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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ombudsmen: A Modest Proposal for the Ontario Hockey League

The storm  clouds seem to have settled for the time, being in Flint, Michigan.  Though, it would appear, all is far from rosy.  Rolf Nilson ate a heaping, healthy dose of humble pie by coming to the genius conclusion that without a team, or coaches, makes it tough to own a hockey team.  Young Hakon Nielsen remains a Firebird for the foreseeable future, but questions linger around the management of the team and some have taken up the mantle that this sort of act of rebellion lends credence to the unionization of junior hockey. 

Lets stop right there.    I am not a fan of unions, and I say this being a union member myself.     I am not against a form of representation, but adding unions, who often times do not have the best interests of the membership at heart, is not the solution in my humble opinion.   The same goes for increased power in agents.   Agents, again, have a protected interest in their clientlele, but it cann be argued that their interest in the greater good beyond their clientele can certainly be called into a question.   I am invested in greater representation for the players, and improved compensation structure.  To me, the best interest of the players would be served by Ombudsmen. 

Ombudsmen, by definition, investigate complaints that are made against authority.  By nature normally reserved for government institutions, I can see this skill set easily transferrable to junior hockey.  

Regional Ombudsmen (maybe three for the whole league) will meet with teams and discuss concerns.  Concerns can be submitted in a meeting,  anonymously or in person and can be on a range of day to day issues.   Of course hockey related decisions and ice time are left to the coaching staff, and agents and other hockey personnel.  The Ombudsmen role is best left to deal with day to day life of a player like academic concerns, compensation concerns, personal concerns with management, teammates, issues of harassment, bullying, discrimination even billet concerns can be addressed via the Ombudsmen role.  The Ombudsmen can work with people already charged with academic, billet roles to act as an intermediary.  More importanly the Ombudsmen is a trusted individual who can collate a list of concerns and prioritize them with the league office.    

To me the game of hockey at the junior level is evolving.  Compensation and education structures are improving but far from where they need to be to reflect the student -athlete/elite athlete needs of today.   The Ombudsman can help convey those needs to the league so that they can be evaluated on a regular basis, say annually.  Of course the needs of the players will be balanced with the needs of managment and the league.  Sounds a bit like a union, but it is not. There are no dues to be paid, no minimum wage to be decided, no legal battles to be fought.   

Idealistc?  Sure, probably.  Realistic?  Not really. You're going to have to invest in this and offer a fair compensation structure for the job you expect this person to do.   

I will say that one of the bigger concerns voiced is that we drop high school, early college/university aged elite athletes far away from home and expect them to thrive, and excel in high pressured situations. 

Having someone be an advocate, who has the best interests of the players and the league at heart with little to to self-interest or personal gain is a worthwhile investment.   

Monday, November 9, 2015

Uprising in Flint !

Image result for flint firebirds logoImage result for michael moore flint michiganImage result for Rolf Nilsen
Gong Show gear is a popular hockey apparel site that offers t shirts/sweaters and golf shirts with a of clever phrases.  They're latest line could deal with situation going on with one of the OHL's newest ownership groups and franchises, the Flint Firebirds.  I can see the T-Shirts being printed now "Flint Firebirds: Nepotism Before Team" or "Flint Firebirds: We Dangle, Snipe and Walk Out" .

The news broke last night, and I will give credit where it is due, even if it is reluctant and with an individual I normally have little time for.    OHL Insiders was one of, if not the first to report of the Flint uprising  (pauses briefly to set this blog to the background music of Muses Song- Uprising!  )

Now we can set the scene with appropriate music!    In short, as reported now by a number of credible sources, not limited to Jeff Marek of Sportsnet, John Buccigrossi of ESPN,  there was a tremendous show of defiance by the players of the Flint Firebirds after the whole coaching staff, led by John Gruden (not the football coach affectionately nicknamed Chucky) was dismissed after a stirring comeback victory by the Firebirds as they bested Oshawa at home 4-3 in OT.  Imagine that, a coach canned after a great comeback.  

Good reports are here:  

The real issues begins with the owner, a fellow by the name of Rolf Nilsen, evidently a successful businessman as he owns IMS Limited, which is out of Florida.   It should be noted that a quick search of Hockey db revealed no hockey stats for Mr Nilsen, unlike other owners like the Hunters and Hatchers of London and Sarnia respectively, who are dyed in the wool hockey men.

Caught in this crossfire is Rolf's son Haken as it was deemed that dad was none too pleased with the amount of ice time young Haken was getting and had made his feelings clear to the coaching staff by firing him when they refused to accede to his request.   Now you can really crank up Muse's uprising as the Flint players on mass, in a show of support for the coaches quit and depending on the rumours threw their jerseys down.    It should also be acknowledged that young Haken sided with his teammates, and not his father on this, which will not make for a very fun Thanksgving at the Nilsen household.

  Imagine the dialogue

Rolf:   "Can my turn coat son pass the gravy, or is he going to walk out on dinner?"

Haken:  " Sure Dad,  but only if you don't fire mom because she didn't let me help out in the kitchen!"

I'm going to admit that when I read this I first thought that the CHLPA has surreptitiously started infiltrating teams from the inside in their plan to topple David Branch and the CHL.    Here's is the thing.  Nepotism and the hiring of family members in key position that may, or may not be suited for is in every major industry.  Hockey is not unique.  

We have it here in Niagara.  The Burke's are a family business in the truest sense of the word.  Bill Burke junior is an assistant coach, while Joey Burke is assistant to the GM Marty Williamson.  That said, there is a difference between learning the business from the ground up, and forcing relatives into a situation that they cannot possibly succeed.  Joey and Billy, are well suited for their positions.  Billy is a former OHL player, astute enough to be the QB at Queens University, and his appointment to assistant coach makes sense.   Joey's job duties included gathering statistics and observations during the game, and being immersed in the scouting side of the business,  In fact I would strongly argue that we stopped focusing on the last names of these two gentleman a long time ago because they naturally are well suited for their jobs.  

Not so in Flint where Rolf felt Hakon deserved a higher profile and more ice time.  Hakon, a 7th rd 124th overall pick had dressed in 5 games recording 0 points and was a -3.  He had come out of the highly regarded   Honeybaked program, as well as the Little Caesars U 16 and U 18 program, where he had modest stats before getting drafted.   Hakon is the one I feel for the most.  He's 17 years old, and already has a bit of a bulls eye by being the owners son.  Now he is thrust in the middle of an almost impossible situation where any decision he makes is lousy.  Choose dad, and alienate himself from the team.  Choose the team, and he defies his father.      It is not unlike the situation in Sudbury where the owners son Connor Burgess eventually left the team and went to university after there were allegations of owner pressure to give Connor more ice time.  This type of stuff should be left behind in leagues lower to this, as it is a black eye on what is supposed to be the best developmental league in the world.  

As Flint lurches towards their scheduled Friday home game vs Sarnia,  the game night promotion of the game is split between "Come to the Game.  We May or May Not Have a Team" or "Firebirds Dysfunctional Family Night"   They need to clean up this mess, and clean it up fast.  There are no good options available here for Rolf Nilson.    His best one is probably this:

1. Fall on his sword, apologize to the coaching staff and rehire them.  He might also want to distance himself from the hockey operations, by staying in Florida for the foreseeable future.

2. Not rehire the coaching staff, and try to hire another coach.  Good luck with that as what coach in their right mind would want to be with his parody of a hockey franchise!  Also, the players may not sign off on a new coach, even if it is Scotty Bowman, they're that pissed.

3. Do the Harold Ballard thing and fire Roger Neilson, and then rehire him but only if he wants to wear a paper bag over his head for a grand revelation on the bench.  I'd suggest a lucha libre mask instead of a paper bag, but I would also suggest the Harold Ballard school of thought is not one to be adopted.

4. Trade young Haken out of town.  He'll still carry the stigma of being that guy, but will out from the ominous shadow of his father.

I will say this.  David Branch better intervene , and intervene fast.  This is an ownership group new to the OHL but approved by Branch and the board of governors that decide this sort of thing.  He needs to be in Flint  , Michigan sooner rather than later and he needs to get this thing settled once and for all.  This is a story that is being picked up by mainstream hockey media both here in North America and even around the world. They will be watching, and if Flint makes the wrong decision, they may as well pack up shop as they will have no credibility.

Wow!  All this happening in Flint, Michigan, the hometown of noted rabble rouser, and defender of the little guy Michael Moore. He loves a good rebellion and could make one hell of a documentary on this

Rolf and Me:   Revolt in Flint:  a Michael Moore production.

Fix it David Branch, or you name goes on the marquee alongside Rolf Nilson.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

An All Over The Place Blog

Another delay in blogging.  Hockey season, teaching, home life all get in the way of me indulging in my favourite relaxing pastime.  So with hockey, basketball, legal matters and other things all percolating, time to release some of the angst and opine a little bit! 

No, it was not surprising to see this occur.   Incompetence, meddling, the stigma of being an alleged victim to a a high profile alleged perpetrator all conspired to bring this to a sad, but inevitable logical conclusion.  When her alleged victims old lawyer starts crying tampering of evidence before all the facts are in, you know you are in for a gong show.  The infamous ripped evidence bag became a hoax perpetrated by the victims mother, and that severely undermined the credibility of the case.   Thankfully the victims lawyer departed the case before he could any more damage, but the DA's Office intervened and chose not to prosecute.  Honestly, I have no opinion on Patrick Kane's guilt or innocence as there is simply not enough of the story being made public.  However, when a DA's Office refers to the case as a "so called case" rife with "reasonable doubt" , it does not exactly encourage other potential victims of sexual assault to come forward.  On a hockey note, I still do not think that the BlackHawks are thrilled to have this come across their desks, as it is not the first time Kane has come under scrutiny.  Tough to find trade partners with the salary so exorbitant.   

DA Statement is :   HERE

No real good segue from that last item, but onto some good news.   The IceDogs gained six points from three games, and a clean sweep of last weekend, besting Mississauga, Sarnia and North Bay.  The team is back to .500 and has a five game home stand starting with a very good Windsor Spitfire team. I fully admit to sitting there playing arm chair GM wondering if the team was going to be blown up or whether or not a strategic trade or two would be made to recalibrate the talented teams.  Sometimes the best moves are the ones you do not make, and the IceDogs are all business now. 

I have written a lot about professional basketball coming into Southern Ontario.  The NBA D League will have Raptors905, the NBL expanded and includes a franchise in Niagara, while the CBL has launched two teams, with plans to launch two more.  

The NBL has had a banner off season, recovering from some terrible publicity at the end of last season where they crowned a champion by default, and held a sheepish team celebration.  A new commissioner in David Magley, an expansion team in Niagara and a rebirth of the Halifax franchise all point to a season full of growth instead of angst.  Starting the season in December may have raised an eyebrow, but teams now have more time to promote, and the league gets more distance from the end of last season which I wrote about in detail, but do not feel compelled to detail, outside of acknowledging it happened.   Here's hoping for a controversy free, profitable year!

As for the CBL there has been a lot of enthusiasm and a tremendous buzz around teams from Waterloo and Hamilton, but the season is set to start in five weeks, and there is no confirmation of the other two teams, who are set to be Ottawa and Scarborough.  There is lots of infrastructure work being done under the radar, but a lot remains.    That said, you have to have faith in Butch Carter, a basketball coach/entrepreneur who says the right things and more importantly tapped into the right resources and hired good people.  When you can hold a press conference and get tweets from mayors and other politicians, like he has in Kitchener Waterloo, then you've got something.   Also, to be considered is the agreement with CHCH TV, which could be a game changer.  CHCH has dipped its toe into the sports water again by striking a deal with the OUA.  Great to see the independent channel step up with the big guys from Bell and Rogers.   

Anyway you look at it, its a boost for basketball fans in the area.   Both leagues need to differentiate themselves, and continue to create a great buzz.  There's enough room in Ontario for leagues to operate independent of one and other.   


I'm a nerd. Now, many people are probably thinking and wondering why I admit it now, when they have known for 20 years.    I love consuming sports radio and listen constantly to The Fan 590 and TSN 1050 and 1150.  The Fan has gone outside of the box and brought in popular guests Jon Morosi, Richard Deitsch, and Eric Francis to co host key demographic shows like Dean Blundell and Company and Prime Time Sports.  The content has been rich, and the personalities have shone with their back and forth and questioning of guests.  My only concern is that of the three , only Francis is Canadian.  I think there is a ton of untapped , underrated Canadian talent out there who could do a sports show, and we do not need to stunt-cast U.S. based personalities.   That said, having them in for a short period of time is a tremendous boost and likely revitalizes the hosts and the format.  I love all three guys who have come in. They're entertaining, passionate and knowledgeable.  Canadian sports talk show hosts, and wannabee hosts:  The mantra has been put out there.  Step up and show that we Canucks can be compelling and damn entertaining too! 

Until next time
Steve Clark

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On Joe Bowen/Jim Ralph Road Broadcasting Situation.

Image result for Joe Bowen Jim Ralph Leafs
(Photo Courtesy of Toronto Sports Media)

I was away in B.C. dealing with a serious family situation when the news broke from the well regarded, and excellent Toronto Sports Media site (TSM) that it would be appear that Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph, the long time radio broadcasters for the Leafs would not be travelling on the road with the team, and would instead call games in studio from a monitor.  Thankfully, after a day of reaction, and commentary from mainstream media, bloggers, online posters and Joe Bowen itself, the situation appears to have corrected itself.  There was a legitimate personal concern, that this would be a growing trend and a further erosion of the radio medium.  It may not seem like a big deal to many, but for guys hanging around an industry which is high on supply and low on demand, and also under a lot of scrutiny from team officials, fans and broadcasting executives, I felt that Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph would not be maximizing their expertise.  If I am a supervisor or a boss in any field, my goal is to put people in places they could succeed the most.    That said, I get where Bell and Rogers are coming from.  They are a business, have a budget and have a bottom line. In radio the costs can be extravagant and those costs have to recouped from corporate sponsors.   

Now, deep breath.  Here is more background, followed by my take.

Here are the stories:   

Ok, here is my take on the whole situation from a guy who is in the business of sports broadcasting, all be it on the periphery.   This whole story got its wings when Lou Lamierello made the decision to not have Toronto media fly on the Charter plane with the Leafs, as they had before.  Really, when it comes to things such as media on the plane, it is the teams prerogative to have them on or not.   The Leafs brass felt that the plane was an extension of the dressing room, which is a more than fair analogy.   A lot of extended team personel is on the flight.   Coaches may need to meet with players.  GM's and Coaches may need to chat about a player performance, a transaction as well as game strategy.  It is not all comfy seats, extravagent spreads and card games on a plane.   I would think that broadcasters, and media would excercise discretion though and not report anything they got form the privilege of flying on the team charter.  That's Media 101, and if you are in the habit or reporting from a plane, you are only hurting your own credibility. 

To be honest with you, I do not travel on the road with the teams I broadcast for, and just call their home games.   This suits me just fine.  I could glean very little from travelling with the team that would help my broadcast.   Sure I could get a sense of the team on the road via game day skate and road routines, but nothing that could really add to the broadcasts.  Normally I maintain a safe distance from the team. Do I know some of the guys?  Some better than others.  Others I do not know at all., and I do not think it detracts from my game call.  If I need to know something, I can ask a variety of sources, players included.   To me, that is a minor issue, except of course the perks and luxuries that one would get from travelling with the team.  It is a nice carrot for the broadcasters to have on the road.   Now they would have to fly charter and sit in coach, which is far less comfortable, but hey, you are still in the best arenas in North American, get to see different cities and have the best job on earth, calling games on radio.  

The second issue is the main one.  That is to have Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph call the game on a monitor in a Toronto studio.  This is not something that is novel.  Lots of Olympic events are called off of a screen in a remote location from the actual event.  However, in hockey and from my perspective at all, to me it does not work at all.  Now Joe and Jim are professionals, and could likely communicate the necessary information to the listener, but it would not be the same and you could not capture the same emotion as you could by being at a game.  The sounds of the crowd, the pace of the game and the subtle nuances that broadcasters notice from the broadcast booth simply cannot be replicated at the studio.  You are at the whim of the TV broadcaster for camera angles and replays, cannot see all of the ice, or more importantly the numbers of the players.  That makes your job that much more difficult.  I get that there is a substantial cost to sending broadcasters on the road for radio, which some see as a medium that is in its twilight. I do not subscribe to the whole radio is a dying breed mentality.  I sure think it can be freshened up, but I have a lot of love for the medium of radio and feel it adds a lot to the game, especially if you have a passionate broadcaster like Joe Bowen.  Could there be more interactivity via social media or other communication pieces to spruce up and update the broadcast?  Sure. Ultimately though the pure game call is the thing.  Of course, I'm bias as I am a broadcaster, and might not be in the right age demographic.   As for the cost, I get it from Rogers/Bell that there is a cost of sending guys on the road.  Please spare me the Bell/Rogers are rich companies spiel.  You know why they are rich companies?   It is because they look at the bottom line.  I do not doubt for one minute the fact that the $200 000 cost to send guys on the road is accurate.  Now you are looking at potentially 41 flights times three (Joe, Jim and a technician), along with Per Diem money as well as hotel costs.    Add in salaries of all three, and the costs overall become quite substantial, but in my opinion, a worthwhile investment.   Radio rounds out your coverage, and gives those who do not have the full TV packages a lifeline to the team. Plus, radio broadcasters are the soundtrack of the lives of those that tune in.  I used to record signature Joe Bowen calls for my answering machine message back in the day, and still love,the medium.  Again, I am strolling down memory lane, and also maybe sabotaging my own argument here, but I still see value in the traditional radio product.  That will never change.   

Fortunately it looks like Joe and Jim will be back  on the road calling games from the arena, where they should be.  No doubt there will be cutbacks and ways to save.  Games in Detroit, Buffalo, Montreal, or Ottawa are likely to be more car rentals, and/or train rides if the dollars work out.  There willl a few less hotel nights, if there is some cost saving.  Hey, that's  life in the business world.   Should this controversy have generated the headlines that it did?  Probably not, but there are a lot of people who are passionate about broadcasts, and broadcasters in general.   

Overall, I am relieved that the guys are back on the road, not necessarily for them, but the industry in general.  If this experiment had carried through, and people saw no noticeable difference, I would have hated to see this be a trend that trickled throughout the league.    Already we have two teams that simulcast TV and radio feeds in Buffalo and Dallas, that tend to lead more towards the TV call, and leave the radio call as a something of an afterthought.  Fortunately the guys that call the games are adept at any medium, and can strike the balance needed (Buffalo has Rick Jeannerett/Dan Dunleavy and Dallas has Dave Strader). 

Maybe this will be addressed down the road again, and the outcome might be different.  I get the sense that this might be reviewed on a year to year basis purely for the dollars and cents.  For now, I am glad that Bonsie and Ralphie are back on the road and calling the games in the arena, as opposed to a TV monitor!  

Steve Clark

Monday, September 21, 2015

Weekend Thoughts...An Enforcer Passes, IceDogs etc

A lot percolating so lets get right to it...

And this list of enforcers succombing to tragedy continues with former enforcer Todd Ewan passing away at the very , very young age of 49.  Early reports have indicated that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gun shot wound.  Regardless, its absolute damn tragedy!.  I just finished teaching my law class about the lawsuit filed against the NHL by the family of Derek Boogard, the tough guy who passed away in 2013 at the age of 28 from a combination of alchohol and prescription narcotics.   

The list of fighters who have died is getting too long not to be noticed.  Steve Montador, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, Bob Probert, John Kordic, all gone before the age of 50.   All guys who made their living either as a fighter/enforcer, or in the case of Montador, a tough and rugged defensemen. 

The NHL, early in the concussion lawsuit, basically showed their cards and stated that part of their defense would be predicated on the fact that the athletes should have known better.  While it comes across as cold hearted, at the heart of tort law cases, is the aspect of blameworthiness and forseeability, so the defense is a natural one.   That said, as the deaths start to accumulate and the link is that all the men served as enforcers, the case against fighting grows stronger and the link of these men to CTE (essentially repetitive brain trauma) grows stronger. 

It is probably too early to speculate about what caused Todd Ewan to do what he did, but hockey db shows Ewan with 1911 penalty minutes in 518 games in the NHL, with 150 NHL fights, according to    That is a lot of repeated trauma. 

RIP Todd

The Pre-season closed with a bang for the IceDogs, and it was not due to on ice performances.  In fact our first broadcast featured a somewhat pedestrian 4-0 IceDog win in a game that was ragged, at times physical, and no ways a classic.    That is not to indict the players, it is more of a commentary on exhibition play as a whole.  The IceDogs have a strong lineup , top to bottom, and not too many available spotss, so the urgency for some may not have been there, as the roster is somewhat set in stone.   Off ice though, things were a lot more interesting.   Mercurial Josh Ho-Sang was sent home by the Islanders after Day One because he slept in and missed the first session of training camp.  A lesson learned by young Josh no doubt.  Josh has basically been pegged unfairly as a malcontent because he marches to the beat of his own drummer, and for sure he takes the odd shift off, and takes the odd long shift.  He is so explosive and dynamic that his flaws get magnified more than most.   However, what we have here is an articulate , out spoken , fiercly proud athlete who feels he is the best.    A lot of people mistake that for arrogance and entitlement, and other things stronger.  Unfortunately the stigma has unfairly stuck.  Some of the Twitter commentary was head shaking.  Bottom line is that he was a 19 year old kid who screwed up and got rightly admonished.  Everyone else playing therapist, and dismissing him are simply way off base.  The Dogs get things going in Sudbury on Friday to kick off the regular season. 

TSN1150 Hamilton
My TSN 1150 debut turned into an eventful afternoon that had n othing to do with football.  Technical issues, a biblical rainstorm, a malfunctioning scoreboard and using my cell phone to call the 1st quarter to call the game turned a fun afternoon broadcast into a really fun afternoon broadcast.  Seriously, the stress level in getting on the air was high but we did it and as my good buddy Ed Burkholder says "Don't tell me rough the waves were, just get the boat to shore".   We did that!  Can't wait for my next gig!


  • banter about the Blue Jays playoff rotation.  In case you haven't noticed, the team is only 2 games ahead of the Yankees, and if they're not careful, we will be talking about one pitcher in a sudden death wild card game
  • Maple Leaf inter squad scrimmage line combo's and updates.  It's too early ! Also, while broadcasting pre season games is great content, it's also too early to speculate about the Maple Leafs, and any other team
  • People who give Fantasy Football updates on social media.  No GronkowskiPartyRoom I don't care how your wide receivers are doing
  • The term Insiders, unless your name is Bob McKenzie
  • The Emmy's- it is a sad realization that outside of sports, reruns and wrestling, I do not watch anything on TV. Now if they had the Treehouse TV awards, I'd nail it thanks to my four year old! 
Good times!
Steve Clark

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Get your scorecards out because you are going to need them!  If you enjoy hoops of a professional nature, you might want to pay attention.    There will be three different semi professional basketball leagues operating partly or fully in Ontario for the 2015-2016 season. Add in the Toronto Raptors and it is a veritable hoops bonanza.     Lets try and keep them straight while I offer up an opinion or two on the entities.  I am going to stick with the three minor pro leagues in Ontario , rather than the Raptors, who are the clear and undefined kings of the mountain.   One wonders if people will meaningfully support semi pro basketball, or have they been spoiled by having an NBA team for 20 years in the region.  Plus, there is OUA and OCAA university and college basketball to deal with.  Is there enough hoops support to spread around?    In a general sense, there is.  While there are three different leagues and 10 teams with minor pro basketball, each of those teams is regional in nature, and there should not be a lot of crossover of fighting for fans.   one NBL team threw in the towel today in Brampton, as they moved their operation to Orangeville, home of the owners of the team.   One of the reasons they cited was the fact that they were too close to Mississauga, home of Raptors905, and felt that they could not compete against them in the market, given the two cities are separated by only ten minutes. 

The driving force behind the CBL is ex- Toronto Raptors coach Butch Carter.  Despite being long removed from the Raptors, Butch loves Ontario so much that he put down roots here by getting married and having a child.  It is very clear that he  is committed to starting a pro basketball league in Canada.    He's starting small, with four franchises in Ottawa/ Scarborough/ Waterloo and Hamilton, but hopes to expand to 12 teams cross country in the foreseeable future.   Utilizing a business model and approach used in European basketball leagues Carter hopes to capture the imagination of basketball fans in Ontario and Canada. His league is set to tip off December of 2015:


  • Butch himself.  He's  a commanding presence with a deep resonating voice who works the media rounds with ease.  He has also been successful as a basketball coach,  likely retaining some great basketball contacts. Other business ventures helmed by Butch have been a success, and his career as a guest speaker is very solid.   The franchise in Ottawa is rumoured to have both Leo Rautins and Dave Smart involved, and if he's smart, the first phone call in Hamilton should be to Ron Foxcroft.  He is smart, calculated and seems to, at least on paper, addressed the pitfalls of previous attempts at basketball leagues.  Whether it will translate to a financial success remains to be seen.  If it does not succeed, it will not be due to carelessness.
  • A TV deal with CHCH TV that would give the teams maximum exposure on a bigger stage than the other two rival leagues in Ontario. While the sports broadcasting market is saturated, having a station like CHCH which broadcasts all over the province is great.   The old OUA(A) Game of the Week in Football and Basketball was a long standing tradition on CHCH and always drew well, put athletes in the spotlight and gave the sport a much needed boost. 
  • High quality basketball.  There are a ton of CIS players, and small U.S. college NCAA D 1/2/3, etc players who would jump at the idea.  The on court product will be fantastic. 
  • The markets chosen and the venues will be catered to basketball, and won't be converted hockey arenas.  That will keep costs down and will avoid conflict with hockey in the area.  All the markets were specifically chosen for their commitment to amateur or semi pro sports. Population density, support of sport in the area were all carefully analyzed.  The travel budget and schedule should be reasonable, given the close proximity of three of the markets and the relative ease of transportation to Ottawa.  The research was thorough. 
  • A lousy track record of pro basketball success in the area.  Ghosts of leagues and franchises past that started with big ideas and flamed out in a hurry due to lack of interest and unforeseen costs.  I've been involved with a couple of them, and the outcome was not pretty. I really can't pull off this line, but survivial is indeed "all about the benjamins", and in the past the dollars were not flowing and butts were not put in the seat.  Many rental agreements and facilities were left unpaid. 
  • A late start.  The first franchise was announced this week and the league is expected to start playing in December.  That gives you just three months to find players, referees, coaches, off court officials, employees, and cement your corporate sponsorship, social media and marketing plan.  It is not a whole lot of  time.
  • Just four teams the 1st year might get stale as the teams will player each other 8 or 9 times a year.  Gearing up for that 6th Ottawa/Waterloo match up might be tough, though the fans will see the players a lot, so they should become familiar with them!

Hard to believe but now considered the old guard of semi pro basketball in Canada.  In Ontario teams operate in Windsor, London, Niagara and Orangeville, who just got a team thanks to Brampton pulling up stakes and leaving town.  There are also teams in Halifax (with new ownership), PEI ,  and Moncton.  It has been a tumultuous end and off-season for the NBL with a championship fiasco that saw Game 7 get cancelled when Halifax left the building and went home, citing safety concerns after a pre game shoot around dust up.  Franchises have been lost in Mississauga and Brampton, while the league will rely heavily on a new franchise in Niagara to join Windsor and London as pillars of strength. 

  • London, in many ways, has been the gold standard for minor pro basketball.  They draw good crowds, have solid ownership and good media coverage.  They wave the flag for the league and have been unflappable as there has been league turmoil the past few years. 

  • Good potential in Niagara and Windsor. Windsor is a step or two behind London , but is starting to make strides.  They are the defending champions and play out of the lovely WFCU Centre.  Niagara is a good market, isolated with a strong fan base.  It is asking a lot for a new franchise to be a cornerstone in its first year though. 

  • Commissioner David Magley, former Coach /GM of Brampton's franchise is the new commissioner.  After a turnstile approach to the most important job in the league, Magley brings credibility and respect to the office after a few years of rotating commissioners. 
  • League has seen a lot of franchise shuffling.  Ontario has lost teams in Oshawa, Mississauga and Brampton (gone to Orangeville), an attempt to put a footprint in Quebec failed miserably and the Atlantic teams have had assorted issues, from attendance to ownership. This league is far from stable 
  • Media coverage has been spotty, and live game coverage is restricted to streaming through YouTube.  YouTube might be a major player down the road in sports properties but little is being gleaned right now for the league outside of a small, dedicated fan base
  • They too are fighting the stigma of pro basketball in Canada.  The track record is ugly, and the fact that this league is still in business should be celebrated. 


Following the model of a lot of professional hockey teams, the Raptors sought to have their NBA D-LEAGUE team close to home.  After some fancy maneuvering ,  Mississauga was chosen to be the location of the franchise.   It shuffled the NBL franchise out of town and will be the only Canadian DLeague based team.     

  • The mighty marketing arm of MLSE will give it Raptors905 a decided advantage over the other two leagues.  Cross promotion/marketing should be easy across the MLSE platforms.  Calling the team Raptors905 is a stroke of genius that should gain traction from all 905'ers.  The name is slick and current and appeals to a younger fan base. 

  • Quality of play/name recognition of the players should be good as well, as many will be Raptor draft picks.   The quality of play should be high and the Hershey Centre in Mississauga is a nice sized venue.  Plus the team will get further exposure when they play two games at the Air Canada Centre. 
  • Few really, outside of having no natural rivals, as they are the only Canadian team right now.   It is going to be hard for fans to get up and get excited for the likes of Bakersfield, Grand Rapids, Sioux Falls and Westchester.  

This is great for basketball fans in the Ontario. Hopefully the leagues can tap into a young and enthusiastic fan base.  The grassroots growth of basketball is outstanding in this province and country.  Tons of players play the sport, but do they want to watch the sport if it is not the Raptors? That remains to be seen for all the markets.  Also, the success of Canada's national teams and the types of players on the team who are stars, or going to be NBA stars is light years ahead of what it used to be, when it was Steve Nash and a bunch of guys no one had heard of.  The betting here is that the NBL and CBL will eventually eat their young, keep the strong franchises and form one league, while the D League franchise will stand alone and draw better than the other leagues thanks to MLSE's marketing and reach.   

Fun times ahead though if you love basketball! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Clark Hall of Fame Expands/ Sports Talk Radio Thoughts

Well, what a lousy way to close out summer.   Back to work I went, and the calamities just kept piling up.  First of all it was excessively hot in the school that I work at.  Nothing like a place with no air conditioning and a temp/humidity in the high 80's to kick things off.    I think I sweated off about 10 lbs yesterday, and that is not the weight loss plan I would like to embrace!s Then I inadvertently spilt chocolate milk on my wife's Ipad, daughters DVD player and a couple of other electronics.    After school, I got a ticket for the gentlest of failure to yield.  Guess I should only blame myself as it was the first day of school!  Today was a new day right?  Right?   Nope, as I woke up today to discover our beta fish nose first at the bottom of his aquarium.   A short burial ceremony followed, and all donations can be made out to me.  I will make sure that I forward them to the Beta Fish Hospice.  

OK, now that is out of the way, lets get onto some good news that does not involved dead fish, the heat or brushes with the law! 

As a Hamiltonian and a freelance broadcaster, I was really excited to see Hamilton get an all sports radio station from the TSN family.    1150 TSN in Hamilton took the old CKOC frequency and had been doing some sports talk and broadcasting all the Hamilton TigerCat games.  On Labour Day 10:00am, the switch was flipped and all sports talk had its debut live from Tim Horton's Field as Marshall Ferguson, Jim Tatti and Steve Milton became the first official voices on the station, Stewart Johnson , President of TSN was the first guest.   They took it until 1:00 when the Labour Day Classic turned into a Labour Day Massacre as Andy McNamara, Marshall and Coach Sal formed the commentary team for the TigerCats.  After the game it was the post game from Marshall and Matt Cauz.    As it stands right now, there will be a mixture of imported programming and local talk.    After Mike and Mike and Dan Patrick U.S syndicated program, Jim Tatti does TiCat Lunch for 2 hours.  Leafs lunch gets replayed for two hours and then Marsh and Milton do the drive home show from 4:00-7:00pm. 

You may have noticed that one name is prominent in this.  Marshall Ferguson is a 23 year old broadcaster beyond his years.  He has a profile in the city having been the QB for the McMaster Marauders, last year taking them to the Vanier Cup where they lost in heartbreaking fashion.  As I guy on the periphery of media, I can tell you that Marshall is a very fortunate individual to be in such a high profile position at such a young age.  He is truly an example of right place, right time.  That said, you cannot be in this position without having the talent or skillz as the kids would say!  He's quite good, and while there is a bit of a learning curve, he's going to be a star in this business.  Pairing him with Steve Milton is a good piece of business as well.  Steve also has a great profile having written sports in the Hammer for many a good year.  Plus, he's got a magnificent grey flow that deserves TV time too!     

And hey, cheap plug, should they choose to expand the programming, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  It is said that I've got hair for TV but a face made for radio....

Also, on the radio side of things, I am happy for another old friend of mine Dave Cadeau who was named the Program Director of the Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590.  You want to see a guy who has paid his dues?   Dave is your man.  Check this resume.  He's been floor director at LEAFS TV, did voice overs at The Score, hosted and did updates on the Fan590, produced both Mike Hogan and Chuck Swirsky at The Fan, Produced and booked at TSN on Off The Record, and returned to the Fan as Assistant PD.  Now that's experiencing any, and everything in sports media.   One of Dave's on-air starts was when we covered the Newmarket Hurricanes for three years, doing live TV broadcasts once a week.  Dave was a work in progress when he was the play by play guy and I was the colour guy, but we had a tremendous amount of fun and put together a solid broadcast.  We had lots of laughs so I feel compelled to share a couple of stories..  One time we were in the middle of broadcasting a game around Christmas Time and the camera spanned to a young man dancing and gesturing wildly wearing a Team Canada shirt.  He was an odd fellow with a set of teeth only a mother could love.  I commented that the fan was ready for the World Junior Tournament, while Dave blurted out that it also looked he was ready for the dentist.  How do you respond when the play by play guy chirps a fan?  I chose silence, or maybe the cough button because I was laughing!   Dave also came up with the idea that it would project a great on-air image if we wore leather jackets ties and gloves on -air.  It was also damn cold at most of the arenas we were at so it made good practical sense!   The thing is that Dave had this awesome sleek leather/pleather gloves while I had this wooly gloves/mitts, which did not look nearly as cool with leather jackets.  So, if you have any of those old broadcasts and are wondering why Dave and I are dressed up like Fonzie on his first day as a high school teacher on Happy Days, now you know. 

Congratulations Dave! I know you will do a great job over at The Fan, even though a ton of online commenters want to toss the morning show overboard, and then change up the rest of the day too! Everyone is a legendary Program Director in their own mind!

Image result for Stephen Clark Sports BroadcasterImage result for hall of fame clothing logo
Dave's ascension cements him in The Clark Hall of Fame, reserved for people who either started with me, or worked with me, or I met before they went high profile and have gone onto far better things than me.  Check this list:  

1. Arash Madani : I met Arash at the 1998 CIS Basketball Championships in Halifax.  We at McMaster were old hats in Halifax, having been there every year since 1993, never winning I might add.  MAC met Bishops .in the Final in a game that still breaks my heart every time I think of it.  Bishops, a small unassuming school in Lennoxville Quebec at the time won everyone's hearts with a tremendous run that included a 3 point win over MAC in the Finals, after McMaster built a big lead.   Arash got to broadcast a championship win of his alma mater his first year out there.  He was a nice fellow, intense about his work but the equipment he had was something that McGyver would have been proud of.   Yet, the broadcast found its way to Lennox-Vegas somehow.   He's another guy whose earned his rightful spot in the industry.  

2. Andi Petrillo- She was Andria Petrillo when I worked with her on a variety of on-air productions.  She was also the anchor of Rogers Sports York Region too.   We knew that she was going to be a star due to her on-air poise and obvious on-air talent.  A little known fact is that I replaced her at SkyWords Traffic doing the "coveted" 6am-12 shift on Sunday Mornings! Andi, to me, can cross over to any medium, be it news, lifestyle, entertainment, and sports.  She excelled at CBC hosting soccer as well as her work during the Olympics/PanAm Games.  

3. Andy McNamara- Andy was an enthusiastic Durham College student when he did his first Rogers TV gig with me calling the OCAA Men's and Women's Basketball All-Star Games.   That was a production that could have went off the rails as someone's great idea was to have the players wear their own team shirts, which lead to people wearing the same number.  That is a play by play man's nightmare.  Andy is another guy who has paid his dues, doing a ton of volunteer work, lacrosse and hockey play by play , fill in talk show hosting on his way to being the radio voice of the TigerCats

4. Matt Cauz- I picked up a sleepy Matt Cauz to drive to a MAC /Western Football game that we were doing live on the radio on 93.3 CFMU way back in 1998! The Mac football team was horrible back then and Matt was lucky enough to be the writer, while I was the Media Relations guy at MAC as well as going a lot of radio work.  Try promoting or writing about a team that had fashioned an 18 game losing streak!    Matt has an encyclopedic knowledge of football, and went on to call games on CFMU with our mutual friend the late and great Dr. Don Dawson.  From there Matt went to work at SUN TV on The Grill Room as a Producer/Fill in Host.  He did me a solid by booking me on the show a couple of times. I wish I could say that I repaid Matt's solid in kind with a star performance, but it was far from my best work.  Sorry Matt!  Matt has gone onto TSN radio where he co hosts a show, and filled in for Mike Richards in the summer.  Plus, if you want good wine recommendations, Matt is your man!  Between his gigs at SUN TV and TSN Radio , he worked in the wine industry. 

5. Marshall Ferguson- We talked about Marshall, but one of his first on air appearances was on a show that I created, hosted and produced called The Broadcast Booth. I had on Marshall and Ben Chapdealine and we spent a show debating the merits of the Canadian QB and its lack of CFL success.   Great booking by me putting two tall handsome athletic individuals on with me.  I looked like Quasimodo next to those two!     

6. Rob Leth- Rob and I worked together on York Region Shooter CSL Soccer and  Newmarket Hurricanes broadcasts when he was Rogers TV Sports Anchor York Region.  Rob was the play by play guy and I was the guy who finished house league hockey in unspectacular fashion at the age of 15 and somehow became the colour guy.  Rob had a good quirky sense of humour, a ton of talent and perfect TV hair.  He's had a long career at Global, was the last host of Sportsline and is best known for a viral video that made its way to Jimmy Kimmel, when he gets obliterated by a snow tube during a live TV broadcast.  Trust me, go to YouTube.. Better's the link here. 

I promise more IceDogs and hockey content in the next blog, but stroll down memory lane was hard to resist,  I can say that the team has just started their exhibition schedule and a number of palyers are at NHL camps right now, meaning the squad is very youthful.  We have our first broadcast next Friday September 18th 7pm on TV Cogeco Niagara in Full HD!  Join Ed Burkholder, Al Galloway and I.   

Steve Clark aka The Sports RainMaker!