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(Jeff Vinnick/©2010 - The Globe and Mail)
(Jeff Vinnick/©2010 - The Globe and Mail)

Usual Suspects

Local guys talking about the local team Add to ...

It took Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province a minute to find the Sportsnet Pacific interview area during the Florida/Vancouver game on Monday, but when he did it christened a novel concept in panel politics in Canadian TV sport: local guys talking about the local team, the Canucks. This season, all Sportsnet games on Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa games will mostly feature local voices on their panels.

Ever since Tip O'Neill opined that all politics is local, the equation has been extended to news and sports as well. If not for a rooting interest in the local side, sports would be like a Broadway touring show, rootless and soon forgotten. Even the national Hockey Night In Canada juggernaut is underpinned by the fanatical following of local teams. In a country as far-flung as Canada, the local becomes even more of an imperative in understanding the issues.

Still, a portion Canadian TV has been slow to address the fact, concentrating many of its editorial panels on issues relevant in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor. The same goes for sports broadcasting. While hardly unique, TSN's The Reporters serves as a typical example of the centralizing mania, with three media types from the MOT corridor holding forth on Sundays with Dave Hodge on the issues of the day in their world. Attempts to broaden the focus often face-plant because... well, the eastern-based guys have little nuance on issues west of the Lakehead and east of the New Brunswick border.

That's not necessarily the reporters' fault. They have bosses in Toronto who want them to concentrate on local issues and teams. Only a true keener stays awake till 2 a.m. to catch the dying moments of a Canucks/ Predators tilt. Some might say it's also a function of time zones and travel etc. But ESPN has found ways to create its version of The Reporters as well as on Around The Horn with voices from across the nation. (By contrast, talk shows such as TSN's Off The Record often have guys who do Toronto weekend sports radio as panelists. Who dat?)

This is not to single out TSN. Until the recent change, Sportsnet's regional NHL games traditionally featured a Toronto-based host and an analyst who looks like a weary Dad waiting for the 2 a.m. call to pick his daughter up at a rave. They're still very panel heavy in their Toronto studios. But using local folk such as Botchford and Barry MacDonald of the TEAM 1040 in Vancouver or Dean Molberg of Fan 960 in Calgary tells viewers that the critics know the context as well as the headline of a story. Now maybe everyone in the East can get to bed at a civil time.

Western Predicament: Hockey Night in Canada battles the regional blues, too. The latest attempt to inject a little Western cultural reference is the inclusion of Calgary Sun writer/ Jack FM host Eric Francis-- son of journalist Diane Francis-- on The Satellite Hot Stove. Last Saturday, he stuck to familiar Calgary topics. We'll see how good his range is when he's asked to get outside his comfort zone.

It could go further on HNIC. The After Hours feature is more geared to an interview format. Why not have a western-based panel during the second game of the doubleheader to explore perspectives from that part of the country where 50 percent of the NHL squads are based?

Spoofing Eberle: Kudos to TSN for their droll Jordan Eberle satire after the Oiler rookie scored his stunning first NHL goal on Thursday against Calgary. In a Kenny Mayne-like piece, Oilers such as captain Shawn Horcoff complained that Eberle should have passed them the puck or that he won't speak to them not that fame has gone to his head. Taylor Hall bitterly lamented his opening night was stolen by Eberle. Eberle played along, too, acting the spoiled child for the cameras. Good stuff. Heck, TSN even had a humourous John Lu piece from the Montreal Canadiens' beat. The kind of creativity we need more of in the cookie-cutter world of TV sports reportage.

Long Ago And Favre Away: Score another half-point for new media in the Brett Favre alleged sexual harassment story. For months, the renegade website Deadspin has been pursuing the story of Favre's apparent unwanted advances on a former employee of the New York Jets-- where Favre played in 2008. The website has posted text and voice messages that are thought to have come from the Vikings QB. It also posted texted photographs of a man's genitals which were alleged to have been received by the woman being harassed by Favre.

However, the story was not picked up in the mainstream media in Minnesota or elsewhere until this week, when the NFL was began investigating the allegations against the iconic NFL star. Favre is not admitting to anything at the moment, but he was not apologizing to his teammates before the Vikes' loss to the Jets on Monday for the decline of Glee this season.

It does appear that Deadspin scooped MSM on the story, however. Much as The Enquirer led the way on the Tiger Woods philandering story and the John Edwards lovechild story. It's true that the standards of proof remain perilously low at many websites. Deadspin went with the story before it had even seen the photos or received confirmation directly from the source. Rushing to break stories is what tripped up so many in the infamous Pat Burns false obit.

But in the belief that enough spaghetti thrown at the wall will produce a meal, so the "new" media will pursue stories MSM can't or won't approach. How MSM deals with losing out on stories because of higher standards of proof-- or, heaven forbid, corporate ties-- could determine the future of the business.

You Can Dress Them Up: Don't know if you're familiar with the NCAA Oregon Ducks football uniforms. NIKE has treated them like a palette on which to paint various "concepts" of a football uni. Our favourite was the black jerseys with black numbers and lettering. We mention this because NIKE has just won the right to produce the NFL jerseys in 2012 (also known as YAL: year after lockout).

Here's NIKE's brand president Charlie Denson with Darren Rovell of CNBC: "We plan on changing the NFL jersey dramatically just like we've done with the college programs, using new thinking and the greatest technology available. The NFL program hasn't had the same type of advancement in recent years."

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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