Friday, February 25, 2005

SPORTS TV IN CANADA: HOW THEY STACK UP

I've been thinking about CBC Sports lately and about all the problems it's having, and it seems to me that most of their problems have a lot to do with the fact that Hockey Night in Canada is not on the air. If we had a hockey season, this Chris Cuthbert fiasco would never have happened, and CBC would be rolling in dough.

I'm thinking now: how are the other networks handling the decimation of the Canadian sports scene? We know what it's done to the CBC: they've gotten KILLED. But whither TSN? Rogers Sportsnet? Here's my assessment of how they seem to be doing, based on the few times I've been tuning in:

TSN:
Clobbered.
What else is there to say. They bet their hat on the NHL, just like the CBC did, and now there's nothing on their schedule. The other night they had on bowling and a poker(!) tournament. They also have on the WWE, but really, is the WWE a sport? I think it's fair to say they're being killed.

TSN is in a sad state, in deep decline. In fact I notice some of their anchors have even bailed on them and taken gigs elsewhere, just to get out of there. Maybe they knew this lockout debacle was coming. TSN was a lot better back in the 1980s when they had all the Blue Jay games, back in the days when Canadians actually cared about baseball. Then Rogers bought the Blue Jays and that was the end of that, and then this year the CBC stole curling away from under their noses. And now they have no hockey. The only really popular major sports they really still have a lock on are football and auto racing, but auto racing has barely started and, well, football season's over. I guess they have boxing, too, but boxing's a joke these days. So basically they're getting KILLED.

They've been reduced to showing reruns of classic NHL games and really, this is a DISASTER. TSN looks like a station running cheap junk by doing that.

The people most deeply affected are the people on the hockey broadcasts, people like Gord Miller and Bob McKenzie and James Duthie and everyone else. They've been basically redeployed as reporters and commentators covering the labour dispute and other hockey events, such as the World Juniors. But I think there were layoffs over there, too. And poor Vic Rauter has little to do except wait for the auto racing season to come back.

On the positive side, TSN/CTV won the Olympic bidding. So things are bound to improve again, eventually. The one thing about TSN is that they're used to not having any decent live sporting events on that channel. They spent several years without any hockey broadcasts and had their baseball schedule sharply reduced, and for a long time the fans thought TSN's programming was a joke. Then they got the NHL and things improved. Now the NHL is gone again, so what's TSN left with? The CFL and Sportscentre, and Off the Record with Michael Landsberg. They need more play-by-play sporting events. The high point for TSN was the holiday season, when they showed the entire World Juniors. That was great work. But they are really hurting otherwise. There is only so much bowling coverage one can stand.

Rogers Sportsnet:
So far seems to be handling the lockout surprisingly well.
About the only big problem at Sportsnet is that the anchors are all big hockey fans. But pretty much everyone at TSN and over at the CBC is a big hockey fan, too. So all these networks have the same problem. Their staff are all having trouble mustering up the same enthusiasm for the other, non-NHL sports. The only people still having a good time are the guys like Gerry Dobson. You know, the soccer guys.

Sportsnet has survived with Raptors hoops and lacrosse and AHL hockey, and soon they will have the Blue Jays back every night. And they have the rights to the CHL, so they are going to be OK. They have lots of stuff to cover and it's pretty good. And they now have Bob McCown and his FAN radio show simulcast every night.

But the highlights are pretty empty. Not a happy place.

The Score:
Short answer: No NHL highlights.
Here's my assessment of what is going on over there. Back when I was at this place, the joint would be buzzing with activity during the hockey season. Then the moment the Leafs were kicked out of the playoffs the place would just drop dead. Just literally, the air would be removed from that place. I imagine it is SO DEAD OVER THERE.

Steve Kouleas was quoted as saying this is the worst year of his broadcasting life. He ain't the only Canadian sportscaster having the worst year of his broadcasting life: just ask Chris Cuthbert, Bob Cole, Don Cherry etc etc. And Tom Cheek's health has been terrible. But at least he's still working and happy to be alive after what he's gone through. Only sportscaster in the country who isn't having his worst year ever in broadcasting is Paul Romanuk. He had his worst year ever a couple of years ago when the TEAM laid him off and he was totally out of work. He was off the air for a really long time. Now the tables have completely flipped: Romanuk's on the air all the time on radio doing Argos and Raptors games, and hosting Live from Gretzky's, while the rest of the industry is being laid off.

Actually, the guys who cover the Montreal Expos are having a very hard time of it now that the team is gone. The Score was the TV home of the Expos, so they won't have any Expo games to show this year. As for their radio guy, Elliott Price, well, he just found out the other day that he isn't moving with the team to Washington after all. Seems they had trouble getting a working visa for him, so they canned him and hired new announcers. So this is already the worst year of Elliott Price's broadcasting career, too. He's now a former major league baseball announcer. So it's a bad year for just about everyone. Rob Faulds was taken off Blue Jays games over at Sportsnet: he's having a really bad year, too. Dennis Beyak, reduced to covering the OHL Mississauga IceDogs. Joe Bowen, reduced to Toronto Rock lacrosse.

The Score does have NBA games and the WWE so it isn't a complete disaster for them. They never had NHL games anyway, but they did have the highlights. And boy, do they ever miss those.

Leafs TV:
No Leafs to cover, but...
They've held up surprisingly well. They've stepped up coverage of the baby Leafs and the Central Hockey League, and have shown college hockey games. And they've done a good job providing lockout updates for the fans. So they're managing quite well. I'm surprised because I thought they'd get completely slaughtered. But they'd do a lot better if they had actual live stuff to show from the NHL.

NHL Network:
Ain't it obvious?

Fan 590:
Has held up very well considering the NHL has bitten the dust. Lucky for them they do not have the rights to Leaf games. Instead they got outbid by 640 Toronto again and that has hung 640 out to dry, while the Fan continues to broadcast Raptors games, NFL action, and coming soon, the Jays. They also did a great job with their play-by-play of the World Juniors. Basically, the Fan 590 has suffered the least in this lockout situation. And tune in to ESPN all night and on weekends, and it's almost as if the NHL is hardly missed.

Some of the broadcasters (Bob McCown, Chuck Swirsky, Mike Hogan, Eric Smith) have managed to survive quite nicely because of their deep interest in other sports: in fact, the Fan 590 is really lucky to have a staff filled with people whose favorite sports are NOT hockey. They are bailing the station out. But the hockey guys are all really suffering. Norm Rumack and Gord Stellick are inconsolable. Stellick in particular cannot talk about any other sports without having to bring up hockey as a point of reference. Give it up, man.

And you can tell that Leafs beat reporter Howard Berger is really suffering. What good is being the Leafs beat reporter when all you are able to cover are fruitless labour negotiations and news of players hopping on planes to Europe? He must be really depressed.

They've been lucky at the FAN to have some Sportsnet personalities show up, and Elliotte Friedman has shown up on the station from time to time, looking for work.

640 Toronto:
Changed their format to serious talk radio in time for the lockout: a smart move.
They got off to a great start covering the lockout with their No Hockey show and with their Leafs Lunch lockout coverage. Since then, it has been getting boring tuning in to hear lockout coverage, so they changed the name of the No Hockey show to Hockey Tonight and are now covering all the other hockey still going on. They have been trying to spruce up their lineup by adding Baby Leafs AHL games from St. John's, and have also been carrying several OHL games of the Mississauga IceDogs. They also acquired the rights this year to Toronto Rock lacrosse games and are also the home of the Grey Cup Champion Argonauts. All in all, I give these guys high marks for effort. They've made an effort to fill the huge void left by the departure of the Maple Leafs and they're handling it quite well.

So that's my overall assessment. In general, it's a mess everywhere, not just at CBC Sports. But the other nets seem to be handling the situation better. The scale of the carnage over at the CBC rivals some nation that just got invaded and had to surrender. But they aren't the only ones suffering. Not by a long shot.

1 comment:

Scottie said...

I was introduced to your site via a link on rec.sport.curling. And I just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading your excellent comments about the state of sports broadcasting in our country. Very well done and applause to you! I look forward to your future musings. Your entries are both informative and entertaining; keep up the great work!

Scottie
scottie@firebettman.org