Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Full disclosure: It's been so long since I wrote a blog that I actually forgot the password part of the sign in process. Writing, for me, is usually cathartic. I enjoy the outlet it provides, and usually it helps me work through the issue I'm writing about. Plus there's nothing wrong with brushing up on the old vocabulary skills. However, a combination of writers block and a loss of interest in writing kept me away from the keyboard.
Even though it is a couple of weeks late, the story of Rogers lifting the NHL TV contract away from Bell, while at the same time hitting a major artery of the government sponsored CBC and its iconic Hockey Night in Canada brand proved to be too irresistible not to write about. Plus, in allusion to my prior point about writing helping me solve a problem, this may help as I cannot seem to figure out whether or not the new agreement means more or less opportunity for a guy like me who currently resides at the OHL and AHL level in an on-air capacity.
First of all it is no surprise that the rights fees were so exorbitant. 5.2B is a staggering sum, and it blew the CBC out of the water, and depending on reports, did the same for the Bell Media bid, or just edged it out. However, live sports is one of the few visuals that is consumed live, and therefore is not subjected to the whims of the PVR, which more often than not skims through the advertising that drives the bus for revenue in television programming. Have you ever tried to watch a game after it has already been played? The majority of people would say no, and I would hazard to guess that those who did try to watch it after the fact either found out the score or did not enjoy it as much.
Live sports programming also offers an experience now comparable to seeing the game live. Interactive features are a part of a broadcast, and the quality of television out there enhances the viewing experience. Sports bars who want to thrive in a competitive and crowded market get it. They show multiple games on a multitude of different large HD screens. Also, live sports offers simulated and virtual ads on the TV screen that are not overly distracting to the viewer, thus providing an additional revenue stream for companies like Rogers who have invested heavily in live sports.
The other interesting factor from everyone from a casual viewer to a sports media enthusiast and to on-air personnel is the talent shuffle that may occur as a result of the seismic shift in the broadcasting landscape. While Rogers struck the first blow by wrestling away the national rights for hockey for 12 years, TSN struck back by locking up their on-air elite talent as Darren Dreger, James Duthie, Pierre LeBrun and Gord Miller re-upped with the company. Other TSN/Bell Stalwarts such as Ray Ferraro and Chris Cuthbert are likely next on the agenda. One wonders if Rogers is satisfied with their current on-air people and those of the CBC, or will they look outside the hallowed Rogers campus to new voices. This is where everyone who has ever covered a sporting event gets invested in the decisions made. No doubt Rogers' Scott Moore and Keith Pelley have been inundated with demo's and resumes.
It is tough to predict the direction Rogers wants to go. They have talent with expiring contracts on other networks to look at, as well as their own people. If I could play talent scout/on-air production coordinator, here are a few educational guesses:
1. Nick Kypreos- Sportnset- He has been talked about a lot since the acquisition, and his role could be expanded to that of Don Cherry if the network sees fit. He's improved immensely since he started on TV and seems to have a great network of contacts.
2. Doug MacLean- See above. MacLean also has cache with the average viewer as a former GM/Head Coach and Assistant Coach. He's antagonistic and bombastic, but smart and is not afraid to be opinionated.
3. Elliote Friedman- Has had the luxury of appearing on the Rogers brand a lot as a fill-in host of Prime Time Sports as well as high profile roles with the CBC. With Rogers failing to land James Duthie, he could be the main host and anchor for the coverage
4. Jim Hughson- Canada's premiere game caller came from Sportsnet to the top job at CBC. Expectation should be that he will have a pivotal role with Rogers once Hockey Night on CBC is completely done in four years.
1. Bob Cole- the venerable signal caller is CBC to the core. While his call remains high energy with the knack for hitting the high spots, he is slowing down in terms of name recognition. Also, does not seem to fit a Rogers profile per say. That said, he still could be kept on the CBC games, but at 80 years old, retirement may be at hand.
2. Don Cherry- Not an octogenarian yet but very close. The antagonistic Cherry might be one Rogers wants to distance themselves from because of his affiliation with CBC. When you create a brand, you may not take the dominant personality from the prior brand, especially one as controversial as Cherry.
3. Ron MacLean- See Cherry. He's CBC to the core, so the same reasoning that applies to Grapes applies to MacLean. He may find work at CBC after hockey because he's a pretty versatile performer
4. Daren Millard- originally thought to be a winner, the fact that it was publicized that Rogers went after Duthie may lend credence to the belief that Millard is not their guy. Only time will tell.
1. All the play by play callers and analysts currently at Rogers. Are they strong enough for a more national focus or not? Guys like John Shorthouse (Vancouver) Kevin Quinn (Edmonton) Rob Kerr (Calgary) Dean Brown (Ottawa) and Joe Bowen (Toronto) will be under scrutiny from a play by play perspective. Brown is likely the safest as he's done Sportsnet and CBC broadcasts.
2. Andi Petrillo- The talented performer has plenty of work with the CBC and has been showcased in other sports leading up to the Olympics. Probably closer to the winners category, but Sportsnet does have female voices they can look to , should they want to shift one to a more hockey focus
3. Cassie Campbell- Pascal. Vastly improved from day one at the CBC, she has done colour work and got moved to the big desk a couple of weeks back to join the on-air panel. She's a solid reporter and the fact she got a look as an on-air analyst may say something about her future.
4. Glenn Healy- If the old Glen Healy, would return- the one with the grumpy sense of humour is more prominent and not the dour guy who causes tension on the panel, he would be my top choice.
I'm not sure of Pierre McGuire's contract status, but if he is a Free Agent in the next year or two, he should be priority number one for Rogers. He's solid with NBC, and I'm not sure he would entertain a move back to Canada, but he is a dominant, all be it, polarizing personality.
Just my .$ .05
Friday, November 8, 2013
The list of NFL players who have ran afoul of the law and have been welcomed back with open arms after serving a punitive measure is a long one. Reckless gun play, potential involvement in a homicide, assault, sexual assault, car accidents, the list goes on. Heck a good portion of the Cincinnati Bengals fits the criteria. Even "Fathers of the Year" like Travis Henry, he of the double figures in children and close to double figures in mothers found gainful employment. I will use the most extreme example as a baseline. Michael Vick tortured dogs as part of an elaborate and in-depth dog- fighting ring. Sure Vick lost a lot of money, and had to sit out a couple of years while in prison. Yet now he draws a pay cheque and all mostly has been forgiven for the scrambling QB.
This brings us to the curious case of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, both offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins and ostensibly friends from all accounts. The story has been been fodder for a mainstream and sports media in need for a story that does not detail the exploits of an overweight crack smoking mayor who shall remain nameless.
Martin left the Dolphins over a week ago over allegations of harassment and bullying from Incognito, and other members of the Dolphins who sought to exclude Martin. Martin, an intellectual sort, has parents who are both university professors while he himself went to Stanford. Voice mails and texts from Ingcognito indicate a racial slant and a threatening tone towards Martin and the matter of a $15 000 bill that Martin had to unwillingly foot for a trip to Las Vegas. All pretty damning stuff, and what was not helped was Incognito's checkered past. Yet in the past week when the cone of silence around the Dolphins was lifted, something strange happened. Incognito was widely praised as a great guy and Martin's best friend, while Martin was , if you read between the lines, panned and somewhat ostracized. The man they called "Big Weirdo" may have trouble finding gainful NFL employment because he chose to lift the lid on locker room shenanigans.
Does that make any sense to you? The victim is being isolated and blamed, while the guy responsible is being praised, and by default likely very welcome back in the Dolphins locker room. QB Ryan Tannehill and WR Brian Hartline were the most vocal in defining the relationship between the two and being somewhat perturbed by the media attention of the story.
So NFL culture permits their athletes to run afoul of the law in many different and exciting ways, and allows them to return to the game they loved after taking a banned substance. Yet someone who left the team as a result of not being able to take bullying and harassment is castigated and is said to be not ready for an NFL locker room, and all that comes with it. Bizarre is but one way to describe it. Sadly, all to familiar is the other way.
I have detailed in my law classes the fact that the victim in many sexual assault cases rarely gets a fair shake, In high profile cases like rape in Steubenville, Ohio, Kansas, here in Nova Scotia and at Amherst College, the victim was ostracized, blamed, and threatened. Certainly sounds like that is the way things are headed for Jonathan Martin.
Harassment, and bullying by definition is repeated attempts by the perpetrator to make the person feel uncomfortable. They do not condone the treatment they are receiving, and they give no consent. Nowhere in the definition is relationship between the two clarified. So it does not matter if they are mortal enemies, husband and wife, best friends, teammates. That really has no bearing on how someone else should be treated. If someone is being treated in a manner that they neither condone, nor consent to, it is an issue.
Looking at the Canadian Human Rights Code, it is a classic example of harassment, bullying and discrimination. To the Miami Dolphins, they are testosterone fueled hi jinks. A boys will be boys, towel snapping sort of event. Measures in Canada for this sort of thing range from a simple apology, to a monetary sum awarded, and discrimination training and programs put in place. Rarely is it punitive, and it serves to return the victim, or complainant to where they were before. I am not sure that is the appropriate solution in a unique workplace such as an NFL locker room, but surely trumps the treatment the parties involved have been receiving during this ordeal.
Martin, it should be noted, has not been heard from since the incident. He is laying low at his parents house. The suspended Incognito posted a couple of insignificant tweets and one comment which said nothing all. Everyone else is doing the speaking for the two of them. The scorecard indicates a surprising level of sympathy for Incognito from the players and little support for Martin except for some columns in the media, like the one that Jason Whitlock wrote for ESPN. You can find it HERE
Hazing, and initiation are part of the package of professional sport. It is said to help welcome or accept a player and is supposedly good for team unity and team bonding. Here I thought that wearing the same uniform and working towards the same common goal of a championship was all the team unity that was needed. Naive of me I suppose.
The NFL has started to address the physical toll its game takes on the players, but does precious little in terms of dealing with the mental health issues in their league. Players, though behemoths in size, and immensely talented athletes are still human beings with real live emotional issues.
They aim to give second chances to players who take illegal substances, and run afoul of the law, but then tacitly isolate a player who had the guts to stand up to his harasser and bully and say NO MORE!
What a sad spectacle of a league the NFL is.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
As both a broadcaster and long time sufferer/fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I cringe when the season starts. And by "season starting" I mean the first day of training camp because after a quiet summer as soon as those players hit training camp the incessant debating begins about the players, the coaches and the well-being of the team in general. Right now we are a week into the NHL season and I almost feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available and the debates already springing up about the make up of a team.
Take the Leafs for example. Already Paul Ranger is being singled out for poor play due to the fact he bore some responsibility for a couple of the goals scored. The word is now that maybe he is not cracked up to be in the NHL. After four games to start the season. It gets even more ratcheted up when it comes to Leaf goaltending. Already the Reimer/Bernier debate has begun. If that is not enough the debate about whether or not its too early to debate about Reimer/Bernier has begun. You would have thought that the Leafs were 1-3 instead of 3-1 the way fans and media are talking. Already one coach has walked the plank, and speculation has already started about who the next coach is to get canned. (For the record, Bob Hartley of Calgary- you got next!). Yep, hockey season sure is back!
The reason for all of this hype and hang wringing is a shared responsibility. The proliferation of information is readily accessible 24/7 from the multi-platforms of both Sportsnet and TSN and is fueled by social media. With TSN and Sportsnet you can get endless articles, statistics, analysis from TV, the web, radio, magazines etc, etc. Each network, along with CBC's Hockey Night in Canada has a nightly panel ready to dissect games period by period. I do not fault networks for this. It is the way of the sports world world and fans eat it up. Plus, most of the panel shows feature an equal mix of analysis and entertainment. TSN probably is the king of is as they are led by the sharp sense of humour of James Duthie. Sportsnet is driven by big personalities such as Doug Maclean and Nick Kypreos while CBC and its panel format is still trying to define itself. Coaches Corner is an entity unto itself with Ron and Don who have almost become caricatures of themselves because they have been doing it so long. With all this information at hand, its no wonder that fans live and die game to game, even period to period.
Its no different in junior hockey. The Niagara IceDogs have had a slow start to their season and already the Night of the Long Knives has started and scapegoats are being identified. Some of the banter is harmless, and even amusing while some the vitriol gets a bit incessant. Again, coming from a place of passion and with a forum to communicate many do not hold back.
Why even the Phoenix Coyotes, often viewed as the witness protection program of the NHL likely has its hardcore followers these days. At least the talk in the desert is about hockey and not ownership.
Monday, September 23, 2013
I 've changed my attitude about fighting recently, after an exhaustive study of the forthcoming Derek Boogard lawsuit that was just filed by the Boogard family versus the NHL. Derek Boogard had almost 200 fights over the course of his junior and professional career, including 66 in six years in the NHL. The damage to his body both physically and psychologically was astounding. Routinely taking pain pills, the severe trauma to the head from repeated blows,and the emotional upheaval that came with the likelihood of fisticuffs, it did not make for a pretty picture.
At the OHL game that I called on Thursday, I cringed during the two fights, hoping that the combatants would not get injured. In one fight a player was felled by a flurry of punches, likely breaking a nose. I know that I do not call fights with the zest that some broadcasters do, nor with the enthusiasm I did earlier in my OHL broadcasting career.
Despite this, I still see a role for fighting in the game, still see it as a momentum changer in the right circumstances and still see a role for the skilled enforcer. Argue all you want, but Tie Domi was a skilled enforcer. He could drop the gloves to set the tone, change the tone or protect a teammate but was also good for double digits in goals and 20-25 points per season. Nothing wrong with that for a role player with 4th line minutes. In the right time and the right place, fights are an integral part of the game.
However, I saw Sunday nights donneybrook as neither game changing nor momentum shifting. It was exhibition play for goodness sake. The Sabres, from what I can gather, took issue with a one sided brawl involving the Maple Leafs Jamie Devane, a former OHL enforcer, likely to play a similar role in the pro's. Enter Jonathan Scott, and more importantly delete Colton Orr and Frazer McClaren, neither one of them in the lineup. Scott, an imposing 6'8 270lbs with a total of 1 goal 4 assists and 305 PIM in 180 odd games was a central figure in a wonderful mini-documentary done by the New York Daily Times on the late Derek Boogard. He was also a former teammate. During the documentary he spoke of his role as an enforcer and all of the angst that goes with the job.
Scott, after a word or two with Phil Kessel, broke the alleged "Code" by attempting to jump the diminutive Kessel who responded with one or two desperate lumberjack swings to the giant enforcer. At that point everyone jumped in, including David Clarkson, he of the hefty contract , who emerged from the bench for a dance partner. That turned out to be a very costly move as it is an automatic 10 game suspension and carries no salary cap relief for the Leafs. Kessel himself should face supplementary discipline for his attempt to injure. Despite the chest puffing, this was a costly venture for the Leafs. While Scott, who may have broken the rules of the Code, really broke no rules as defined by the National Hockey League. If he is suspended it would be via a media driven agenda rather than an interpretation of the rules.
All of this nonsense may serve as a prelude to the regular season when the Leafs and Sabres, divisional rivals and frequent opponents. No doubt the next time these two teams play Orr and Maclaren will be dressed, along with Scott. What happens before the two teams play will play a large role in how the next match up is viewed. If the NHL moves to suspend those who sinned and issues warnings to teams that any rough stuff will be harshly punished then the issue will be settled on the ice, as it rightly should. However, if the NHL inflicts the minimum punishment and does nothing to warn the teams they are, in my opinion, cononding or even encouraging another potential explosive situation.
Here is hoping cooler heads prevail. Remember, the Bertuzzi/Moore incident was the culmination in a war or words, fights and questionable hits where the NHL allowed one of its players to issue a bounty on another player and stood idly by.