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Thursday, July 31, 2014


It started innocently enough.  I put out a Tweet saying that I did not support Unifor's potential involvement in junior hockey.  Within minutes, I was in a rather lengthy social media discussion/argument with several people that lasted half an hour. 

Let me get this out of the way first:  I want nothing but the best for any CHL player no matter what direction their career may take them.   By the time a CHL player is finished their junior career they should have a running start on either their hockey career, or the next stage in life.   This is not about denying a junior hockey player resources and assets, but more about the approach. 

Now that is out of the way, utilizing the resources and power of Unifor, a powerful amalgamation of approximately 300 000 unionized employees is not the way to go.  In fact it can be argued that unionizing CHL players fundamentally changes the dynamics of each individual team, and not for the better.  Union attempts in the past have been downright laughable with several individuals with question intentions behind it.  Georges Larocques's reputation took quite a hit with is affiliation with the group in questions.  

Look, just about everyone acknowledges the fact that paying a junior hockey player either $50 a week, or $150 if you an overager is a tad meagre and very outdated.   In that spirit David Branch and the CHL quickly sought to rectify the situation and certainly made being a junior hockey player a little more lucrative.  Now players can claim expenses up to $470 a month, get $1000 in off-season training money and can wait 18 months after their overage year to access their university package which promises them one year of university for every year in the league.  It is far from perfect, but certainly demonstrated a willingness and commitment to players.  I'd shoot for 5 years to access the university package and add more cash for off-ice players.  That invests in the players, and makes them both better athletes and hopefully people.  

Now adding Unifor and the Ontario government (for the OHL) into the equation, does not just muddy the water, but it pollutes it. For Unifor to use terms like "exploitation" when it comes to players is a tad heavy handed for players who are given access to the best equipment, training and treatment for injuries while playing in the best developmental league in the world.   What is the agenda of both of these entities? Were they invited to the junior hockey party or are they strong arming their way in?  Are they truly invested in the player, or are just invested for publicity and financial motivation? I strongly suspect all of the above.  

For Unifor there is union membership for upwards of 1500 player, and the prestige of calling itself the representatives for future professional athletes.  That has a nice ring for a newly created union.   For the Ontario government unionizing junior hockey players likely has the residual effect of enforcing a minimum wage or student wage.  That means CPP, OPP , EI and taxable contributions.   The government will take that in a heartbeat!

If you want to pay a junior hockey player $9.60 an hour as a student minimum, and over $10 as a basic minimum wage, you likely put a lot of junior hockey teams at a large deficit, and probably a few more out of business completely.  In Ontario, I cannot see the likes of small/mid market teams like Sarnia, Owen Sound, Belleville, North Bay and even Kingston and Niagara being thrilled with this.  Not every junior team in Canada is London, Kitchener, Halifax, Saskatoon or Vancouver.   They work hard to provide affordable entertainment.  

Unionize junior hockey players and watch ticket prices soar, junior teams operate at a reduced budget, or shut down completely.  In short, the game and the method of doing business will radically change. If Unifor forces their way in what will result is a protracted legal battle to try and define student-athlete, and or employer/employee.  Great, so lets add the legal system and the lawyers who will benefit from this.   

I could come up with numbers, and statistics to back this up.  In fact Kitchener, one of the acknowledged "have" franchises provided a very basic analysis of their finances in order to demonstrate that they were not exactly printing money.  You can find it HERE

To me it is obvious.    

Thanks but no thanks for your interest Unifor, and while you are at it, take the provincial government with you. 

Steve Clark

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Very, Very Random Thoughts From the World of Sports/Non-Sports

Image result for Orange is the New Black images Image result for Toronto Maple Leaf logo
Talk about a lazy Tuesday.  Thoughts of household projects should be first and foremost on my mind, but instead I sit here and try to think up ways to delay the inevitable.  Who am I kidding?  I can be as de-motivated as anyone when it comes to physical labour, So.....with my best Steve Simmons like rapid changes of topics, here goes!

There are two books that I always think of when it comes to chasing my sports broadcasting dreams:  Howard Stern's Private Parts and Mick Foley's Have a Nice Day.   While the two personalities could not be more different, there journey's are what inspires me.  Stern , for all his crassness and controversy, reinvented himself from a mediocre radio DJ to the self-proclaimed King of All Media by taking chances, shining the spotlight on his own personality and broke down many radio taboos.   Foley plied his trade never missing a wrestling date, sleeping in his own car and always giving more than the required 100% to reach his dream of being a star wrestler.  One thing from his journey always stood out. He rarely, if ever, missed a wrestling booking because you never know if it is going to be your big break.  I carry that with me every time I travel the highways to St Catharine's, Hamilton or any other gym,/arena where I'm broadcasting.   Now, I can add John Feinstein's Where Nobody Knows Your Name, a look at various people in AAA baseball. The book deals with players, managers, umpires and even broadcasters as they chase the big league dream.  Sad to say that the story that resonated with me the most was the one in which the guy did not achieve his dream.  Go figure!  Still, it was a wonderful, and very relateable read. 

Players are not the focus this time, but its coaches and GM's who earn the spotlight.  Congrats to Steve Spott on his gig as new assistant coach with the Maple Leafs.  A couple of years ago I heard Spott might be mad at me when I made an on-air comparison between him and Barry Trotz.  I hope he's forgotten about itr, or forgiven me because he could kick my ass six ways from Sunday.   Also, congratulations to Kyle Dubas, now former GM of the Soo Greyhounds, who is the new Assistant GM with the Leafs.  Dubas was never afraid of the big move, like when he acquired Jack Campbell for a boatload of draft picks, or when he chose Shelden Keefe as his coach, a move many raised their eyebrows over his association with David Frost.  Keefe has been a wonderful coach, leading the Soo to an outstanding record in the competitive Western Conference. Dubas forward thinking and use of new stats/analytics are what made him an enticing commodity for Brendan Shannahan and the Leafs.  Great to see OHL guys moving up.  Should also add Chris Byrne and Jeff Twohey to the list. They have landed with LA and Phoenix respectively. 

Eyes will focus on the Dogs as they are one of several teams yet to ink their first round draft pick.  Logan Brown is a towering 6'4 centre, who would be a great addition to the Dogs this year and going forward.  He's hedged his bets and may go an alternative route.  I have to believe that a brand new arena and a team with great potential and a number of NHL Draft picks and prospects would be excellent selling points for Brown.  Time will tell.  Meanwhile, as you can see at the top of this blog, the new arena looks spectacular from the inside.  Seats are being installed, outside concrete and pathways are finished, signage is being raised.  Can't wait to get in and see where the old gondola will be.  The arena will be centre stage for a national audience as the CHL Top Prospects game will be played there early in 2015. 

Another day of hand wringing for loyal Jays followers as the non-waiver trade deadline gets a day closer.  The Jays are middling/scuffling/free falling/struggling-- choose your adjectives.  Yet waiver wire pick ups such as Nolan Reimold and Brad Mills are your newest Jays.  Sergio Santos has been DFA'd and Alex Sanchez will be called up to be either a saviour or trade bait, depending on how you fell.   There is no better time to grab the AL East by the horns and claim the division. Baltimore, New York, Boston and Tampa all have their warts.   A move here and a tweak there plus a return from injury by Lawrie, Encarnacion and Lind could put the Jays over the top.   

Completely random final thought but my wife and I are now hooked on Orange is the New Black, the great series on Netflix.  Smartly written and unafraid of tackling real story lines while remaining soap opera dramatic, its riveting stuff.   We're half way through Season Two and like many others are waiting for Season Three to be released!

Talk soon
Steve Clark

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Twenty Five years is the long time to be on top in any profession, let the alone one as competitive as sports talk radio.  Yet Bob McCown has been able to rise above all of his competitors.   When he started in sports media there were no all sports radio stations.  Now there are ones in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.  Yet through it all no single personality has been at the top more than the irascible McCown.   Pantload:  25 Years of PrimeTime Sports gives us some insight as to what makes McCown tick. 
Narrated by long time DJ Alan Cross, a radio pioneer in his own right,  Pantload starts with McCown walking down a hallway opining that entertainment is the key to good sports radio.  It is a theme repeated throughout the documentary. In fact later in the production we find out that the acronym POKE (Passion, Opinion, Knowledge, Entertainment) are sort of the unofficial pillars of sports talk radio.   Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that the enigmatic McCown checks all the four boxes.
Pantload not only manages to cover the rise of McCown, it also takes a look at the moments that defined and highlighted his long career and peel back the layers behind the Ohio born McCown. It also gives us a rare insight into his childhood, and upbringing and that is what works with the documentary. I did not know that his father died when he was one and that in high school the gruff McCown was even a male cheerleader.  We even meet Bob’s mother, who is a sharper  than her years would indicate and probably the only person on the planet who still could put McCown in his place.  
McCown’s long career is traced back to the Foster Hewitt owned 1430 and also details the unique relationship he shared with the broadcast legend.  A great anecdote was when Foster Hewitt, along with Bob walked out on a speech by baseball’s Mel Allen, the legendary voice of This Week in Baseball because he was too boring.  It was at 1430 that McCown realized that in order to succeed in radio he had develop an on-air character and personality and so the “obnoxious” “larger than life” “opinionated” “a—hole”(Bob’s words, not mine) that exists to this very day. 
Sprinkled throughout the rise of McCown are anecdotes from a who’s who of both sports and Canadian media.  We hear from Peter Mansbridge, Brian Williams, Dan Shulman, Stephen Brunt, Allan Davis (the first Program Director of The Fan),  Elliote Friedman and George Strombolopoulos.  There are lots of anecdotes by Nelson Millman, former Station Manager of The Fan from 1995-2010.  All are unanimous and effusive in their praise for McCown and his bombastic style.
McCown’s rise was not without its pitfalls along the way.   Paired with Dan Shulman (and what a dream team that would have been), the choice was made to move McCown to mornings and Shulman to PrimeTime Sports, a move that backfired and led to McCown getting fired, and only rehired when Shulman accepted the job of Blue Jays TV Play by Play Voice.   We did get to see a great and extremely cheesy commercial for the McCown morning show with Bob and Ricky Henderson on the golf course.  
Where Pantload really shines are in its coverage of when Bob was accused of racism, along with Steve Simmons and Dave Langford by Cito Gaston back in 1997.   McCown, a longstanding critic of Gaston’s managing style was blown off by the Blue Jays manager for an interview and that seemed to fuel him on the radio and led to Cito’s accusation.   Paul Beeston’s attempt to mediate backfired and led to McCown calling Cito an a—hole and walking out.  While we hear Beeston’s take on the matter, needless to say Cito was not consulted for the documentary. 
The other definitive moment was the Fan’s outstanding coverage of 9/11 fuelled by McCown who seamlessly switched from sports to 9/11 along with the rest of the station. Sports would become escapism from the tragedy of 9/11 but at the time it was inconsequential.   McCown’s balancing of emotion ranging from sympathy to anger was assuredly one of the finest moments of his career.  If David Letterman and Howard Stern were the emotional media heartbeat of New York, McCown was the northern equivalent. 
Produced by McCown’s Fadoo Productions, you knew that we were not going to see a hatchet job on Bob, but you did a fair and balanced account of McCown’s career as well as great insight into the genre of sports talk radio.  The documentary reached out to New York broadcaster, Mike Francesa who helped pioneer WFAN, the first all talk sports radio station.
What the documentary showed was that it takes real talent and hard work to do what Bob McCown does on a daily basis.  While one of the running jokes is that Bob sits behind a microphone a minute before his show begins, there is no doubt a lot of mental and physical preparation goes into the three hours that Bob McCown owns the airway.   Many have tried but no one has been able to topple McCown from his lofty perch atop the sports talk radio.  As McCown reaches the twilight of his career, one wonders who takes the Prime Time Sports big chair.  It seems that while his successor can sit in his chair, he will be hard pressed to fill it.
 For sports media geeks like me who also dabble in the industry, Pantload: 25 Years of Prime Time Sports was appointment viewing.
Steve Clark

Steve is the TV play by play voice of both the Hamilton Bulldogs and Niagara IceDogs.