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Sunday, December 27, 2015


Image result for RiverLIons logoImage result for RiverLIons logo\Image result for RiverLIons logo
Months and months of studying the demographics, finding out where your basketball fans are.

Goals of trying to fill the Meridian Centre, a tough building to fill.

Coach unveiling, team unveiling.  Logo unveiling. Colours and uniform unveiling.

Tirelessly banging the drum for a sport like basketball that often leaves a hollow beat, when talking about pro basketball. (Remember the Niagara Daredevils? Went belly up in a matter of months, the ending like a smashed barrel going over the Falls.

You work hard to put as many paying customers into the seats, not knowing what lies ahead.

Yep, minor league sports can be a bitch to promote, and reach the conscience of the casual sports fan,  the worst animal possible.

And yet, the best marketing happened in a split second.  Clinton Springer Williams, former star of the Carleton Ravens hits a fall away buzzer beating three pointer and ignites a Niagara basketball fan base and sends them deliriously into a crisp St Catharine's evening ready to hustle to Gords Place or Kully's, or any of the great Niagara establishments to talk about their latest heroes and relive each heart stopping moment of Niagara's newest team.

Aahh, there's nothing like a walk-off victory in your home opener, and 1st ever game at the sparkling Meridian Centre.   Yep, the RiverLions will be the talk of the town and hopefully will spill over into next Sunday's game at home, and the next game, and the next game.

You can do all the marketing you want. There is no better marketing than winning, and in such a dramatic fashion?  You couldn't script it any better.  They'll be clamouring for this performance at Niagara's Shaw Festival next year.

Heck, I was not even at the game and I felt compelled to write about it.  Watched some of last nights live stream, and watched the 1ast half of tonight's live stream, and wished I was there both nights.  Therein lies the rub.  People who wished they were at the home opener will want to buy a ticket and hope to catch the next great moment in RiverLions history. 2800 and change attended the game tonight.  It will seem like 10 000 were there as the buzzer beater will be relived time and time again.  

"You were there?  Me too, Section E. Saw you, meant to come over"   

Must admit, that I had my doubts and I'm a huge basketball gane. I got my broadcasting start calling OUA basketball and beat the drum for the sport for years.    Nothing against the team, but pro basketball has not fared well in these parts.  The last pro team with any success was the Hamilton SkyHawks of the early 90's. I was in my early 20's and cynical about the team.  Put me in my early 40's "Get off my lawn years", and cynicism becomes skepticism.

I still harbour high hopes for local basketball in this region.  Butch Carter's league the CBL, came out of the gate with a flourish, announcing a workable cost effective model and a deal with CHCH TV.  After some delay, the league is expected to be a go, though without Kitchener- Waterloo, hailed as one of its flagship franchises.  A quick perusal of their website sees Hamilton, Ottawa, Scarborough, and Vaughan in their schedule.    There are enough basketball fans to accommodate the two leagues, though will they support the worthwhile ventures?   

in 2007 the IceDogs came into this region with some of the same skepticism.   Here they are 9 years later, entrenched in the region, and without them the new Meridian Centre likely remains a parking garage.

2015, the RiverLions with their sharp, sharp uniforms, well regarded coach , and savvy marketing department might just make a permanent footprint in the Niagara Region.

Tonight, a basketball team arrived in the Niagara Region.  They just might entrench themselves like their hockey forefathers.

Steve Clark

Of Note:  I erroneously posted that Butch Carter's CBL was on hiatus until 2016.  That is incorrect as I was informed that the league will play this year.  The blog has been corrected to reflect this and I aplogize for the mistake. 

Monday, December 14, 2015


Image result for CHCH logo



Blood Letting. 

It was a game of word association that no one wants to play.  It was the answer to the question that no one really wanted to answer.  The question?  

What was your immediate reaction to the bankruptcy of CHCH Television?  or Describe what happened at CHCH in one or two words.   

The story, by now, is well publicized.  CHCH TV , a Hamilton staple that just celebrated their 60th year on air was in deep trouble, hemorrhaging money and in a stunning turn of events on Friday, was basically turned on its ear.   Blown out the door were 138 full time workers, another 29 part time people.  About 50% of them might be hired back with "competitive wages", according to the company Channel Zero.   80 hours of local television would be scaled back to 17. 5.  Do the math and you see over a 75% reduction in local content.  Safe to say those who will be welcomed back will see their roles reduced. 

Those not welcome back?  A veritable who's who of Hamilton broadcasting.   Men and women woven into the steel fabric of the city for as long as you can remember. 

Matt Hayes, Ken Welch, Scott Urqhart, Lauran Sabourin, Mark Hebscher, Lori DeAngelis.   Can you imagine a CHCH TV without these dominant personalities?   These are people who were your TV friends, and were faces and voices that you connected with.  How hard will it be to turn on the television and not see Matt Hayes, and his smiling face not giving you the weather, or to seen Ken Welch deliver the sports in his own droll way, a man who was established in the Hamilton community and gave local sports a boost it would not have otherwise got?  

I will miss local issues show Square Off because it provided current events issues and debates.  I will miss the rapid fire content of Sportsline with Mark Hebscher and Bubba O'Neill.  I will miss the morning show that I tuned into regularly, now scaled back significantly.   Bob Cowan, Annette Hamm, Lori DeAngelis, Tim Bolen, Jaclyn Colville and Brian Wood were the staples of that show.  How many will we see in the new 2 hour model and how much local content will be delivered?   How on earth do you service Hamilton, Halton and Niagara with 17.5 hours of local news?   That is a population of over a million people.  How will their stories be told?  Niagara has been serviced with news by Lauran Sabarin and her camera man.  Both were not asked to return.  Will we just pretend that there is no news in Niagara to deliver?     

Probably the cruelest fact is the way the news got delivered.  Extra money deposited into an account covering up to date pay and vacation pay.   A sudden cancelling of news programming on Friday and a hastily arranged statement by the CEO delivered live on the TV station. It would be the only local programming delivered after the 4:00 hour.    Who cancels news programs for one day anyways?  The news should never stop, even when its the television station itself making the news.    A declaration of bankruptcy delivered the most punishing blow. It provided a back door escape route from paying loyal employees severance pay.   

While the news itself on Friday was stunning, the financial issues plaguing the station and the company were likely not exactly a shock to all involved.  Delivering 80 hours of local news programming a week is a costly venture, and that was even with a lot of the news cycle repeated, and a lot of the news canned.   Quite frankly the format was not working to what it should be and delivering local news was an increasingly expensive expenditure.   The national advertising sponsors were not there, and really it was a tough model for a national company to get behind.   A national sponsor for a TV station that promised local is a bit of an oxymoron.    

The CRTC has done the local model no favours either.   Scrapping a $5M local television fund for stations like CHCH removed a significant revenue stream, one that could not be made up no matter how much ad time Hamilton staple John Savidis bought, or how much air time the erstwhile Frank D'Angelo could buy.   The CRTC's recent  decision to basically open the doors to U.S. advertising for the upcoming SuperBowls on CTV sent Canadian advertisers scattering and was one of the factors that saw Bell reduced their own work force, with the media division taking a particularly large hit.

I will leave the financials, quite frankly, to those better equipped to do it.  All I know is that a lot of good people, good at their jobs, some you saw as friendly faces on TV and many you did not see behind the scenes are either no longer gainfully employed or not employed at the same level.   

I will say that there was lots of nostalgia for CHCH.   Fond memories of local icons Norm Marshall, Dick Beddoes, Dan MacLean and Connie Smith were duly.  Shows like Tiny Talent Time were fondly remembered, as were the old OUAA Game of the Week, a relationship by the way left in the lurch. The OUA just had signed a new agreement with CHCH.  What happens now?    Maybe that was the problem.  Nostalgia, while nice, did not pay the bills.  Perhaps people were remembering the golden age of CHCH while paying lip service to the current model.    

So CHCH will debut a newer, sleeker model on Tuesday.   17.5 hours of local content is enough to give you a 6pm newscast, an 11 pm newscast cut down to 30 minutes and a truncated morning show from 7-9am.  The hope now is that one of the big cable companies sees some viability in a sleeker model and looks to snap it up at a bargain bin rate.  Maybe then they can increase the local presence, and give local news a chance because local programming and news is dying on the vine, and it does not have to be that way.  

CHCH just celebrated their 60th anniversary of broadcasting not so long ago. How many more anniversaries will be commemorated?   

Tuesday December 15th CHCH will debut not only their new format, but their new reality.  How long until 17.5 hours of local programming becomes zero?  

Of all the questions asked in this blog, and there were many, that is the most important one. 

Steve Clark

Great coverage and articles by The Spectator helped in this blog,  Here are the two main ones.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015


When the trade announcement came out indicating that IceDogs goaltender Brent Moran had been trade along with a passel of picks to Flint for Alex Nedelkjovic and Josh Wesley, my first thought was that I hated it, I really hated it.   So I tweeted that and you should never send anything out on social media without a mandatory cooling off period.  How long should be?  Probably longer than it would take to do a background check on guns in the U.S., but lets not get into THAT or we will be here all night.   

Now here I sit about three hours later and my final opinion on the trade is that I really do not like it.  I do not like use the word "hate", and especially for something like a hockey trade. Again, nothing to do with the guys who made the trade.  There will be no "Marty Williamson,or Terry Christensen, his Flint counterpart,  got fleeced on this one pretty good" type analysis.  I will leave that to the true experts and those who hang around the periphery trying to break down trades

My thumbs down on this trade has reall nothing to do with the merits of the trade themselves.   Goaltender Nedelkjovic is a Carolina 2nd round pick and likely headed to the World Juniors in Helsinki, while Defenseman Wesley is also a Carolina draft pick and with dad Glenn a long time NHL'er, along with Uncle Blake, the bloodlines are good.  I am sure that Wesley will swapping yarns with Ryan Mantha, whose Uncle Moe was also a solid NHL'er.  Any team in the league would be lucky to have a fine goaltender like Moran, a Dallas Star draft pick who stands 6'4, which appears to be the minimum height for a goaltender this days!  Plus extra draft picks is the currency of the league now it seems. 

Here's the bottom line.  The OHL likes to tout itself as a developmental league, but here is Brent Moran in his 4th year in the league and now he his headed to his 4th different goalie coach.  I do not profess to know the Flint goalie coach, but you can be certain that he will have a slightly different philosophy from Ryan Ludzik, the current IceDogs goalie coach who likely has a slightly different philosophy than last years coach Lucas Lobsinger, who likely had a slightly different philosophy from Ben Vanderklok.  You get the picture.   All great hockey goalie minds.  All guys who did their homework and know their craft, but each with a different message, and that maybe enough to confuse anybody. I feel bad for Brent.  Last year the IceDogs acquired a goalie as they felt Moran needed support. This year he is the one moving on.  Hey, here's hoping that Brent Moran can have the key unlocked to his vast potential, something it appeared, was not consistently reached in Niagara.  The thing is that it seemed that Moran was getting closer and closer with the IceDogs.   His goals against average was just above 3, and his save % was close to .900.  He was getting a decent run of starts, more often than not playing very, very well and was a large reason for the IceDogs recent run of success. 

The human element of this sucks too.  Brent Moran's family travelled to most, if not all of his games travelling a long distance to watch Brent play. Good people, nice people and very supportive of Brent.  Being the parents of a goalie sucks.  You get to hear how much your son or daughter blew the game, or should have stopped that one etc, etc.  Many times I would see Dan Visentin, father of IceDogs star Mark, embark on a lonely intermission walk to blow off steam, or relieve whatever had stressed him out the period before.   Now that journey gets a little longer, unless there is a super highway being built linking Ottawa and Flint.

Also, I was struck by the picture of Brent Moran with his billets.  He had established a three year relationship with them, and all of a sudden he has to pack up and say goodbye in far too less of a time.  While I get that trades are part of hockey, the relationship and bond that players can build with their billets can last a life time.  My wife's aunt and uncle billeted Sarnia Sting players for years, still speak fondly of them and maintained a relationship with a player and his parents when that player embarked on a professional career.

While Nedelkjovic and Wesley travel together to Niagara to a brand new arena, welcomed warmly by fans and teammates alike, getting to play in one of the finest, if not the finest building in the OHL and a team that is invested in going all in, Brent Moran travels a different journey.  He travels alone to a new country, a new team, a team with nowhere near the potential of his former team and a team that was on the verge of insurrection earlier in the year.  The good things is I guess is that he leaves behind being the unfair lightning rod for criticism heaped upon him and hopefully the change will be a good one.  He is the unquestioned number one in Flint, while there was a reluctance to give him that in Niagara the past two year and he is still playing to get signed by the Dallas Stars.  Maybe the latter part of this year will convince the team from the LoneStar state to get Moran inked. 

The reality of this trade is that we are reminded of how this can be sometimes a harsh business. This is ironic as the league is trying to distance itself from any sort of business model for obvious legal reasons.  It should be pointed out that the NCAA does not trade its athletes, though I suppose I hijack my own arguments as a player can transfer and that can be far worse prospect than getting traded.   I guess there is no perfect system but I'd like to think there is a better system than the one in place  because it is a system that will allow high school age students to get shipped when they are weeks away from their final exams, or in the midst of a school crunch of final projects. They are usurped from billets and friends and dropped into a new city, or new country with new teammates and coaches.      

Trades will continue to be consumated.  Scouts and teams will update the depth charts, check the cupboard for avaiable draft picks,  and those who follow such things will start to float more picks and more names of high school aged or post-secondary aged players to see if they will be a fit in Sault Ste Marie, or London, or Kitchener or Kingston or any other team.   

The human aspect is rarely reported, but the business grinds merrily along. 

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