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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Toughest Sport to Ref and Other Wednesday Thoughts

THE TOUGHEST SPORT TO REFEREE
Interesting discussions about refereeing now that the Raptors have captured the imagination of the casual fan base.    It was felt that the Brooklyn Nets were getting more than their fair share of "reputation calls" as they are more of a playoff tested team than the fledgling Raptors.   No secret that the uniform and name on your back play a role in how a team is officiated.   If you are a star, chances are you're going to be given a little latitude.   Paul Jones, play by play voice of the Raps opined that basketball was the toughest sport to ref, which to me is laughable.  It's tough no doubt, but you have three sets of eyes, all with the same standing in the game, i.e. no linesman, or assistant referees.  Hockey has four officials on the ice and is much more of a contact/collision game as well as the sheer velocity of the sport.  Soccer has one referee, two assistant referees, a larger playing surface and more things to manage overall.  Give me hockey, and soccer as the two toughest sports to referee.  Basketball?  Sorry, it is not even close. 

BULLDOGS DEBRIEF
Not much to say about the Hamilton Bulldogs that has not already been said.   The team lacked scoring, did not win consistently at home and the power play was a detriment as opposed to being beneficial.   In February the Bulldogs had started to creep back into the playoff race and had three games at home in three days.  They lost all three in regulation and basically were playing significant catch up hockey.  The good news was the attendance remained fairly steady when the Dogs played at home on Friday, Saturday or Sunday  and averaged 5 500 for the season.   They are looking to reach 6 500- 7 000 next year.  For me personally I enjoyed calling the games from the Bill Stirrup press box, and eventually managed my fear of heights and the daunting cat walk clamber.   First Ontario Centre (formerly Copps) has improved as a venue.  The scoreboard is very good, the ring advertising adds a professional touch, as do the dark blue seats.   Good to seen some capital being put into the product off the ice.  On the ice, changes need to be made as this is the 3rd straight year the Dogs have not made the playoffs.  Coach Sylvain Lefebvre is safe it appears, so players need to elevate their game, and I'm sure new faces will be brought in. 

OHL PLAYOFFS
If you would have told me that North Bay would lead Oshawa 3-0 and Guelph would lead Erie 3-1, I would have cried foul.   Yet here we are.  North Bay, whom the IceDogs gave all they could handle, was one period away from elimination.  They've gone 10-2 since falling behind 3-1 vs the IceDog and have been stifling.   The Battalion have 3 vets in Barclary Goodrow, Matt MacLeod and Ben Thomson who have over 900 combined games of OHL experience.  That , along with wily Stan Butler, have to count for something. I thought Erie and Guelph would be a war, and it might be with the series not rolling the credits just yet.  Guelph, however, have looked awfully strong against Erie and look to be a good bed to head to the OHL final.  A quick IceDog note.  Many people told me how impressed they were by the IceDog push back late in the season and into the playoffs, considering how young the team was.  Much of that talent will move over to the Meridian Centre and should make for a very good on-ice product in the coming years.  Expect several IceDog names to be called draft day too as Brendan Perlini, Aaron Haydon, Brent Moran, Blake Siebenaler, and Aleksander Proptapovich were all ranked in the final rankings.  This does not include repeat guys like Jordan Maletta, Anthony DiFruscia and Luke Mercer, all of whom rounded out their games this year. 

BROADCASTING NEWS.
Off season for me after 47 games of broadcasting.  The break is much needed.  Remember I have a full-time job and a family, so this is freelance work for me.  I will be waiting to see how things shake out as hockey season comes to a close and the transition from TSN and CBC to Rogers begins. Rogers has announced hosts, but no panel members, play by play guys or colour commentators.   What is also not determined is how much hockey will be Rogers produced and how many crews they will need.  They've taken on a monumental task in being the national broadcaster, but its not like this is their first rodeo. Scott Moore and Keith Pelley have been doing this for a while.  What they do not have is many TSN guys to look at. Most of the top TSN on-air guys were locked up for the regional hockey that TSN will produce.  The names coming down the pipe from Rogers will be interesting to say the least.   Jim Hughson, and Craig Simpson are a given.  Elliote Friedman, and Nick Kypreos are likely locks for any panel or reporting.  After that , it could get very interesting as Rogers still has regional rights to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton to consider, as well as a full sleight of CHL hockey too.    

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A SAD DAY FOR SPORTS BROADCASTING. AND THE CBC

Damn!   We all knew that CBC's days a major player in sports were to be numbered with the Rogers purchase of NHL hockey for the next 12 years, but it still did not make reading todays news any easier: 

http://business.financialpost.com/2014/04/10/cbc-job-cuts-sports/?__lsa=f029-9534

It was a very difficult day today for all those affiliated with CBC as it was announced that 657  positions will be eliminated over the next two years in order to ensure a balanced budget.  Likely those cuts will hit sports very hard as the CBC release indicates that CBC will not bid on professional sports against private broadcasters, nor will it cover events unless they break even.  Special projects like the upcoming summer Olympics and the Pan Am games will be covered creatively (read as economic as possible).   

With NHL hockey off the market for the next 12 years,  the options for moneymaking professional sports was fairly limited anyways.    The CBC broadcasted a handful of Raptors games some years back and the ratings were mediocre. No Vancouver Grizzlies also hurt the bottom line.  In fact, even this year, the Raptors most successful on-court, the ratings still lag behind hockey. Remember when Jim Hughson did a fine job of calling several Blue Jay games for the CBC?  Again, the audiences were not there, not helped by the Blue Jays mediocre on field performance and with the death of the Expos in 2004, there was no Canadian alternative.   How about TFC?   CBC went down that road a couple of years back, but it was very clear that Canada was not going to embrace a team from Toronto on a national level.  Now with Vancouver, and Montreal added to the league, soccer has become a better property to own, but building a substantial national audience would take time, and that is something the CBC really cannot afford, not that they would anyway. CBC did try some American hockey league games  as well, focusing on the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Toronto Marlies and the then Manitoba Moose first and foremost and then the afflilates of the other Canadian teams secondarily.  That too did little in the ratings, though the production and on-air delivery was very good.  

There was a time when CBC was the major player in sports with CFL Football, amateur competition leading up to the Olympics and hockey dominating the airwaves.  Times have changed and the CBC can ill-afford to pay high stakes bidding games with tax payer money.  

The bottom line is that CBC has been unable to build a devoted national following outside of Hockey Night in Canada, and for the next four years all they will provide for the NHL is a national distribution channel and studio space.  All costs and profits borne from hockey will go into the Rogers coffers.  After four years we may see the last of the classic red,  blue and white symbol for Hockey Night.   Rogers may choose not to renew the deal to put hockey on CBC.   I'm not looking forward to the day my channel guide will show something other than hockey on the CBC. 

Lots of high profile names will likely be named in the coming weeks.   Some will not be a surprise as they either been named to Rogers NHL coverage, or strong rumours seemed to dictate.  Elliote Friedman,  Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson are likely headed to Rogers, so their names will likely be among the cuts.  Same goes for Don Cherry.   Ron MacLean is an interesting one.  He has done lots of non-sports/hockey stuff with the CBC and we know he has been hired by Rogers.  Will CBC keep him for their Olympic or Pan Am coverage, or will he be phased out?  Same with the talented Andi Petrillo.  A natural fit for Rogers, Petrillo did very well in the host chair in Sochi and might be sought out for a bigger role.   I worry about signature voices like Mark Lee , Steve Armitage and Bob Cole.  This might be the final year for the venerable signature pipes of Bob Cole. The octogenarian still has that big game call, but there may not be room at Rogers  Lee, who broadcasts hockey, is integral to the Olympics.   Armitage reminded viewers why he is a premier signal caller with his wonderful work in Sochi.  All theses names, and many more are up in the air. 

I have always maintained that my dream job was to work at Hockey Night in Canada.  I have hockey night books, jackets, hats, toques and t-shirts, all in support of the public broadcaster.   If I did not work in hockey,  I would love to work for The Fifth Estate, the best investigative program out there.   Today, I feel like I am delivering a eulogy for a friend.  I hope that it is not the case and that CBC can play a role in sports going forward, be it for the Olympics, or other amateur competition.   There is still life and vibrancy for CBC in covering sports.  I hope that they, and the fine broadcasters that work for them, can continue to ply their trade in the years going forward. 

Short term, however, the plan going forward severely restricts sports coverage and that is why today is a sad day on Front Street.   

 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Terry Trafford 1994-2014

His official Ontario Hockey League picture shows a face that could not possibly be 20 years old.  Boyishly handsome, Terry Trafford was the type of player that every team needs, a "glue guy" to steal a basketball term.  He was skilled enough to be a top six forward, but also diverse and speedy enough to play on special teams or checking the other teams top line.  In fact it was the speed that you noticed first with Terry Trafford.  Few players possessed the pace and skating ability he was blessed with.  

However, beyond the skill set, Terry Trafford was also ill.  Not physically ill, but mentally ill. We see elite athletes and talented individuals like Terry Trafford at their best, playing the game that they love.  They are blessed with such an abundance of physical strength, talent and skill we sometimes forget that they are susceptible to the same mental illnesses and self-doubt as everyone else in society.  

A healthy scratch since February 17th it was reported that Terry had been sent home by the team for reasons related to team discipline. Then the news broke through social media that he had been missing for over a week.  Friends, family and the hockey community alike frantically searched for the young man from Toronto who had worn the Saginaw Spirit jersey for four years and 221 games. The Terry Trafford story reached a sad and tragic conclusion when he was discovered in a WalMart parking lot  inside the truck we had become familiar with through missing persons bulletins.   A hockey community mourned as teammates, opponents through the years and friends eulogized and paid tribute to Terry.  Calgary's Sean Monahan posted on Twitter, so did Scott Laughton, Michael DalColle and Connor MacDavid.  The list goes on and one.   

Its a cautionary tale really. In a sport like hockey where statistics measure the fine line between success and failure, and the window to the NHL is a small one at best, the pressure might get to even the strongest of character in some way.    Being separated from the team Terry Trafford may have thought that the game that he had played since he was a young boy had been taken away from him,   We really do not know. 

I urge all general managers, coaches and assistant coaches to have a conversation with their  players.  Remind them that if they are feeling troubled in any way, that the door is always open if they feel the need to talk.   There is no better time to reinforce that not just the team but also the hockey community is a tight knit family that looks out for each other.   

Finally, I'd like to urge Bell to change their "Lets Talk" slogan  to "Lets Keep Talking" . While a worthy endeavor, it lasts only a day and then we tend to move on feeling good that we sent a text or re tweeted a message.  It is not easy to get people to open up about mental illness and it is not as simple as sitting down with someone and saying "lets talk".  

There are many questions to ask about the passing of Terry Trafford. In a sense we all became teammates and friends with him as we all hoped for a better outcome. Right now the tragedy is too raw, too real, and too fresh.  With time and the grieving process, maybe some things will become clear.   

Rest in Peace Terry. 


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

WHAT OPTIONS DO SARNIA AND BELLEVILLE HAVE?

I had an interesting discussion with my producer on Saturday about viable OHL destinations in light of the Sarnia Sting opening up to the prospect of new ownership.   Now news comes that the owner of the Belleville Bulls wants arena upgrades on the Yardmen Arena, or he may entertain the prospect of leaving down the road.    

Sarnia 's owners the Cicarelli's want to turn over ownership of the arena back to the city and would like to keep any new owners to keep the team in Sarnia.  According to the Sarnia Observer there have been several overtures to keep the team in Sarnia and one out of town prospect was politely declined.   Keeping the team in the city is one thing.  Making the franchise a viable money maker maybe another thing entirely.  The Sting have long been fodder for the rest of the conference, making the playoffs sporadically and going to the second round only once when a Steven Stamkos led Sting team were summarily swept in four games by Kitchener.   While the RBC Centre remains a viable arena, crowds have not exactly been flocking even with the likes of Stamkos, Alex Galchenyuk, and Nail Yakupov wearing the black and yellow.  One who wants to own the franchise and keep it in Sarnia best take a long hard look at the financial books and then try to negotiate a favourable deal.  It is not out of the realm of possibility that outside ownership may seek to move the Sting out of Sarnia. 

For Belleville the arena is the issue.  The antiquated Yardmen Arena is in need of upgrades, according to owner Gord Simmonds.  The issue is that city funds appear to be allocated elsewhere  and have looked at other important city services before the old barn gets a makeover.    While the Bulls have long been a success on the ice, this year notwithstanding. attendance has not been consistent with that success.  Average attendances in the low 2000's in the 3257 seat arena will not pay the bills, and as someone who has been to the Yardmen, it is not the most aesthetically pleasing arena.   Dark green seats, and not well lit, the the arena also suffers from some overcrowding on its walk ways.   There is a lease in place for next year and an option for two years after, but Simmonds may not want to wait as long as the city would like for the upgrades.     

While both Sarnia and Belleville may be in play for new destinations, fans in that city should not plan for an imminent departure and an application for lame duck status.   Staying in their respective destinations is preferred, even if teams are sold. No need to see if Art Model is being channelled and no need to be nervous if you see moving trucks moving on the 402 or 401.   A quick perusal of the province does not see too many great alternatives for new franchises in Ontario.  Brantford always seems to be a preferred destination, but either needs some new arena upgrades of its own or it could be a temporary holding spot for say a franchise in Hamilton, where the AHL's Bulldogs still are housed at the newly named First Ontario Centre but have always been rumoured to be on the move.  Other destination?  Chatham? Cornwall? Newmarket?  Buffalo? Can't see those locations being a sure fire alternative.  

That said whenever its is tax dollars being renegotiated for arenas, people become a little more protective of their money.  This might be a delicate negotiation, one that might receive some blow back from the respective populations of the cities.   

Steve Clark

A more comprehensive look at the issues both teams face can be found here:  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

FINANCIAL GUARANTEES FOR CHAMPIONSHIPS? BE PREPARED TO PAY!

Reading the article in the Globe and Mail that detailed that Saskatchewan had to cough up almost $1M to hold up its end of the bargain when it did not meet the $3.5M financial guarantee the Memorial Cup gave me a sense of deja vu in it came to the bid proceedings. 

You can find the article:  HERE

Canadian Interuniversity Sport's bidding process for the CIS Men's Basketball Championship used the notion of financial guarantees as one of its determining  factors for host cities and basically have "financially guaranteed" themselves into a corner as there are only a small handful of venues willing to meet the steep financial guarantees.  Using this sort of financial threshold as currency in the bidding process is a nice little cash cow for the league, but it really limits those who have the financial wherewithal to be able to take a tax dollar bath should the guarantee not be met. 

Call it "if you guarantee it, they will come"   

The CIS has really been limited to Halifax, and more recently Ottawa for their Final 8 Basketball Tournament the past 30 years.  Others have kicked the tires and made a bid (Hamilton comes to mind), but without knowing what the financial guarantee is from the other side makes for a game of financial blind man's buff.  You don't know the other side's financial guarantee, you just put your blind faith that your number is greater than that of your competitor. Again, it is a chance few are willing to take when it comes to tax payer dollars having to shore up the difference.  The good news for the CIS is that Ryerson, with the new Mattamy Centre and UBC will host the next two years before the bid processing starts again.  Expect Halifax to get back into the mix.  The self-proclaimed "Basketball Capital of Canada" maintained a pretty good stranglehold on the tournament for upwards of three decades. 

Similarly, like CIS basketball the Canadian Hockey League is running the risk of limiting its options when it comes to the bid processes.  Few can afford to play a high stakes game with tax payer money.  Should you reach the guarantee, no problem.  Pay the bills and count the money. If not, expect a hefty bill in the mail for your city or province, much like the one that Saskatchewan got when it fell $668 000 short, on top of their $250 000 investment in rink board improvements.  What does that mean?   Smaller communities who likely could do an outstanding job of hosting a Memorial Cup are likely to squeezed out of the equation.    A franchise like Niagara who will have a brand new arena next year might make an ideal host, should they enter the bid process.  However tax payers in the city were not pleased to see some of their dollars go to a new arena considering that the 2 000 capacity Seymour Hannah Complex  is fairly new, and would likely be reluctant to see more potential tax dollars go if an exorbitant financial guarantee is not met. 

So expect to see a lot of London, Kitchener, Barrie and maybe Windsor or Oshawa from an OHL perspective, but not the Owen Sounds, or likely Sarnia's of the world.   All could likely host a great tournament, but not at the prices set by the CHL.   

Financial guarantees are nothing new in the world of big event planning, and from a macro perspective it is very good business to know what is going into your pocket at the end of the tournament.   You cannot fault the CHL for looking out for their own best interests.   The hope is that they do not paint themselves into a corner with few cities part of the bidding process.  Essentially, that will create a tier system some already say may exist in Canadian major junior hockey already.  

A fair shot at the hosting the biggest tournament of the year should be available to all.    After all that is the true spirit of competition. 


Monday, January 20, 2014

MONDAY MUSINGS...ICEDOGS RICHARD SHERMAN AND MORE


  • Aah the perils of being a young team.  the IceDogs showed their growing pains after an impressive 6-3 win over the Kingston Frontanacs, by showing up flat on the road on the weekend, dropping a 6-2 decision in Barrie and a 5-1 thrashing in North Bay.   Uneven play will plague the IceDogs from time to time this year.  They also caught a bit of lightning in a bottle as well as the Kingston victory was in the midst of what has become a 5 game road losing streak while their 5-4 OT win last weekend over Windsor was followed up by a 9-0 lambasting of the Spitfires in Erie the next day.  Big challenges await this weekend with home games versus Mississauga and Ottawa on Thurday and Saturday sandwiched around a visit to Erie on Friday night. 
  • Twitter exploded after Richard Sherman's WWE style promo interview post- Seattle's win over San Fran in the NFC Title Game.    Fox, who apparently, cut short the interview for their own reasons then decided to have a contrite and articulate Sherman on two more times before the post game ended.   What got me were the reporters chastising those who felt that Sherman was classless and out of line because there was high entertainment value not normally seen in today's cliche spewing vanilla interviews with athletes. Listen, I love a good quote or interview as much as the next guy and Sherman was must see, highly entertaining TV.  However, he was also a classless, self-absorbed jerk  as well. You can be both entertaining and a complete tool at the same time. Trust me, I've patterned both a teaching and broadcasting career around that same philosophy!
  • If I had an autobiography it might be titled Paul Romanuk Ruined My Career.  Ok, ok, it's not entirely true.  Many would say that if my broadcasting career does not advance beyond it's current state, the wounds would be self inflicted.   A few years back I can remember applying for the Raptors play by play job when they went away from a simulcast of TV.  I had actually a couple of positive conversations with then Fan 590 program director Nelson Millman about the position before Mr. Romanuk swooped in with his NHL and Olympic position and broke my heart.  Well, that might be somewhat exaggerated, but its my story and I can tell it anyway I want.  Anyways, with Rogers grabbing the national rights to the NHL next year anyone with a microphone and a voice checking to see if there are any openings comes news from Steve Simmons of The Sun that the very same evil incarnate Paul Romanuk might be in line to be the number two man behind Jim Hughson.  Nothing confirmed, but Romanuk would be a very nice fit behind Jim Hughson.  Damn you Paul Romanuk! *shakes fist like a caught Scooby Doo Villain* 
  • Oh those Raptors.  They have the city of Toronto dying to root for them, and they go and pull the grenade on themselves with a sloppy loss to an LA Lakers team that is a shell of its former self.   While fans can accept a hard fought loss against the elite of the league, a loss to the directionless Lakers is something that cannot be forgiven by a fan base who has raised their expectation level since the beginning of the year. 
  • Rooting for the Bronco's in the SuperBowl.  It has nothing to do with Richard Sherman, and a lot to do with the fact I can't stand Pete Carroll and I have a very healthy respect for Peyton Manning.  That's the SNL hosting Peyton Manning, and not the QB Peyton Manning, who broke all of my hero Dan Marino's records.   Now all Dan has is a terrible acting resume thanks to Hootie and the Blowfish and Ace Ventura and a stunning collection of both Isotoner gloves and commericals. 
  • A busy broadcasting week awaits with three games in three nights.  Two IceDog games and then a return to the Cable 14 booth for the Hamilton Bulldogs vs Toronto Marlies.  I love calling AHL games from Copps Coliseum as the sightlines are great and it gets me that much closer to the big show.  However, its the fourth straight Marlies/Bulldogs game and the story lines are  tougher to find! Still there is high entertainment value in the Battle Ontario, especially with the two teams in such close proximity in the standings.  Bang! Now we've got a storyline! Top that Paul Romanuk!

Until next time.
Steve Clark