Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Good morning sports media fans. We are headed into a busy part of the year and TSM will be here to provide news and analysis. As always, if there are things you think we missed please add links in the comments or email/DM me.

 

Blue Jays Radio Returns

 

If you have been thinking that the 2021 radio broadcasts of the Jays were inferior, Sportsnet wants you to know you’re wrong, or just too old to get it.

 

“It’s legacy, and it’s comfort. Different demographics have different ways that they consume content, and one of the traditional methods is obviously radio … anytime you take something away, people are not going to be happy.”

 

That quote is from Rob Corte, Vice-President of Sportsnet and NHL Productions at Rogers. In an interview with The Athletic he laid out the case for why the company has decided to temporarily reverse its earlier decision to simulcast their TV audio feed on radio. According to Corte:

 

“We had tried to get as close to the middle, and as close to satisfying both mediums, as well as we could. I think we did a pretty good job. It was never going to be perfect, and I think that’s where a lot of criticism came.”

 

In case you missed it, Corte believes that people expected perfection and that’s where the bulk of the criticism came from. Anyone who listened to Tabler and Martinez ignore the radio audience knows that the broadcast has been orders of magnitude removed from decent, let alone perfect. Jerry Howarth, who knows something about baseball on radio, offered this comment when interviewed on FAN590:

 

“I don’t think the TV broadcasters made enough of an adjustment to accommodate [radio] and that is why it is so good to have radio back.”

 

To recap how we got into this mess, when the pandemic hit in 2020, Ben Wagner and Mike Wilner called the shortened season and playoffs off monitors in Toronto for FAN590 and the Jays radio network. After the season Mike Wilner was let go by his bosses due to poor performance. No replacement was announced. As the 2021 season began to take shape the company announced that the radio booth would be canceled, with TV taking over for both mediums. This has been the status quo until Friday night, when Ben Wagner was taken off tweet duty and put back into the role for which he was hired. In addition to cutting the radio booth, Sportsnet has also significantly cut back on the Jays pre and post game shows. Fan favourite JaysTalk still exists but they rarely take calls. On Saturday there was no pre-game show, with FAN590 instead airing CBS radio. All of these moves involve cost savings for the network.

 

 

For the remainder of the season Wagner will call both road and home games from Toronto solo, meaning there will be no colour person to fill out the description of the action. This is a curious move since almost no other radio broadcast in the history of baseball has put the entirety of calling the game on the shoulders of one person, let alone someone who is only a few years in to his major league career. This burden could easily be obviated by moving the markedly improved Joe Siddall back to radio from his position on the TV desk. They could also re-start the process of auditioning longer term colour voices, starting with Canadians already in the country. As a last resort they could also ask existing Sportsnet personalities to put in some reps in the booth.

 

The fact that Rogers has chosen the cheapest path is not a good sign for fans hoping for a return to normal in 2022. Corte spoke to that issue in his interview:

 

“We haven’t made any decisions beyond this season.The last 16 months have been about adjusting on the fly. It’s been the craziest 16 months, I think, for anybody in this business. The reality of it is, we just don’t have the luxury to think that far ahead. We can think and look ahead, but we can’t make any concrete decisions because we don’t know what the landscape’s going to be like.”

 

This quote is equal parts incomprehensible and insulting. Rogers has the NHL rights for another five years and has made plenty of commitments to various announcers for that time. Why would things be any different for the Jays? Does this mean that Eric Smith and Paul Jones are possibly out of their jobs for next year, due to the uncertain landscape? Leagues are publishing schedules for next year as we speak. What uncertainty is Corte speaking to exactly?

 

As far as public relations goes, this interview was almost as bad as it gets. (It’s not quite Scott Moore tweeting about going to strip clubs bad, but close.) The theme of blaming the audience for complaining is a Sportsnet staple. The Corte quote about legacy is nearly identical to Moore’s comments about how people would eventually get used to Strombo when MacLean was initially jettisoned from the HNIC host chair. Two years later he sheepishly admitted that the move alienated hockey fans without bringing in much of the coveted younger demographic.

 

On the TV side, rumours continue to build that Buck Martinez won’t be back next season. He was not in Toronto for the Jays home opener on Friday, which seems very odd given all the fanfare about the game. Tabler has been providing colour for the series so far, despite universal agreement that Dan and Buck provide the better coverage.

 

So here we are with an exciting Jays team and inferior products on both radio and TV. Management at Rogers are being pennywise and pound-foolish, hoping the audience won’t notice. The Jays are reportedly not very happy with the way their parent company is handling their broadcasts either. All of this is trending in the direction of a big shake-up for the 2022 season. The fact that Corte couldn’t simply say “Ben Wagner is our guy on radio and we can’t wait for fans to hear our new booth in 2022” is foreboding, both for the future of baseball on radio, but for the future of dedicated radio booths for all Toronto sports.

 

TSN1050 Looks Forward

 

It’s impossible to look at the decision by Rogers to cut Jays radio without considering the context of the current slow death of sports talk radio as a medium. As we have been writing for a number of years, podcasts, streaming, and other on-demand options are changing people’s listening habits. This is eroding the market penetration of radio, especially among the sub-50 demographics. This means that if you’re an advertiser, you’re paying for less reach than you were just a few years ago. In the TV world there is a custom of giving away future ad slots to make up for the lost audience, as Rogers did with Jays playoff games to compensate hockey advertisers for poor ratings. In radio smaller audiences lead straightforwardly to lower rates.

 

What this means is that the main revenue stream that funds the whole operation is shrinking, and won’t go back up until more people start listening to radio again. In 2021, this seems beyond a hope or a prayer. So if you’re a radio station then you can only do one thing: cut costs to match the revenue losses you’re seeing on the advertising side. The main cost that you can control is salaries, since most others are either fixed or a small fraction of your overall budget. All of this brings us to the news that Michael Landsberg has mutually agreed with TSN to part ways. Here’s the press release. (Petty grievance: you would think a media company would know how to crop images for social media publication.)

 

 

Landsberg added his own signature self-referential commentary on the end his time in sports media:

 

 

Longtime readers will recall that Landsberg ended up on TSN1050 after his television show was canceled. The prevailing thought at the time was that TSN preferred to pay him to do radio rather than simply pay him to go away. Yet Landsberg found a second wind in radio after a rough start. He co-hosted with Dave Naylor in the mornings. Naylor was eventually re-assigned with Carlo Colaiacovo being paired with Landsberg. The two developed good chemistry and we are told that the network would have been happy for the show to continue. Their recent ratings were respectable, and they were beating FAN590’s morning show in recent books.

 

What is notable about the Landsberg departure is that he is one of a shrinking number of people remaining from the previous era of radio. Salaries are negotiated in the context of what others are making for similar roles. When McCown was around people could point to his supersalary as a benchmark and then negotiate from there. This is how Tim & Sid were, according to rumours, able to negotiate salaries in the half million dollar range for their show, with people like Brady earning around half of that, and people like Walker earning half of that. At FAN590 you still have Blair and Brunt and Deitsch who came in when there was a lot of gravy in the boat, but the rest of the line-up has been hired under more austere times.

 

So what do you do if you’re Jeff McDonald at TSN1050? The station has no development plan, since they choose to air cheap syndicated programming instead of going local in several slots. Matt Cauz is their super-utility player, and he’s a veteran rather than a rookie. So there is no young talent waiting to step in. Colaiacovo has improved significantly and has some established market presence, so if you’re planning to keep him then you need a host who can drive the show forward while keeping the existing audience. Who is that?

 

The strength and weakness of TSN1050 is hockey talk. Given Overdrive’s prominence in the ratings, it makes sense to stick with what is making a mark with the audience. However, if the station wants to take more market share from 590 they need to be credible on other sports. Personally I wouldn’t listen to any of their shows talk about baseball or basketball. Remember this?

 

 

As I see it, assuming TSN is still committed to the format, to replace Landsberg you can either double down on hockey or try to diversify. If the former, then there’s a big roster of established TSN personalities from which to draw, including people working at other TSN radio stations. If the latter, then there’s a lot of familiar names looking for work, including Cybulski, Walker, Brady, and McCown. Among these names I think Walker could step in and do a good job. He’s been part of a ratings winner in the time-slot, is in the millennial demo, and is great on all sports.

 

Aside from these options, I have been rooting for Kate Beirness to get a show for a while. She has a magnetic personality, is incredibly polished as a broadcaster, and is knowledgeable on many sports. This seems unlikely though, since TSN recently gave her enhanced responsibilities on their CFL coverage. There’s also Kayla Grey, but she also just launched a new show.

 

Over to you: Who would you like to see replace Landsberg? Which morning show are you listening to currently? Does any of this really matter?

 

Quick Hits

 

The Athletic is raising their prices, after two failed attempts to sell the company. The annual price is now $72 (USD). Part of their rationale is that subscribers have access to way more writers than when the company launched. This is true, but I wonder how many subscribers read beyond their local markets and a few national writers. They also recently let go of popular hockey writer Scott Burnside.

 

There was tons of great coverage of the Jays trade deadline moves. Here’s a good read from Gregor Chisholm for the analytically minded. For a more mainstream read, this piece by Shi Davidi is also very good.

 

The NHL is now facing a second public relations crisis with the allegation by his wife that Evander Kane bet on NHL games. Rick Westhead of TSN also has an updated story on the most recent Blackhawks lawsuit developments.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • First things first: Ben Wagner is doing amazing work calling the games all by himself. I hope he received a massive raise for doing the work of two people. If I can make one small observation, it’s that he is currently trying to fill every silence with descriptive content. As a listener it’s a little hard to follow when there’s no gaps or changes of voice. It’s too much content coming at you all at once. Let it breathe a little.

 

  • Every time I turn on FAN590 on the weekend and hear Roger Lajoie, I think of the poor aspiring broadcasters who are being denied a chance to hone their craft.

 

  • In other FAN590 weekend programming news, Joey Vendetta is no longer part of the line-up following his Canada Day tweet.

 

  • Writers Bloc (hosted by Ben Ennis) interviewed Jerry Howarth on Friday. After commenting on the return of Jays radio he said this: “The real competition is not down on the field. It’s among the general managers. And it was Alex who put all that together. And it’s really a shame because as he put that together, he’d already lost his job, unbeknownst to him. In May the Blue Jays hired Mark Shapiro to take over the team. I think Rogers made a big mistake right there doing that, rather than letting the season play itself out, and guess what, not only would Alex have risen to the occasion, which he did, getting better and better as a GM, he’s a Canadian! What happened when he left? […] He’s won five straight division titles. Case closed.”

 

  • As far as I am aware that is the first time Jerry has said something that critical of the Anthopoulos situation. He certainly didn’t when he was employed by Rogers. Deitsch followed up with a question about the quality of the team on the field and a reference to how much fun we are going to have this summer.

 

  • After Steve Simmons reported on the air that Auston Matthews had tested positive for COVID, TSN1050 initially pulled the interview before reinstating it a few days later. All of that seems to be water under a bridge as Simmons co-hosted Overdrive last week:

 

 

  • I’m not a regular Overdrive listener but one wonders what the effects of the extended summer vacations by their hosts are on the audience. With the recent departures and reductions by McKenzie, Ferraro, and McGuire they have lost a lot of content.

 

  • Betting is infiltrating all aspects of sports media. Here at TSM we get several emails a week asking for us to post paid content promoting betting sites. Here is a piece on Sportsnet by OddShark staff with no indication anywhere that this is sponsored content. There are embedded links to the site in question. If you’re going to post adverts disguised as articles, the very least you can do is be up front about it. Not doing so hurts the credibility of every real journalist working there.

 

  • The Star sent three sports columnists to the Tokyo Olympics in the midst of a pandemic. On the one hand this looks like a paper that is investing in sports coverage. On the other, this looks like a lot of money to spend on something most Canadians will watch on CBC rather than read about in the paper. Only management at The Star knows whether the return on investment is worth it. Part of my question here is that none of the columnists in question cover amateur athletics as part of their regular beat. Shouldn’t the experts on the sports in question be the ones rewarded with all expenses paid trips to the other side of the world?

 


 

thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

IMAGE CREDIT: Vaughn Ridley/Getty

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Hans
Hans
August 1, 2021 1:09 pm

It’s moves like this that makes one wonder if Rogers is indeed starting to look to get out of the baseball business.

WestdaleRocks
WestdaleRocks
August 1, 2021 3:09 pm

If those are Rob Corte’s actual thoughts on the simulcast situation, then he needs to be fired due to being completely out of touch with reality. There was no “middle ground”, Rob.  They were complete shit from day one.  

Bob Jones
Bob Jones
August 1, 2021 11:12 pm

Could not agree with you more about Ben Wagner. He’s been fantastic and is well aware of the picture that needs to be painted on radio. With respect to Rogers – they own a national treasure in the Blue Jays yet seem virtually unaware of it. Their decisions regarding radio broadcasting are an absolute embarrassment and worse, a disrespectful slap in the face to to the fan base. The company never seems to have had a true baseball champion at the helm and current leadership is about as attached to the team as some subsidiary selling hair brushes.

Slim Whitman
Slim Whitman
August 2, 2021 4:25 am

If Robbers is looking to save more change on their baseball coverage I have three suggestions:
Tabler,Tabler,Tabler !

Brian Waugh
Brian Waugh
August 2, 2021 7:30 am

Agree, if Corte is not seeing the Fans opinion as worthy and second and a solid radio baseball broadcast as valid, then move on.

Liberty Village Bob
Liberty Village Bob
August 2, 2021 7:52 am

Half a million for Tim and Sid?? Boy do those ontracts look dumb in retrospect. Good for them for cashing in. Time to cut and run. The future of radio is young and cheap and desparate. The irony is that only old people still listen to radio.

Someone needs to find a way to give Cox and Simmons a radio show. Hell, throw McCown in there too.

Sla
Sla
August 2, 2021 8:21 am

The fact that Bruce McArthur flew to the Olympics shows what a hypocritical person he is. For the last 2 years he’s been railing against sports and rooting for shutdowns as a self proclaimed epidemiologist and has been campaigning for the games to be cancelled. First chance he gets he flies there during their fourth wave to cover the games. He’s a joke

Bob Canuck
Bob Canuck
August 2, 2021 8:54 am

I like Jerry Howarth, but he is off the mark by giving Alex Anthopoulos credit for five straight division titles.

First, with the Dodgers (2016-2017), he was the Vice-President of Baseball Operations, not the General Manager. Second, the Dodgers won three division titles (2013-2015) before AA arrived; they have won three titles after he departed (2018-2020). The Dodgers were a very good team before he arrived and after he departed. Third, if you look at the WAR figures of players in Atlanta’s system before AA’s arrival, those players who remained generated enough WAR such that the 2018 team would win the division. AA’s net additions contributed just 3.6 bWAR (9%) of the team’s total bWAR.

Anthopoulos has made his mark in 2019 and 2020. However, Howarth’s statement to give AA credit for five straight division titles is a little too “Hello, friends” towards AA.

Really Mike Realy
Really Mike Realy
August 2, 2021 12:44 pm

If we’re going to be wondering about content, and content providers, maybe we can start with you Mike (Newly not in Boston). What are your credentials? This particular post, the first in years it seems, is incredibly biased. I’m not here to defend Corte, but I will say it’s terribly naive to suggest he would say anything other than what he did say. Who in their right mind would represent a company and not follow the company line? As I remember it, Rogers said they were simulcasting the TV and radio feeds because of Covid related travel restrictions. A journalist would include that piece of information in their hatchet job to, you know, add some context. And one other thing; it’s not a custom to give away future spots to make up for “the lost audience.” There are in fact two ways that commercial inventory is bonused. The first is make goods, which are given when a spot is either missed for some reason or wasn’t run properly. The second, the one I think you’re referring to, is when an advertiser is promised a certain audience reach. If the numbers aren’t sufficient, spots are run until the desired audience total is reached. By no means is this customary. It is in fact to be avoided whenever possible.

Ross
Ross
August 2, 2021 2:48 pm

Mike Wilner was not really let go for performance reasons. It seems pretty clear Sportsnet wanted an ex-ballplayer to do the color, which is the conventional arrangement. I haven’t listened to a game on the radio all year, so perhaps I’m not the greatest judge of this, but I think I might rather listen to a TV-simulcast of a 2 man booth than listen to a solo Ben Wagner. Solo booths seem pretty boring imo.

I echo the comments by Bob Canuck on Alex Anthopoulos. This is not the first time Jerry Howarth has made comments of this vein and I continue to find it pretty disingenuous. I like Jerry, but he has a tendency to sugar-coat the accomplishments of people he likes for personal reasons. Jerry is a pretty strong Christian and has said that he forms personal relationships with players who share his beliefs so he is hardly impartial – whatever though. As for his specific Anthopoulos comments, it needs to be said that the NL East is not the AL East. And Anthopoulos took over an Atlanta team that was already built to win. And now that he’s been there for a couple years, they’ve regressed to a .500 team. I have no idea what constitutes a “Hall of Fame GM”, but I don’t think Anthopoulos has demonstrated that he is particularly elite – seems solidly middle of the pack to me which is probably where I’d put Atkins/Shapiro as well.

Mike in Boston, you obviously have actual inside sources unlike me, but I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from Buck Martinez not calling the games this weekend. Buck was in the press conference with Ross Atkins on Friday. Dan, Buck and Pat have been rotating games all year long so somebody has to be left out. The arrangement is probably Buck calls road games primarily now, which makes sense because Dan actually lives in Toronto.

I always significantly scale back my Overdrive listening in the summer. Hockey is their bread and butter. It’s not even just Bryan Hayes’ lack of knowledge of baseball – I’d just much rather listen to guest appears of Shi Davidi, Ben Nicholson-Smith, Arden Swelling, Dan Schulman, etc. than Scott Mitchell or Steve Philipps. I especially have no interest in hearing Gord Miller’s smugness in particular so days where Hayes isn’t hosting are immediate turn offs.

It’s interesting how the Fan has temporarily split up J.D. Bunkis and Ben Ennis to fill time while Tim is on vacation. Listening to their separate shows as well as Baseball Central has taken up most of my listening time.

Pooks
Pooks
August 2, 2021 5:05 pm

After the season Mike Wilner was let go by his bosses due to poor performance.

I think this statement is misleading.

I even went back and read the linked Nov 2020 post about Wilner’s dismissal (that was a fairly balanced piece), which includes no evidence that his firing had anything to do with Wilner’s performance on the job.

Very few likely know the exact reasons behind the decision to let Wilner go, but it is much more likely to be related to Wilner not having a traditional PBP background and the general tradition of the second man in the booth being filled by a former player providing colour.

The November piece also explicitly states that the author firmly believed that Wilner’s dismissal wasn’t a cost cutting move. The above quote continues the cognitive dissonance of putting the blame on Wilner half a year later while examples of cheapness on the radio side continue to mount (not hiring a replacement colour commentator, simulcasting the TV feed, having Ben Wagner return solo, decline in scheduling and quality of Jays Talk, trigger happy switching over to canned CBS Sports radio, etc)

Mike S
Mike S
August 3, 2021 1:13 pm

Yesterday was a holiday Monday and that meant four consecutive hours of Roger Lajoie on 590 from 9 AM to 1 PM…………..no one has more guests on their show that I have never heard of than The Rog 

Daniel
Daniel
August 3, 2021 6:14 pm

@Ross – as someone who has tried to listen to the Jays on the radio this year, let me tell you that solo Ben Wagner is infinitely better than the tv call plunked on the radio. It was especially bad when Buck was calling the games. You didn’t know the counts, didn’t know where the ball was going… absolutely unlistenable. I think Ben has done an amazing job solo so far. 

kirby
kirby
August 3, 2021 10:52 pm

Whos idea was it to change to this lineup?
What is vladdy doing batting 2nd?
It should be Springer,Semien,Bichette,Vladdy,Teoscar,Grichuk,Guriel,Biggio,Mcguire
Lately Vlad gets no rbi chances.He ends up with noone on or only 1 man on most of the time.The offense is not booming like it was in Dunedin,and Buffalo.I hope they change this soon,so vlad can have a chance at having multiple guys on.I dont think Dante,and vlad like it much even though they probabbly wont say anything,but it has to change right now,so they can save a better bullpen going forward.

Donny
Donny
August 4, 2021 5:10 pm

“The strength and weakness of TSN1050 is hockey”. I would argue that’s true of sports broadcasting in Canada in general. No one argues hockey isn’t number 1 in Canada, but when you don’t develop and showcase voices who can talk other sports, you get the above audio clip.

Pooks
Pooks
August 4, 2021 10:16 pm

re: Wilner. Back in November there was little information available about the reasons for his departure. There is more information now.

Okay.

I’m willing to accept that there’s something I don’t know.

If there’s new information available re: Wilner’s dismissal, where is it?

Paul G.
Paul G.
August 5, 2021 12:30 pm

Test

Slim Whitman
Slim Whitman
August 5, 2021 4:36 pm

@ Paul G. ” Pass”

Paul G.
Paul G.
August 5, 2021 4:46 pm

Thanks Slim. I’ve not been able to post from my computer for a couple weeks and only as of today, have been able to access the site from my phone. I have submitted a couple if emails to the site about this, but no response yet; so I appreciate your feedback.

John
John
August 9, 2021 4:29 pm

Mike what exactly do you have against Roger Lajoie?

This is not the first time you have suggested he step aside for someone younger 

What about other older broadcasters.?  You seem to be making this personal.  What gives?

Drumanchor
Drumanchor
August 17, 2021 12:14 pm

Have to agree with John here. 

It’s nice to hear someone on radio that doesn’t sound like they are 19 year old and right out of a broadcast journalism course. It seems to me that in Canada, the trend now seems to be that once you reach a certain age, the powers-that-be decide to go younger and cheaper. God forbid they provide a living wage for anyone over 35 or 40. 

Nowadays, most of the hosts sound like over caffeinated up-and-comers who are merely happy to be on air and willing to take next to nothing in compensation. Sadly, I feel that “The Roj”, as a weekend part timer, is likely being paid very little, too. 

At least the U.S. broadcasters sound like adults. 

Paul G.
Paul G.
August 18, 2021 5:12 pm

New Test

Paul G.
Paul G.
August 18, 2021 5:13 pm

Apologies to all. Was finally able to reset access on website.

MontfromLondonOnt
MontfromLondonOnt
August 19, 2021 1:11 pm

Is it just me or is this site in total disarray? Every time I open TSM I get a different format a different layout and terrible color combinations –

ivan
Admin
ivan
August 20, 2021 3:58 pm

@ MontfromLondonOnt apologies for that, we did some site upgrades. It should be pretty good and stable now.

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