Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Good morning sports media fans. Here’s a grab bag of sports media news from the past couple of weeks. As always, if there are things you think we missed please add links in the comments or email/DM me.

 

Checking in on the Jays

 

With the Raptors and Leafs well into golf season, the local attention turns to the infuriating Blue Jays. Their lineup boasts an exciting young core, some decent veterans, and all around fun offensive approach. On the pitching side, things are somewhat grim. The starters are holding it together despite a steep falloff after slots one and two. But all of the attention lately has been on the bullpen, which has been spectacularly bad for the last month.

 

Bullpen management, along with the timing of pulling the starer, falls squarely on the manager. One of the talking points this week has been whether Charlie Montoyo or Shapiro/Atkins are to blame for the poor performance. The manager has been choosing his words carefully, implying that he’s doing the best he can with the arms he has been given.

 

 

Montoyo then tried to change the narrative by suggesting that the team is thriving despite the recent challenges:

 

 

For some more commentary, here’s a quick roundup of some notable local writing:

 

“With each loss there have been an increasing number of calls for change: The Jays must address the bullpen before it’s too late! A trade needs to happen yesterday! Manager Charlie Montoyo or GM Ross Atkins must go! The hysteria seems a bit over the top. Still, there’s no vaccine to cure what ails this team. The Jays aren’t one reliever away from turning this around, they need an entirely new group of high-leverage arms.” – Gregor Chisholm, The Star

 

I don’t understand why some media feel the need to frame their points in response to “hysterical” fans. If you’re responding to the dumbest segment of the fanbase, why would anyone other than those same people want to read what you have to say? The point about this team not being one reliever away is a good one, and stands on its own.

 

It’s difficult to imagine that frustration isn’t running deep by now as the Jays are losing touch with the division leaders and are firmly in fourth place in the AL East. There is zero confidence in the bullpen — a well-earned sentiment as we saw yet again on Thursday — and the team has noticeably regressed on defence in recent days.” – Rob Longley, The Sun

 

What’s striking about this statement is that, other than MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson, there are no media on the ground in Buffalo to gauge the pulse of the locker room. (Correction: Buffalo sports writers are there. Sorry for the oversight). So statements about frustration or confidence levels are guesses. As readers, we are not getting the best coverage right now, through no fault of the writers covering the team. Having watched a decent amount of zoom press conferences, it is pretty clear that players have learned how to get in and out as quickly as possible. This may change in August or September if the border re-opens, but by then the season may be over.

 

“Will Montoyo be fired? He should be but almost certainly won’t be because that blood would be on the hands of general manager Ross Atkins, and that’s sticky even in a season played outside of Toronto. It was Atkins’ sloppy work that provided Montoyo with a long list of wonky, broken down, seemingly incapable relief pitchers, almost none of whom have grabbed the big league opportunity provided for them.” – Steve Simmons, The Sun

 

Who else write that kind of sentence? Like him or not, Simmons adds some much needed frankness to the conversation. The Jays made some high (injury) risk – high reward gambles. When those don’t work out then you have to own the opportunity cost of those choices. If there’s no more money, then it’s far for observers and fans to point to all the dead money sitting on the sidelines

 

“Debating strategy and matchups is what makes baseball so fun. You can make what’s considered the right move and have it backfire, and the so-called wrong move and see it work.This sport can be ridiculous. But if you think the Blue Jays’ problems closing out games — Monday’s gutting 6-5 setback to the New York Yankees serving as the latest example — are a matter of strategy rather than personnel, then you’re clearly looking for a scapegoat rather than root causes.The Blue Jays are 5-8 in one-run games, 5-11 in two-run contests, have lost six times when leading after six and are 3-7 when tied after six. That’s not predominantly strategic error, that’s leaky roster construction. No matter how the relievers are structured, especially lately, it blows up in the manager’s face.” – Shi Davidi, Sportsnet

 

This is the best thing I read on the topic; a great mix of stats and analysis. The Jays need to pitch better, but it is unclear where that is going to come from without significant additions. We have yet to see this administration make the kind of deadline deals that save a season. As Shi notes in his piece, the pressure now falls to the front office to fix this, or flush away an amazing offensive season and a better than expected output from the starting rotation.

 

I struggled to find noteworthy analysis beyond what is mentioned above. Cathal Kelly had a forgettable column on the topic. The Athletic continues to operate without a Jays opinion writer, which is a major downgrade from last year’s coverage. One interesting thing to watch is whether the relationship between the Montoyo and the media shifts if this season spins out. While Shapiro and Atkins have been heavily scrutinized, Montoyo has led a comparatively easy existence in his tenure as manager, despite replacing John Gibbons who was wildly popular with the media who cover the team.

In other Jays news, the radio experiment continues to be a massive failure. As many have pointed out, it is not getting better. At this time many teams are starting to send their radio crews back on the road, with TV announcers to follow. The Jays currently have no radio crew, but could easily have one with the stroke of a pen. This is the lowest of low hanging fruit for Rogers management. “The sound of summer is back! Join fully vaccinated Ben Wagner and (insert rotating cast of ex-players) for all the action.”  According to Sportsnet’s Rob Corte, when asked about the quality of the radio broadcast: “so far, so good.” If you work for someone other than Rogers, this should on your list of questions every week.

Another Jays topic this week is when teams would be allowed to travel in and out of the Dome. Recent federal exceptions for the NHL (and Gary Bettman) suggest that something similar could be worked out for MLB. It will be interesting to see whether Rogers bothers getting the Dome set up for baseball if the season is a competitive write-off. That sounds very expensive for 30-40 games. Conversely, what better incentive could there be to invest in this roster than the prospect of a packed stadium (roof open, proof of vaccine at time of ticket purchase) cheering on a playoff run?

 

Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News has a great opinion piece on price gouging at Sahlen Field:

 

“The Jays went to dynamically priced concessions, marking up every food and beverage item at the ballpark by $2. Shame on them. A couple of workers whom I talked to said they were embarrassed to have to tell people who had been to games the previous week what the increased prices were. Your $10 cheeseburger suddenly was $12. Your $5 and $6 pizza slices were $7 and $8. A hot dog was $8, an Italian sausage $11. A bottle of pop was $7. A can of beer ran as high as $18. The Jays should knock this stuff off. It should be beneath them. Don’t do it on July 4 weekend against Tampa Bay, or when the Red Sox or Indians are here, or if the Yankees return in September. Be better than this and don’t just drop at the altar of the almighty buck.”

 

Last thought on the Jays for today: the studio show of Siddall and the eternally youthful Campbell is really hitting their stride. If you haven’t seen it, here is an excellent clip of quick to the point analysis in real-time. Campbell does a great job steering conversation without getting in the way (for contrast, see last month’s discussion of Ron MacLean). Moving Siddall to TV has been a great move by Sportsnet.

 

Radio Poll

 

The hottest topic in our corner of the world is predicting what the future of sports radio looks like post-pandemic. Obviously lots of commuters will return to their usual travel routines. However, many won’t. Radio is a medium that relies on habit and captivity: you are stuck in your car in traffic, and your dial is already tuned to whatever you last listened to. Radio faces the double-whammy of losing a bunch of listeners to work from home arrangements, and losing a share of the remainder to podcasts and streaming options that listeners discovered during the shutdown.

 

There is no going back to the old business model. What that means is that sports radio will either have to do the same with smaller revenues, or do less with less. We have already seen what the former option looks like: you fire all your high priced staff and replace them with cheaper options, or you simply abandon the format. The latter option has also been tried: syndicated American content. Some readers will remember The Fabulous Sports Babe, and her penchant for hanging up on callers wanting to talk about hockey. Not exactly compelling content for this market. Would Toronto listeners tolerate a 10am-4pm schedule full of Dan Patrick, Jim Rome, and Dan LeBatard? Would anyone notice? This has been tried before, and might be tried again.

 

Neither option looks compelling, but in light of recent ratings there is simply no way that Bell or Rogers can justify continuing to do business as usual. How do you pivot to podcasts when you are committed to live local content from 6am to 7pm? Adding to that thorny question, there is also the issue that few Canadian podcasts have broken into the lucrative advertising space we see in the US.

 

So my poll question for you today is simple. If you’ve never been a radio listener this poll doesn’t apply to you. I want to hear from traditional listeners – people who tuned in regularly over the past decade. With line-up changes currently being discussed, what would it take to lure you back to live radio (either streamed or over the air)? Please discuss your answer below. Results hidden for the first 24 hours. If you are in management, you are not permitted to view results without written permission from TSM.

Quick Hits

 

Scott Stinson has a good article on the state of things with the Hockey Diversity Alliance. This has been an embarrassing relationship for the NHL.

 

Rick Westhead – welcome back Rick! – has a well-sourced article on a sexual assault civil suit involving the Chicago Blackhawks. Every serious reporter covering hockey should jump on this bandwagon and start asking questions about who knew what and when. The hockey community has a bad history of covering up for each other.

 

Mexico will be playing their FIFA World Cup qualifiers (including one against Canada) in an empty stadium as a penalty for their fans’ homophobic chants. Good.

 

The Athletic is for sale, and has twice failed to close the deal, most recently over disagreements about the value of the company. Despite claiming that 40% off sales would come to an end, these have persisted in recent months for new subscribers, along with generous retention offers for existing or returning users. This makes evaluating real revenue difficult. As the article notes, there is also a question of how to compensate early employees who were given equity in the company. Interesting story to watch.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • Kes’ House is a Sportsnet show about the lifestyle of NHLer Ryan Kesler and his entourage. He recently called out NFLer JJ Watt in a video and promoted tweet that was quickly ratioed and then deleted. This is the uncomfortable middle space for corporate-branded edgy content.
  • John Shannon wants to know how you are enjoying the Bob McCown podcast (no longer on the air at Sauga960). So do I. Who is still listening to the BobCat?

 

 

  • The average for the all Canadian round 2 matchup is about the same as Sportsnet usually gets for a regular season Saturday night game. Is that good or bad? I’m going to say bad, since the NHL playoffs are supposed to be a premium TV product.

 

 

  • Ron MacLean has heard enough from Elliotte Friedman, and people are noticing:

 

 

  • Amazing work by TSN’s soccer crew of De Guzman, Kilbane, and Wileman dealing with the scary Eriksen collapse on the pitch. As an audience member some part of me wanted them to speculate but I was very glad that they didn’t.

 

  • Remember when we cared what Gregg Zaun had to say about the Blue Jays?

 


 

thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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