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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

OHL PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS, AND OTHER ASSORTED THOUGHTS

So much to talk about over the past couple of weeks.  Honestly, if I put hands to keyboard on some of the percolating things, I would have something reminiscent to Homer's Odyssey, if Homer had a blog and used random, funny to only a few dated pop culture references.   Brevity is the soul of wit, so I will try and touch on a couple of issues after delving into OHL playoff predictions, the main reason for this blog. 

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
So happy that the regular season is over.  I loathe those in the media who play the "If the season ended today, this would be the playoff match up"   It is irrelevant while the season goes on.  Now we know the playoff match ups, lets have at it! 

EASTERN CONFERENCE
ICEDOGS OVER OTTAWA IN 6 . I like Ottawa, I really do.  The IceDogs 2nd half juggernaut is too tough to resist and they can get scoring from three lines and at least four defensemen.  Ottawa is not quite as explosive but has some dependable players, and great coaching.   I will say though, if this goes 7, I'm not as much of a fan of the IceDogs on the road....

OSHAWA OVER PETERBOROUGH IN 6
I said on the air that this series reminded me of the battle that the 8th seeded Oshawa team that gave the 1st seeded IceDogs team fits a few years back.  Oshawa is the runaway favourite, but Peterborough has some vets who underperformed, but formed the large part of the core that came back against Kingston last year

BARRIE OVER BELLEVILLE in 5
One nostalgia victory for the Bulls at the soon to be vacated Yardman Arena, but Belleville has been trending downwards for the better part of the 2nd half.  Barrie has the ability to beat themselves with undisciplined play, but not in this series. 

NORTH BAY OVER KINGSTON IN 7
This represents a flip on what I said on air a week ago.  That is how close this one will be.  Sam Bennett X factor aside, North Bay has enough depth and home ice advantage for a game 7 to squeak this one out. 

WESTERN CONFERENCE
SOO OVER SAGINAW IN 4
Saginaw just squeaked in.  Soo is a juggernaut.  This one should be over quickly. 

ERIE OVER SARNIA IN 4
Well, at least the Sting will get two home dates with Connor McDavid in town.   Sarnia is a team with a lot of talent, but has been uneven this year.   Erie's young team has come together wonderfully. 

LONDON OVER KITCHENER IN 6
Two awfully inconsistent teams.  Both have looked terrible at times this year, and traded off significant assets.  I will take Domi, Marner and Dvorak, even though goaltending has been spotty . 

OWEN SOUND OVER GUELPH in 6
Some of these Guelph holdovers have played an awful lot of hockey over the past couple of years, plus they will not have Zack Leslie.  Owen Sound, on the whole, has been more consistent than Guelph.  

BULLDOGS AHL --OUT.   BULLDOGS-OHL IN. 
Honestly, even after a couple of weeks, including a week in sunny Florida I have not been able to fully wrap my head around this one.  While it was not an Art Modell, moving trucks in the middle of the night approach to shifting franchises, it was awfully sudden and out of blue.  One thing I will say is that I feel for the community of Belleville.  I have friends there, and have been there quite a few times.   Attendance had dwindled, but that city lost a centrepiece to its core.  As for Hamilton and the OHL, those predicting doom and gloom should realize that this is not the Hamilton Dukes.  That was 25 years ago.  New owners.  New era.  Lets see what transpires.   It is a real shame that the Bulldogs do not get to commemorate 20 years of AHL hockey next year in Hamilton.  I think that would have been a lot of fun with a twist of nostalgia.   

There, that is out of the way.  Likely will have more thoughts, as things get crystallized as the spring and summer approach. 

LEAF TANK NATION
 I'm just sickened by the constant references to "Tank Nation" and the goal of the Leafs drafting very high as they lurch and stumble their way down the stretch.  Fans are tuning out (I don't blame them), but others, including Leaf fans, are revelling in the piling up losses because it gets them closer to Connor McDavid.   I'm wired to cheer for the success and winning of a team, regardless of how it impacts their draft status.  That's why I have been so impressed with Leafs reporter Paul Hendrick.  He blocks out the negativity and turmoil of the team and focuses on what is happening on the ice, and telling those stories.  He does not ignore the turmoil, but instead chooses to rise above it.  That's a true pro.  Selfishly, I hope that the team gets Dylan Strome in the draft (if they don't hit the draft lottery jackpot).   Man, what a talent.  Great bloodlines with brother Ryan on the Islanders, and yep, there is another Strome gaining notoriety.  Matty Strome, who scored the GWG  in OT in the OHL Cup is tagged to be a first round pick in the OHL draft.  He's the captain of his Toronto Marlboro's. Future IceDog anyone?   That would be nice

Thats all for now. 



Sunday, March 8, 2015

HAMILTON BULLDOGS LONG AND SHORT TERM SURVIVAL: A NEW TWIST?

Image result for Hamilton Bulldogs logoImage result for st john's icecaps
The post-game show was brief, with hopes that this would not be our final AHL broadcast of the year.   Hand shakes were even quicker between the great on-air crew I work with.  A hustling hand shake to Norm Miller, my outstanding colour commentator.  Host John Letherby, and his reverberating and distinctive bass closed the broadcast, and now we wait.  The Hamilton Bulldogs sit in a precarious playoff spot and play 12 out of their last 16 games on the road, none of them on our normal Friday night broadcasting night.   We figured it would be a tenuous three week awaiting the fate of the Bulldogs.  The team had proven to be unbeatable at times, fashioning a 6 game winning streak to vault themselves into the post-season conversation.  Other times they seemed all too mortal, as they were tonight losing 3-1 to a severely depleted Rochester Americans.  Still it was a very unsteady 7th place occupied by a team that had not sniffed a playoff berth in three years. While Hamilton's playoff position was precarious, Hamilton's grip on a pro hockey team was proving to be beyond precarious.  Those in the know would sniff and say that Hamilton's grip on professional hockey was year to year to say the least.  Then sometime early Saturday the pipe bomb was lit.  

Saturday morning would begin like they normally would.  Peering through the haze of the early morning to the Keurig machine (don't judge me environmentalists), for a morning caffeine boost and then some surfing of the main headlines.  An email from John Letherby the next day was nothing out of the ordinary .  With potential furnace issues looming at the rolling Clark estates, I had hustled out without saying good bye.   I figured he wanted to exchange pleasantries about the season that was with a hope that there would be more season to talk about in the very near future.   

His article contained an article from the Winnipeg Free Press about the fate of the St John's IceCaps, a franchise long rumored to be on the move to a location more amenable to the Winnipeg Jets, the IceCaps parent club.   My eyes were drawn to the bolded type: 
  
 The St. John’s group is believed to have struck an arrangement with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, who currently operate their AHL affiliate in Hamilton, Ont.

The AHL’s board of governors could approve the new St. John’s deal and the shift of the IceCaps back to Winnipeg at a governors meeting later next week.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on the politics and on going drama with the Bulldogs and their relationship with the city.  In the past overtures had been made by Laval to house Montreal's farm , but they had barely put a shovel in the ground for their brand new arena, and despite a groundbreaking ceremony full of bravado that guaranteed the Montreal farm team as primary tenants, no one was backing up the moving trucks..  Besides, the lease at First Ontario Centre had one more year to run, with an option for two.  I knew some wording did not guarantee that it had to be an AHL franchise in Hamilton, but I figured that Laval was 2, 3 years away.  Next year would mark 20 years of AHL hockey in Hamilton under the Bulldogs brand, and even if the franchise left after next year, it would be a nice way to leave and it would give the city a year to see if there were any new suitors. I had tracked the OHL, specifically Erie's interest a couple of years back in this market and knew that they were on the block.  I did not think Hamilton would be on the radar for anything remotely connected to the OHL.   

The Hamilton Spectator's Scott Radley would follow up with an article that added little to the narrative.  The article itself acknowledged the Free Press article and offered up a little speculation but few key people would put anything on the record and Michael Andelauer, Bulldogs owner was in Florida.  As the day developed the story would pick up a little more steam.  Radley, and Bulldog beat reporter Terrie Pecoskie would team up for a more in-depth article: 


Two key things had been added to the story.   First was a statement hastily released by the Hamilton Bulldogs website acknowledging the story, but nothing further.  The second was the quote by Michael Andelauer saying that it was a "fair comment".  The lack of strong denial permeated the air.  

Have the Bulldogs, due to factors beyond their control, been cast as the sacrificial lamb to appease both the city of St John's  and the Winnipeg Jets?  Is this mere speculation, with little to no merit?    Batman TV show cliff hanger aside, unrest and lack of stability are potentially fatal to any franchise.  Check the Arizona Coyotes for proof of that.  Their newspaper articles had been filled with impending bankruptcy and bail out stories more than hockey stories.   The silver lining, and potential white night in this is Bulldog owner Michael Andelauer who has banged the drum for Hamilton as a viable hockey market for years now and has remained steadfastly committed to Steeltown.   The lease has one more year left on it and the betting is that there will be a Hamilton Bulldogs franchise at First Ontario Centre next year.   The Erie Otters remain with a For Sale sign, and owner Sherrie Bassin has a hefty 4.5M dollar bill to pay the Edmonton Oilers for a a loan that would have, in a convoluted way perhaps would have landed the Otters in Hamilton.   

Right now the story, and the franchise remain fluid.   A board of governors meeting has been rumored this week, and this may address the situation and start unraveling the long trail that may or may not lead to the AHL leaving Hamilton.  All I can say right now is that it sucks to be an employee of the Bulldogs.   As I said on Twitter, real people with real bills to pay face uncertainty, which I suppose is nothing new in pro sports, but still is daunting.   

As for me, I love broadcasting AHL hockey, and having the chance to see and broadcast the level of hockey directly below the NHL.  I get to work with great people at Cable 14 and the Hamilton Bulldogs and get to follow a lot of OHL'ers who I got to see and broadcast before as they now navigate the pro level.   

I am always up for a good old fashioned cliff hanger, and I love sports business stories.  However, as a proud Hamiltonian, I am not a fan of this one.   It hits too close to home.  Lets keep the best level of hockey in Hamilton at First Ontario Centre and lets let the great fans of Hamilton properly salute their team if an when they decide to leave in a proper manner on the ice and not somewhere in a boardroom.  

Do not roll the credits on this one.   There likely is a lot more layers to this story. 

Steve Clark Hamilton Bulldogs and Niagara IceDogs TV Play by Play Voice













  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Night Thoughts

Image result for Neil Patrick HarrisImage result for dean blundellImage result for leafs tank nation
Well, the Oscars are on and seeing as I have not seen a first run movie in an actual theatre in over three years,  the glitz, glamour, posturing and posing mean absolutely nothing to me.  The last movie I saw in the theatre was a Stars and Strollers afternoon feature watching Horrible Bosses.   My wife and I bought our then four month old baby to the theatre and enjoyed an afternoon of solitude and Kevin Spacey playing a grade a prick with other parents and their young ones.   Just before that I saw Hot Tub Time Machine and seeing as Hot Tub Time Machine 2 just got released and did not crack the best picture list, I'm out. 

This gives me lots of time to pontificate and ruminate on a variety of hockey related topics. 

1. HOW ABOUT THOSE ICEDOGS? 
Remember when the IceDogs were 2-13, the pitchforks were out and everyone should have either got traded or fired?   Seems like forever doesn't it.  Since then the IceDogs have rocketed to above .500 look to be cinch to qualify for the playoffs for an 8th consecutive year and have put the fear of God in a good portion of the Eastern Conference.    Today's comeback 6-5 victory over North Bay might have been the most special victory of the year for a number of reasons.  Down 4-1 entering the 3rd the Dogs pounded Jake Smith for 22 shots and five goals, winning the game with :57 left in regulation with Carter Verhaeghe's 2nd of the game.  Not too many times you can claim a comeback of that magnitude over a Stan Butler coached team. It was also a nice feather in the cap for assistant coaches David Bell and Billy Burke who were filling in for Marty Williamson.  Marty was in B.C. doing some scouting.  It was a smart decision by Marty to look at the schedule, see a trip to North Bay and Barrie in late February and then book a trop to B.C. to check out some hockey.   The team has three lines rolling and a fourth line that chips in and rarely has a bad shift.   Pouring in 5 goals of more has been a regular occurrence and good times reign at the Meridian Centre, where the team has won 6 straight.   Marty Williamson has his crew rolling and peaking at the right time.   

2. HAMILTON BULLDOGS PLAYOFF PUSH
Oh it could be a busy playoff season for yours truly if both the IceDogs AND the Bulldogs qualify for the playoffs.   The Bulldogs have been playing very well as of late and at the time of this writing are one point out of the 8th final playoff spot in the Western Conference currently occupied by the Chicago Wolves.  Daily standings checks will be necessary as the 7-12 spots in the conference are separated by just 8 points.   Hamilton had been on a roll, winning 9 of 11 before getting dropped in back to back games in Grand Rapids, picking up one point in a 3-2 OT loss.  Hardily a surprise as the Bulldogs have had a number of key personnel called up to Montreal.  Jared Tinordi, Greg Pateryn, Christian Thomas and Jacob DelaRose are all up with the Habs right now.  Such is life in the AHL.  Getting any three of those guys will be a boost to the Bulldogs.   Not sure if some of them are being showcased as potential trade bait as the NHL Trade Deadline is March 2nd.  Lots of AHL franchises could either get decimated or receive an unexpected boost come trade deadline, so a lot of players start looking over their shoulders and checking the transaction pages on a regular basis. 

3. TANK NATION
The less said about the Leafs the better.  It truly is a franchise low point to the point that I have lost track of their record over the past couple of months.  It is something like 4-22-0-2.  What I can say is that I have never embraced the concept of tank nation with any team that I have supported.  I am wired to compete, not embrace of cheer losing.   As a long time Leaf fan this is a very difficult run of hockey to accept.  And I cheered for the team in the 80's and there were some horrific teams then.  In fact back in grade school or early high school, I would wear my Mike Palmateer or Wendel Clark Leaf shirt every time the team won.  In those days that meant plenty of time to have the shirt washed and dried between wins.  Heck, I could have sent it out for dry cleaning and still would have had time.   A true sign it was the 80's was that I would wear either a crisp white or blue turtleneck underneath my Leaf shirt.  Couple that with a stunning pair of acid wash jeans, and I was strutting...right into fashion oblivion.   

DEAN BLUNDELL- SPORTS TALK SHOW HOST
In a surprise move The Fan 590 uprooted their incumbent morning show with Greg Brady and Andrew Walker for Dean Blundell and Company, scheduled to debut on Monday March 2nd.  It will feature Dean Blundell and, well, Company as no one else has been named yet to man the morning show with the acerbic Blundell.   Blundell was formerly with the 102.1 The Edge as the morning show man and owned the 18-34 demo with a combination of shock jock, push the envelope humour.   Hilarious on one day and running afoul of the censors there was no question that Blundell delivered ratings.  The Edge and Corus Entertainment finally had their fill of Blundell after a couple of bits that were homophobic and sent him packing.  Will his brand work on sports talk radio?  Will it me a less controversial Dean Blundell?   Will he be able to deliver compelling sports talk to a savvy audience?   Time will tell.  Who the rest of the "and Company" part of Dean Blundell and Company is will determine the direction that the show will take.  As for Brady and Walker?  I cannot tell whether this qualifies as a demotion for them.  Radio ratings are driven by the A.M. drive and the P.M. drive.  Right now there is a strong possibility that they will helm the 1-4 show, replacing Tim and Sid who will take their act to TV

UPCOMING..
The dog days of the season are upon us and that means a busy two weeks with six broadcasts in nine days (2 Bulldog and 4 IceDogs).  I am very much cognisant of the fact that I am very lucky to call OHL and AHL hockey for a local and provincial TV audience.  The reality is that juggling a full time job, raising a family and numerous times at the arena can be a grind.    As both teams are playing well and are right in the middle of playoff races (see above items), motivation will not be a problem.   Trying to turn four suits (three fit well, and one well, is a bit of a tight squeeze) and a number of shirts and ties into a new and fresh ensemble will prove to be a challenge, particularly if you are standing beside Ed Burkholder!  Standing beside that guy people are going to bring their taxes to me at tax time, as I'd look pretty darn conservative! 


See you at the rink!
Steve Clark

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Canadian Basketball League... Could another survive?

Back in 2011, I wrote extensively about the prospects of a National Basketball League in Canada when the NBL attempted to make inroads into a sports market tough to crack.

My thoughts are here:  http://steveclarkmedia.blogspot.ca/2011/05/canadian-national-basketball-league-can.html

Fast forward to 2015. 

The NBL continues to stand, but its lurching, a little punch drunk and would not take too much to topple the entire league.    London and Halifax draw well, but other teams have had spotty success to say the least. The NBL has defied the odds of many by the plain fact that it is still standing today. It really should be considered a success story. That said if you peel back the layers you can certainly see some exploitable holes.   Franchises in Ottawa, Oshawa as well as a couple in Quebec have either folded or been booted from the league. The TV/Radio presence has been inconsistent and caters locally rather than league wide.  One franchise took the unusual stance of banning London Free Press Reporter Morris Dallacosta, citing that he had been highly critical of one of the teams and the league.  Talk about a blow to freedom of the press, and to Dallacosta, one of the few who consistently wrote about the league.  Dallacosta continues to be a strong yet honest voice for the league and  wrote an article in late December about the fragile financials of the league. In the interest of fairness he then followed up with a somewhat more positive piece : 

Both articles appear here: 

http://www.lfpress.com/2014/12/15/national-basketball-league-of-canada-remains-unchanged

http://www.lfpress.com/2015/01/14/dalla-costa-signs-of-life-from-nbl

It is very interesting to note that there will be two new basketball franchises in play next year as Hamilton and St Catharines, two very good basketball cities are set to join the NBL.  That should raise a curious eyebrow or two, but I'll let that suspense build for a second as you read this article:   

http://www.thestar.com/business/2015/01/20/butch-carter-pitching-startup-canadian-basketball-league-but-will-he-find-sponsors.html

Enter a new face into the fray.  Former Raptors coach Butch Carter has his eyes on forming a basketball league in Canada, but one with a radically different approach.  Right now in the NBL a lot of teams use hockey arenas as their home arena and convert them.  Mississauga, Brampton, Windsor, London, Halifax all do that, which makes for a pleasing venue but not much of a visual when it comes to looking at fans in the stands.   Carter prefers smaller venues that would be cost friendly when it comes to rental prices.  The other eyebrow raising part of the Toronto Star article is the promise of a 20 year deal signed with CHCH Television.   Thats huge, a game changer, however you want to put it!  I've long espoused the view point that the OUA lost a lot of consistent exposure when it lost its OUA Game of the Week on CHCH. They did a good job of broadcasting and showcasing Canadian University Sports.  The Score,  Sportsnet, and TSN, while broadcasting university sport , have not touched CHCH when it came to consistent exposure.   Having a large TV presence is great for a league that has yet to start.  This makes the choice of St Catharines and Hamilton to go to the NBL, all the more curious as both are right in the heart of CHCH's viewing community. 

As I reflect back on my own article in 2011, Butch Carter's model acknowledges my own approach in some ways, but goes in other directions in other ways.  I suggested that Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins get involved as they are high profile basketball figures, and its rumoured that Rautins could be part of an Ottawa re-boot.  I still think you need to get Canada Basketball on board and have a good relationship with the national program, and I also think that you need the best college and university players from Canada in the league as well.  Carter left the Toronto Raptors back in 2000 under acrimonious circumstances, but hopefully fences can be mended and the Raps can get involved on some level.   

Overall, TV is the game changer for me.   As someone who has been involved in broadcasting university basketball and college basketball on radio and TV, I see the link that media can create with fans.  Add in some of the new and social media, and you could have something here.  I would not eschew the traditional models of media like radio and TV wholly in favour of social media as, in my opinion, retweets, Twitter, and Instagram followers are but numbers that don't necessarily translate into meaningful dollars in the way that TV/Radio numbers can. 

Ultimately, a Darwinian survivial of the fittest model would work best.  Take the best markets from the NBL, merge it with the CBL and cast aside the weaker markets.     As the CBL wants to be all Ontario next year, a model with the following franchises ,work, as long as you tailor the schedule to keep travel costs down. Taking out of the mix the NBL for now, as it seems from the Star article, they are not willing to play nice or share the sandbox, I'd start with these cities and expand from there: 

Kitchener-Waterloo (lots of interest already in that market) , Hamilton, St Catharines (if they have not fully committed to the NBL) , Ottawa (Leo Rautins/Dave Smart factor), Kingston (kicked the tires with the NBL), Guerlph/Sarnia, two cities with good basketball grassroots, I suggest would also make good markets as they have a very solid grass roots presence.   No need for plane rides with these markets and teams can be paired off for travel weekends (Kingston/Ottawa, Hamilton/St Catharines).

Honestly, I would love to see minor league basketball thrive not only in Canada, but also in the rest of Canada.  That is a long, long way off.   As it stands right now, there is no way both incarnations of a Canadian Basketball League survive, but I'd bet on the new guy and his potential TV deal over the league that appears solid on some days but staggers on other days.

Steve Clark
Steve called McMaster basketball on the radio or on TV most years from 1993-2013, and also called York Lions basketball from 2006-2011.  He currently is the TV voice of the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL and Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL. 


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

(G) RUMBLINGS ABOUT THE OHL TRADE DEADLINE

People who know me in hockey circles, or who follow my Twitter feed (Cheap Plug:  @SteveClarkMedia) know that I am hardily a fan of the OHL Trade Deadlines, and in particularly these lurking on the fringes so called "Insiders" who love to fire out a number of unsubstantiated claims, or rumours and then quick to bellow "I had it first" to the social media work.   On some level I understand the need in the industry to have the scoop, or to have a good reliable network of sources, but does it really matter if so and so had the trade nailed 10 seconds before another guy in the grand scheme of things?   Not really, but as I said, it is the nature of the social media beast that is Twitter. 

The other thing I do not like about the trade deadline is the physical deadline itself.   The CHL does a wonderful job of protecting our World Juniors by banning any trading of them during the tournament. This rule was put in place as poor Steve Mason was away wearing our countries colours while London and Kitchener were finalzing a trade that would see him be shipped to Kitchener for their Memorial Cup run.  It was not exactly the distraction Mason needed and it was a good thing he was only going from London to Kitchener, a relatively short distance geographically.   The next year, even with the new rule,  it was John Tavares proudly sporting Canada red fully aware that his team colours were rumoured to be  changed from Oshawa General Red, White and Blue to London Knights Green and Gold.At least the rule was in place and nothing was completed until after the tournament.

The CHL could go the extra step and protect all high school age players by not having players traded so close to exams.  Many high school exams in Ontario are the 2nd or 3rd week in January and then there is a Semester turnaround time.   Seeing as the CHL likes calling their athletes Amateur Student Athletes, to me, it would be nice to move the trade deadline back or making a trade conditional that the player report to his traded team AFTER exams are done.  No use in playing for those extra years of post secondary education if you are bombing exams because you just got traded!For those taking post-secondary courses, the trade deadline should be in line with college/university semester turnarounds of ends of courses as best as logistically possible   As the OHL promotes itself almost as a miniature version of the NHL, nothing will likely get changed about the trade deadline but they should. 

While I am really laying into the spectre of the trade deadline, don't you think it is time for a cap on what draft picks you can trade.  I saw a trade that saw Nitchie get traded to Sault St Marie a 2020 draft pick change hands.  Somewhere right now there is an 11 year old who has actually traded! As I said in a tweet, an 11 year old just got traded and was told to turn off his X Box and go to sleep.   Maybe two years in advance of the actual draft would be fair, but five?   That, to me, is a tad ridiculous.  Thinking really outside of the box it would be nice to see OHL teams somehow rewarded for keeping players for 4 or 5 years, maybe in the form of compensatory draft picks, or a supplemental draft of some sort.  Any sort of reward will do really.   Might make teams think less about trading players.  That, I know, is so far out of the box, it can't really see the box. 

Do not get wrong, I am not so down on the trade deadline that I'd like to see a moratorium on trades.  Quite the contrary as a matter of fact.   The buzz created does help market the league and the team . A league in which the teams go in cycles necessitates the trading of players. I talk to trusted sources in the league to get a sense of where a team wants to be a buyer or a seller, or who is on the move.  I love me a good block buster and when teams add assets.  I just think that the whole process could be changed to benefit the amateur student athletes who are seen as commodities rather than student aged athletes.   

Steve Clark (Insider status:   normally the 15th to break a trade, after it has been officially confirmed by the league)

Monday, December 15, 2014

IF I WERE IN CHARGE OF ROGERS HOCKEY..

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. 

CHANGES:
STREAMLINE ON-AIR
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.  

STREAMLINE DISTRIBUTION:
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