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Thursday, July 31, 2014

THANKS BUT NO THANKS UNIFOR


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the fact that paying a junior hockey player either $50 a week, or $150 if you an overager is a tad meagre and very outdated.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!

NOW THERE ARE THREE
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. 

OHL'ERS ACHIEVING THE DREAM
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. 

ICEDOGS UPDATE
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. 

BLUE JAYS FREEFALL
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.   

NEW TV FAVE...
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
steveclarksportsbroadcaster.blogspot.ca

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A REVIEW OF PANTLOAD: 25 YEARS OF PRIME TIME SPORTS


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
www.twitter.com/SteveClarkMedia

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

MERIDIAN CENTRE OPENING...


I am very late to the party on this, but as its the dog days of summer, and the OHL schedule has really yet to come out, this article on the opening of the Meridian Centre on October 2nd with the first hockey game as Niagara hosts Mississauga, ironically the same opponent that the IceDogs faced in their first ever regular season home game here in St Catharines. 

(Article is here by the way) http://localsportsreport.com/niagaraicedogs/2014/06/07/693/
It will be a busy start for the arena as there is hockey on the 2nd and 4th and a special opening concert with an act to be named.    Then again what better way to showcase the fact that this is an entertainment facility AND a hockey arena?   Guess we will get our first look at exactly how the arena turn around will go right off the bat as there will be a fair amount of legwork needed to turn the place from a concert venue to a hockey venue in 24 hours.   

More importantly, lots of rumours swirling as to who will open the new facility and be the headline act.   Names such as Elton John, the Dixie Chicks and Brian Adams made the round.  Heck, maybe a cruel joke will be played on us all and it will be the bland, generic repetiveness of Nickelback.  How about Honeymoon Suite, with its Niagara roots and theme, even though Wave Babies might rank up there now for political incorrectness in a video simply for the scene in which they dump cold water on the topless sunbathers to cop a view.   

It would be nice if the act was Canadian, but not mandatory.  Given the realistic confines of the arena my vote would go for KISS, who did play GMC in Oshawa, or Tragically Hip, whose popularity spans all ages.  Plus, if its KISS, maybe you will get to see the TV Cogeco Crew in full kiss make-up!! Sorry, Al Galloway, you get Peter Criss :-)   

There will be a tremendous buzz in the area when as October 2nd,  3rd and 4th approaches.   The arena, if you check out the web cams, is really taking shape and the amenities make it a first class arena.  Weight rooms, big coaches office, TV friendly lighting and sitelines.  This arena seems to have it all.    Couple that with an IceDog team that could have 6 players drafted to the NHL, and it could be a fun fall and winter in the Garden City. 

Now about that opening act.  Gowan?  Leonard Cohen?  Anne Murray out of retirement?  The sky is the limit! Just no Bieber, no Drake and no Nickelback...

Steve Clark

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

OJ...20 YEARS LATER

20 years ago today 21 year old me settled to watch my beloved (at the time) NY Knicks and Patrick Ewing try to take down Akeen Olajuwon's Houston Rockets in the NBA Final...until it was pre-empted for the now infamous low speed Bronco chase involving the LAPD and OJ Simpson. Simpson was turn himself in for questioning after the brutal double homicide of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. His actions, even before this bizarre spectacle, curious to say the least.   
Even then I remember how ridiculous it was to see people waving at him over bridges and holding Go OJ signs when it was the aftermath of a brutal double homicide. The other thing I can vividly recall thinking to myself was that there was never going to be another Naked Gun movie, which was about as random as it bets.
The trial was a sad spectacle of justice and misdirected accusations of race, and dreadful performances by most of the lawyers, some of whom like Marsha Clark and Chris Darden cashed in their miserable performances for jobs in the media, or as authors as everyone wanted a fleeting piece of fame.
It was fodder for late night TV with Jay Leno being the worst offender with his parody of Dancing Ito's that poked fun at the inept Judge Lance Ito.  Kato Kaelin drew laughter in open court for his cluelessness as a witness, even though he was key in the pursuit of justice.   Johnny Cochrane's theatrics that went unchecked by the courts.  Chris Darden and Marcia Clark's inept lawyering and making OJ try on a glove that had obviously shrunk. 
A condemnation of cameras in the courtroom at its best and a gong show to justice at its worse.  The final straw may have been a jury that lacked any sense of logical thinking by buying into faux racism while being too stupid to understand the basics of DNA evidence.  
20 years later, after religiously following the case on CNN, and reading several books on the case, can't say that the public perception of the justice system has changed as HLN does a deplorable job of sensationalizing tragedy like Trayvon Martin, Casey Anthony and the Steubenville rape trial to name a few.

20 years later people do not forget the OJ Simpson chase and trial.I found myself reading updates on the main characters, a term I use because this played out like a bad TV movie.  I found I did not care what happenedo to Kato Kaelin, Marcia Clark, Chris Darden or F Lee Bailey. I cared about the victims and 20 years later they are still dead, faded names from the last.   Sadly, they did not get the same tribute.  Their names, by the way, were Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Smith and they died in horrific fashion. Remember them when you look back to 20 years ago today.    

Thursday, May 29, 2014

BOB COLE: SOCIAL MEDIA SENSATION

  
No, Bob Cole does not take selfies, hash tag or use Instagram.  As far as I know there is no Twitter account run by Bob Cole, though there are a number of semi-amusing parodies.  However when Bob Cole calls a game, social media goes crazy.  It has become all the more of a frenzy with the speculation that Bob Cole's legendary broadcasting career may be riding off until the sunset.  As of this writing, Bob Cole has no contract for next year.  It should also be noted that no play by play or analysts have been named by Rogers as they embark on year one of an all encompassing 12 national agreement with the NHL.

The Fan590 debated the merits of Bob Cole on the Morning Show of Brady and Walker.  It was generally felt that the 80 year old still had a lot of game left, and they sited his call of last nights double OT game between Chicago and LA.  A couple of callers also trumpeted the legacy of Bob Cole and the continued excellence of his big game call, while one lamented the mistakes he makes during a broadcast.   Still, all this warm and fuzziness contrasted with views of last year who hated the fact that the "Leaf supporter" was calling Habs games. All the more puzzling, and this was noted by Brady and Walker, was the level of vitriol directed towards Jim Hughson, who is the best in Canada right now bar none.  A couple of years ago, Hughson was loved, and now he is heavily crticized on social media.  

I get it.  Play by play love/hate is all about what style works for you and for the individual fan, that can be different.    No one wants to see the end of Bob Cole's career, in much the same way, you do not want anyone who has achieved legendary status not be around anymore.   

For me, I love the way that Bob Cole calls a game, the rhythm, the cadence, the ability to strike the right tone on a big call have never gone away, regardless of age.  I can remember my Dad saying 20 years ago that Cole had his day, but was starting to lose it.   Yet here he is, still calling the games, still with the trademark phrases that be never duplicated.   It does not sound right for anyone else to say "Yessir!" "Oh Baby".  With Rogers focus on Hometown hockey, there is no one more hometown than Bob Cole.  My guess is that he will be offered several select games to do next year with historical value, and there will be a huge send off and good bye and a big feature on Cole in his native Newfoundland.  I'm not saying he would accept such a tribute, but I cannot see him quietly calling his last game this year and then leaving.   That might just be me and my own nostalgia driving my thoughts.   

A BIT ON DEAN BLUNDELL:  
One of the more polarizing subjects in sports media has been the tryout that has been offered former 102.1 The Edge morning man Dean Blundell on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590.  Blundell, if you remember, was finally fired from Corus after an exchange with a producer in which Blundell seem equate gay men in prison with rape and the fact that they would enjoy it.  The fact that both Blundell and his producer were seriously undermining the legal system also played a role as was the fact that Blundell had run afoul of Corus and the CRTC on a number of occasions.  I cannot comment on how Blundell is as a sports talk radio host as I have not heard any of the broadcasts.   However, in a business driven by ratings and name factor, it Blundell seems to possess both, even if his name factor can be construed as for all the wrong reasons.   He was a star in Toronto morning radio , no matter what you thought of his "shock jock" antics. Whether he can re-invent himself as a credible sports radio voice is yet to be determined.  The Fan590 is serious though as they have devoted a couple of listener polls to Blundell.   

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

FRESHENING UP THE MEMORIAL CUP FORMAT


As a broadcaster of Junior hockey, I take more than a passing interest in the Memorial Cup, regardless of who is playing in it.  This years' tournament takes on a heightened interest as there are those currently revelling in the lack of success of the London Knights, arguably Ontario's most despised teams.  Fact of the matter is that few should be surprised that the London Knights have failed to impress so far.  This is a team that was inactive for over 50 days before the tournament began due to their 5 game ousting by the Guelph Storm, who are unsurprisingly odds on favourites and have already booked their place in the final on Sunday.  I know that prior hosts who did not make their league final have had success in the past, but man, it has be tough to find that necessary edge in your game after a month and a half lay off.  Give me a tired team in a play off rhythm any day of the week over a lethargic inactive team.  

The Memorial Cup is a curious format as 4 teams battle it out round robin style, and play in either a play in game, a semi final game and ultimately a final.  All this takes 10 days and often you can have games have absolutely no bearing on the standings, or an inordinate amount of time before playing meaningful games.  Again, take Guelph, whose game against London means absolutely nothing to them except the chance to excuse their rivals, London.   That means Guelph has to sit and wait for five days between games that actually mean something.  No other tournament I know has games that have no bearing on the proceedings at hands, let alone a national tournament like the Master Card Memorial Cup.  Freshening up the tournament, any tournament for that matter, is a calculated risk with the leagues in question and more importantly the sponsors.  That said, here are a couple of ways to freshen up and expand the playoff format of the Memorial Cup.  Heck, baseball, football and the NCAA have added teams recently, and hockey re-jigged the divisions to create more meaningful match-ups. Why not the CHL?

SUGGESTION 1: 
8 TEAM, TWO GAME TOTAL POINTS SERIES COMBINING WORLD JR AND EUROPEAN SOCCER. 
The teams would be the 3 league champs, the host team, the 3 league finalists and a wild card team selected.  Here you can rotate the league that gets the wild card, depending on the host.   Teams are seeded 1-8, and will play two games, total points series. with the tie breaker being "away goals" as you designate one team to be the home team for one game, and one to be the away team for another game.  This is what a lot of European soccer competitions do. If it is tied, then you go with a sudden death overtime .   When it gets to the Final 4, it becomes a one-off elimination.  Think of it, you can have two games each day for the first four days as 8 gets cut down to 4, and then a day off and then semi-finals and then finals.

The cons of the competition are the fact that you have two guaranteed games versus three right now.  There could be arguments, as there always are, about a nominated wild card team.  There would also be less emphasis on the league winners, as all it would net would be a higher seeding.   

SUGGESTION 2:  
Three league winners, and if the home team gets knocked out before the final, they have to play in a round robin tournament with the other three league finalists to determine the final spot in the final four.   In all likelihood, its not that dissimilar to the first suggestion, though it does not guarantee much pop for the hometown crowd whose team may not make the main tournament.  

I suppose if you really wanted to get radical, you would make it a 16 team tournament with the three league winners and a host team helming their own final four , with league finalists and semi-finalists comprising a regional sweet 16 much like the Sweet 16.  That might be too radical though. 

To be honest with you any suggestions would have to pass the smell test with Dave Branch, the CHL, the major tournament sponsors, and Sportsnet, who have the rights to the tournament for the next 12 years.   That is what drives the bus.  Still, right now it still seems to be too many days for too few meaningful games.   
Steve Clark- Niagara IceDogs TV Play by Play