to others, through embedded sexist and lazy tropes routinely used to diminish women’s complaints about unwanted sexual behaviours – can’t take a joke, unhinged with an agenda, scorned and seeking vengeance – are overdue for a serious rethink.”
In his Sunday notes column, Steve Simmons added:
“Major League Baseball owes it to fans and especially Blue Jays fans to go public with details of the investigation of Alomar. Imagine if a court in a free society operated with such secrecy. Imagine the outrage. This isn’t Russia or China. I don’t know what Alomar did, or what he’s accused of, or any details at all. None of us do, but we’re being asked to accept a decision without any facts at all. I’m not in any way defending Alomar. Nor would I ever defend sexual misconduct. In this case all I’m defending is truth”
I’m not sure why Simmons thinks he’s entitled to details of someone else’s termination. That seems like a workplace matter between the employer and the employee. If Alomar wants to sue for wrongful dismissal he’s welcome to do so.
The writer whom I most want to read is Stephen Brunt, but given that he has exactly one writing credit in 2021, I’m not holding my breath. On the radio side, I went to the market’s #1 radio show to hear what they had to say. Bryan Hayes ended the first hour by mentioning the story, before handing the mic over to Jeff O’Neill:
“What it is is a sad ending Bryan. He was one of the most revered Blue Jays of all time. […] The difficult thing about these situations is the timing of it. We’re going back to 2013 [sic], and what actually was being investigated. And for people to comment and say this or that; you don’t know the facts, so don’t comment. But MLB did a thorough investigation as they said they were going to do, and they deemed that this conduct was enough for him to be out of baseball. So that’s that, and that’s the end of it, it’s a sad ending for Roberto Alomar in Toronto. But that’s the going rate of doing business when people do an investigation like that, and they have those findings, it’s just the baseball stuff is gone.”
The subtext of O’Neill’s comments about timing are plain. He doesn’t think it’s fair to Alomar to dredge up the past. I’m not sure why O-Dog is commenting at all after telling people not to comment, but the theme of sadness and disappointment for people other than the victim in this case continued in the final hour of the show with TSN baseball reporter Scott Mitchell:
“You know … I think you can only look at it as disappointing, and you have to look at the fact … you know … that they looked at all the evidence and they concluded … you know … yeah that this was warranted. He obviously sent out a statement on twitter as well pretty quickly saying that he was disappointed and surprised by it. So … you know … I think it caught everyone off guard a little bit and yeah, I think when you look at what the Blue Jays did, they acted decisively and swiftly, and I think … you know … that says … you know … what you saw in that evidence that MLB found in the investigation … you know … it’s just unfortunate for everyone involved at this point.”
Bryan Hayes ended the interview with: “Yep. That’s well put.” Over on FAN590, Richard Deitsch had this to say:
“I understand a lot of people’s first instinct is to say it’s a sad day. And I don’t look at it like that at all. There’s very little to almost no detail into the allegation itself. […] We know a little bit about who is behind the allegation, but essentially like a sentence of what we know. But if we are to believe that MLB did its due diligence here, and we think they did because it’s a very prominent player, a hall of fame player, and you’re not going to make this suspension – I think – if you’re Rob Manfred unless you absolutely know that what you have found is significant. They did the right thing. […] Sports organizations should do this; there should be the death penalty if one is found to have committed a violation where the person is no longer in good standing in the game.”
This incident comes on the heels of other recent bad behaviour by ex-Jays, including Kelly Gruber drunkenly maligning host Ashley Docking at a panel event, and Gregg Zaun being fired from Sportsnet after workplace sexual harassment claims. After the incredible reporting on the Callaway and Porter cases by The Athletic’s Katie Strang and Brittany Ghiroli it seems unlikely that this will be the last such disclosures of past misconduct.
The coverage mentioned here brings out an interesting divide among media. At one extreme you have DiManno, and the view that complaining about sexual harassment is weak. Another point along the spectrum is the O-Dog view that it is sad and unfortunate when people lose their jobs due to past misconduct that is brought to light years later. Yet another is the Wilner and Mitchell view that it is sad for fans when their heroes are revealed to be harassers. At the other end is the Deitsch and Davidi view that leagues and teams should be more active in acknowledging the wrongdoings of their hall of fame players, and distancing themselves in some cases from ex-players with bad histories. Deitsch and Blair also had a good discussion about the Bills and O.J. Simpson.
Sports Radio Fantasy Draft
Per Jonah’s recent posts, no radio show other than Overdrive is doing well. And even Overdrive is not drawing anywhere near traditional numbers for the #1 sports radio show in the market. The last couple of years have seen a huge shift in the relevance of radio, and we are seeing the results played out in Vancouver where the heritage brand simply walked away from the market, leaving some of their hosts to move over the competition, while others started their own independent digital shows.
Here’s the thought experiment I want to engage in this morning: if you could make one Toronto sports radio line-up out of the currently available hosts, what would it look like?
It’s been years since either station had a powerhouse roster in every time slot. The closest in recent memory is FAN590’s 2014 line-up of Brady & Walker, Jeff Blair & Co, Tim & Sid (radio only), followed by PTS. Many people in the industry talk about momentum and how having a strong line-up in all slots helps build audiences. You can see this point played out over at TSN1050, where the lack of consistent local shows during the mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and evening slots has limited their audience outside of drive time.
When you look at who is available, there are a lot of popular names either on the sidelines or in limited roles. Both Brady & Walker are without sports radio jobs. Dan O’Toole is also a free agent. Bob McCown is cycling though his rolodex on his podcast, but obviously would prefer to be back on sports radio somewhere. Tim Micallef is giving it a go without Sid, but any reasonable observer can see that this is not the future on either TV or radio.
So, using the Vancouver experience as a model, if everyone became an unrestricted free agent tomorrow, how would you construct a line-up that would actually sustain your interest throughout the day? I’ll give my own opinion, albeit with a disclaimer: as regular readers will have noticed, we don’t cover radio nearly as much as we once did on here. In part that is due to the current offerings, but also due to a shift in consumption patterns. I have gravitated towards longform formats, like podcasts, over the last few years and rarely listen to programming designed around scheduled breaks for commercials and traffic updates.
As a lifelong PTS listener, I think I can confidently say that I am no longer interested in 15 hours a week of Bob McCown. His new format is interesting, but suffers from the FOBbism that plagued the last decade of PTS. If there is room in my fantasy line-up for Bob, it’s as part of a once a week business of sports type show, featuring big guests and possibly a roundtable. I have the same view about Tim & Sid. Their Score podcast was pretty revolutionary at the time, but 15 hours a week on radio was not up to the same standard. I am OK with Sid doing Bachelor recaps for the rest of his career, but Tim obviously has value as a host that needs to be surfaced.
In terms of other shows I’d like to hear, I think the market would welcome Dan O’Toole into a regular radio slot. When TSN radio launched I often advocated that they should try Jay & Dan as a regular show, rather than keeping them in the 11:30pm TV slot doing highlights. I also have room on my radio for Andrew Walker, whose style is just controversial enough not to be boring, but never reaches the level of inflammatory nonsense we have heard from the likes of Blundell and Cox. I’d also like to hear what Kayla Grey could do with a regular platform. Scotty Mac has also not found the right fit in terms of co-hosts to this point, and I think he might have another gear yet to be discovered. I am partial to the idea of MacArthur & Madani in the morning, but I suspect I am in the minority on that.
Over to you: what dream line-up would lock you in for the day? Is it over for commercial radio? Will you listen more once the playoffs begin?
Steve Simmons has a great read on the rise of Vladdy. Totally agree that he is becoming appointment television. Rogers must be thrilled.
Sportsnet published a good Q&A with CFL commish Randy Ambrosie, hosted by Donnovan Bennett (notably, not Arash Madani, who has lots to say, on twitter, about the CFL).
The above-mentioned Kayla Grey has a new show premiering in a couple of weeks on TSN. Oddly, TSN has not issued a press-release about this yet on their Bell media news site The Lede. Readers may recall that the network apologized last year for failure to support Grey after a public incident between her and a motivational speaker.
Sean Shapiro of The Athletic provides great analysis on the NHL’s TV rights deal with Turner. What’s interesting about this story is the low-ball offer NBC made for the B package after passing on the A package that eventually went to ESPN. These negotiations look very different than the ones between the NHL and Sportsnet/TSN/CBC eight years ago. Next year we will be two thirds of the way through the monster 5.2 billion dollar deal that has defined, for better or worse, the current sports media landscape in Toronto and in Canada. More on that topic another day.
Lastly, SMW has a great story about a brewing spat between Nielsen Ratings and the networks. “The networks have long held grievances about Nielsen, a private company that has at times struggled to adapt to the changing television landscape. Nielsen only last year began incorporating out-of-home viewing into its final nationals — a process that itself has its skeptics — and plans next year to unveil a new ratings measure that takes into account viewing across all platforms and devices.” In Canada we have been stuck with the incompetent industry-funded Numeris for decades, and there is little indication that the numbers north of the border will become more reliable any time soon.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)