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Monday, December 15, 2014


Rogers turned the hockey world upside down when it negotiated a 12 year deal worth $5B out of the NHL and left old rights holders TSN left out in the regional cold.   Two months into the deal, much has been written about the on-air product, the ratings and whether or not it was the financially prudent move for both the cable giant and the NHL. $5B is a boatload to recoup in terms of  new subscribers and advertising revenue.   I have no doubt that the stress levels of the Rogers sales staff might rival that of air traffic controllers. 

Rogers promised unprecedented access to over the air games with three definitive hockey nights (Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday).  They promised to promote the stars (those with the mumps and those without) and they promised unique access to different camera angles through their Rogers Game Centre (whoops, lawsuit pending on that one).  

Have they delivered this?  Sure they have, but not without a number of pitfalls along the way.  People are complaining about regional blackouts, where to find the games and of course everyone has an opinion on the on-air personalities both in the studio.   Read the comment sections in most newspapers, or sports media columns and the reviews are not kind.  I've found that even if you give people extra stuff or content for free, they are still going to complain.  As for the on-air personalities, there are those who long for the simplicity of Ward Cornell, and those who grew tired of the punny Ron MacLean now want him back.  

Now, if you are looking for opinions or trashing of on-air personality, this is not the forum for you. What some people like, is not other peoples cuppa tea! So if you want the burying or praising of Healy, Strombo, Grapes, Romanuk, Hughson, Damien Cox etc, go to the comment sections, you will find ample material there. 

One thing TSN and CBC did very well was to create new on-air sports broadcasting stars.  For TSN James Duthie, Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger were early examples of stars created through credibility and repeated exposure.  Even new guys TSN brings in like Jeff O' Neill, Ray Ferraro and Aaron Ward became credible analysts through the exposure TSN gave, and continues to give them.  For CBC, Elliot Friedman, Kelly Hrudey and Glen Healy are the guys that come to mind that became household names, respected for their on-air personality and delivery, though Healy is one of those guys who gets hammered int he comment sections for some reason.  If I am Rogers, I am looking to streamline the on-air exposure and am looking to create breakout stars.  It is tough to break out and be a star if you are among the 38 analysts/hosts that Rogers has for their hockey coverage.   Clearly they want Strombo to be the new face, so he is an easy one to give the exposure.   I will be the first to admit that I am not used to Strombo and his method of hosting.  He does not sit behind a desk, he is mobile switching back from the chairs to the glass table to standing up effortlessly.   In the long run, he will be fine and people will grow to accept him.   I think Mike Johnson could be the next star.  He is young, camera friendly and as a former Maple Leaf has some name recognition.  Plus he analyzes and breaks down the game well.   As for the rest of the on-air roster, identify who your stars could be, put them in places where they can succeed (it could be in the studio or game coverage) and them maximize their exposure.  Again, I cannot say for sure who the stars are or potentially could be but you could focus on them more than other people. I do think that some of the people are miscast and are better suited for on location game analysis while others are more studio types.   Creating stars is a process, and not done over the first couple of months of a 12 year deal.   

I am not sold yet on Sunday's Hometown Hockey quite yet , but again, its new and its a process.   The dynamic seems to be to combine the enthsiasm of college football with the audience participation of the Today Show. I like a lot of the things they are doing, and am ambivalent to others.  Not sure if they do it, but I would provide more cut ins during the game from Ron MacLean and crew to remind viewers of the hometown aspect.    Again, it will work over time, but will take time to put a dent into an audience geared towards NFL football on Sunday.  The good thing is already it appears communities want to have Hometown Hockey come to their community.  Creating a demand is never a bad thing.  

If I am Rogers, I listen to the people who cannot find games and vastly streamline my channel distribution to CBC, CITY TV and Sportsnet and provide as many double headers as I can through those channels more familiar to the average viewer.   Right now Rogers does offer up a viewing guide every weekend, but either people cannot understand or more likely, they are not bothering to check out the grid.   Streamlining the channels will help viewers find their game.   Viewers are creatures of habit and would like to know exactly where their game is. I would keep putting the guide online and try to distribute it through as many platforms as possible.  Hopefully people catch on.  Keep bumping regional games to national platforms when possible.  Rogers has been doing a very good job of this.  Make it seem like you are giving a viewer a "perk" or a "freebie" and it should assuage some of the complaining.   

The dominant theme of this is that it is very early in a 12 year partnership to be tearing down the existing on-air product by jettisoning on-air talents and radically changing the distribution or location of the game.  Ultimately, people will find something to complain about but they will still flock to hockey.  Sure there is room to grow but a more evolutionary approach is the key rather than a revolutionary method. 

Steve Clark 
Sports Media Enthusiast 
Play by Play TV for the Niagara IceDogs and the Hamilton Bulldogs


Some quick thoughts on the IceDogs weekend, and recent play:   Winston Churchill once referred to Stalin as " a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside  an enigma" It's a quote that could certainly apply to the IceDogs recent run.  No, it does not mean that Marty Williamson is Stalin, or Churchill for that matter, but the coach/GM must be pulling his hair out trying to figure out his team.  

Coming off of a three game losing the streak, the team battled the elements and themselves on route to a 7-4 win over the reeling Peterborough Petes.  The storm on Thursday's made the bus ride to the lift lock city slow and arduous and the IceDogs arrived well after their normal arrival and the game subsequently was delayed for 30 minutes to allow the team a proper warm up.   The Dogs jumped up 2-0, fell behind 4-2 and then scored 5 straight to win despite taking a slew of baffling, undisciplined and downright foolish penalties in the third and handing the Petes 11 power plays.  Still, you take the road W and run. 

Friday night saw the IceDogs sweep, yes I said sweep, Oshawa Generals with a hard fought 5-3 win. Although the Generals were missing top producers Michael DalColle (Team Canada) and Andrew Cassels, they still represent a formidable foe and the IceDogs earned every bit of that tough victory. That meant the IceDogs had four victories against Erie/Oshawa, arguably the best teams in the OHL and holders of the CHL #1 ranking during the season.   

So it was all set up for a 6 point sweep of the weekend as the rebuilding Saginaw Spirit came to town, off of a 6-4 defeat at the hands of Erie.  A series of moves by the Spirit seemed to indicate they had an eye towards the future, and it promised to be the easiest of the three games of the weekend.   Right?  Right?  Wrong!  The IceDogs came out with all the sizzle of a deflated balloon and got pounded 7-1.  Missed passes, lines not on the same page and a general all around lethargy left the 4000 plus in attendance a tad confused, as they wondered whether or not it was the same team that had taken the ice 24 hours before.  It was by far the flattest performance of the year on home ice and again raised the question of whether or not this team could be a surprise contender, or a mere pretender in the eastern conference.   

As we approach the mid way point of the season, there are no clear answers, and really no more excuses.  The injury list has been reduced and impact performers Brendan Perlini, Cody Payne and Ryan Mantha are back.  On paper the IceDogs have three solid forward lines and a fourth line that should provide energy and forechecking.   This is neither the time nor the forum to name names, but there are players not performing to expectations, both on the score sheet and in doing the little things, the intangibles that make a team better.  

Every time I see this team show the potential that they possess they put up a performance like Saturday's game and undo a lot of the good they had previously accomplished.  Do I believe in this team still?  Yes, but like the old hockey cliche goes, I'm taking this team one game at a time until I figure out exactly who they are.   

Steve Clark 
Niagara IceDogs TV Play by Play

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pot Shots, Scatter Shots, Off the Cuff Thoughts

Took a couple of weeks away, and now I'm feeling the urge to share thoughts and feelings (Working title for my new easy listening album, by the way) .  I come to praise not bury (Title of my soon to be written autobiography:  Just trying to avoid having to wear a toga on the front cover, as the quote is from Julius Caesar) !

-- Nice bounce back by the IceDogs.  So far this year they twice have had six game losing streaks, and then they just finished a three game losing streak.  A blowout of Belleville was followed by a solid 4-1 win over the CHL's #1 team, the Oshawa Generals.  Old habits die hard though and a couple of late third period goals doomed the Dogs as they lost 4-2 to North Bay.  Still 4/6 points is an nice haul, considering the opposition.   Guelph is on Thursday and then it is back to the road again for three.   

--The much ballyhooed selection camp for Canada's World Juniors camp was announced on Monday.  Normally with these sorts of things there is much more discussion about the omissions than the guys who made it, and this was no exception.  I am not going to dive headlong into that debate because,more often than not guys who made the list get tossed under the bus because player X made it.  Lets face it, all the players listed deserve to be there.  I think that we as Canadians are taking this tournament far too seriously, but it drives ticket sales, merchandise and TV numbers, and has become a big deal. 

-- I'm not a guy who follows the WHL or Q (oops better make that QMJHL, lest we get mixed up with that Ghomeshi guy), so I 'm not equipped to analyze the roster.  I am surprised that one of Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner and Josh Ho-Sang did not make the cut.  Ho-Sang in particular has become the intriguing omission.  No one seems to know how to take Ho-Sang, which is a shame because I think if you dig deeper you get a guy who is passionate, sensitive and opinionated (fist bump PK Subban). Rogers, through their 5 Billion dollar package aims to promote the players and the superstars of the game.  This runs counter to the hockey culture of media being comfortable and accepting of guys who spew well worn cliches.  Players who have an opinion, or are articulate are a curiosity.  Ho-Sang, to me , fits the latter.  He could be a game breaking superstar if he puts it all together and could be a high profile star in this league, if hockey will let him. 

-- Hockey media blogger Steve Lepore got in a ton of hot water, and lost his job after it was publicized that he had been essentially preying on a number of women via social media.   Again, beware the perils of social media and the fact that nothing is really going to be personal, particularly if you offend the wrong person.    OHL players have learned that and now Lepore has.   His behaviour was predatory and inexcusable.  He has since apologized on social media which is the start on a very, very long road to redemption.

--Damn tough weekend to be a Hamilton football fan as both the Marauders and Tiger Cats lost heartbreaking nail biters.  Pretty proud of my hometown, though I wonder why Hamilton cannot have nice things like other cities.  

--Much as I like to promote my own career and own TV games (did I mention spectacular HD?), if you want to attend one AHL game this year, make it Friday December 5th at 7:30 at First Ontario Centre.   It is military appreciation night and there will be a special ceremony for Nathan Cirillo, the soldier tragically killed in Ottawa several weeks back.  It is sure to be very emotional.

--Finally, true confessions time. I am a big WWE fan, at least I used to me.  While I never want to classify myself as the mature person on the face of the earth, I am not a teenager or younger, and that is who the current product is geared to.  The jokes are juvinile, and cringe worthy and its just not in anyway appealing.  Maybe I should have given this up a long time ago, but it kept pulling me in .  Now its alienating and painful to watch.   I'm out.....until at least the Royal Rumble, because that is the Road to Wrestlemania!!!

-- Busy weekend for me personally.  IceDogs v Guelph on Thursday.  Hamilton v Toronto on Friday, both on TV locally and both in stunning HD. I will try and get some video up of the games if I can.  You can check for updated schedules as to where I will be and what I will be doing.  

Steve Clark 
TV Voice Hamilton Bulldogs/ Niagara IceDogs