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Usual Suspects

Sportsnet still showing signs of growth Add to ...

Scott Woodgate isn’t sure where the stories come from, but he’d like the world to know that Rogers Sportsnet is not being bulk-erased.

“There are all these rumours of an implosion at Sportsnet,” says Woodgate, who took over as Rogers vice-president of news and information in the spring. “I don’t know where they’re coming from. We’re building our team at the moment. We haven’t got enough people to do all the things we want to do.”

Opposed to TSN’s national one-for-all approach, Sportsnet runs four separate regional channels with separate editorial content customized to the regional sports scene.

“The challenge for us in the number of shows we do,” Woodgate said Monday. “You see one channel, and you have to [multiply] that by three or four every day. That’s the trick - to build our staff to where we can do that they way we’d like.

“B.C. is a different beast from Toronto, and Calgary is different from Ottawa. An off-day Lions story might lead in the Pacific but in Toronto an entirely different story. The challenge is to tailor that for every one of our cities.”

For example, the run of on-location Canucks Connected shows throughout Vancouver's playoff games this spring marks contrasted TSN's approach, to go with on-site Vancouver-hosting later in the Canucks’ playoffs.

While Sportsnet liked the impact, “it’s very expensive,” says Woodgate. “That was all-hands-on-deck for over two months - and it was just one Canadian team.”

Woodgate points to the recent hires of Jeff Marek and Michael Grange as signs of growth. “They are perfect examples of people who are going to be on every platform. We’re growing the team as we go along to bolster all our social media. They bring us credibility. Grange’s first column on Rory McIlroy worked, because he was a great golf writer.”

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the rebirth of the Winnipeg Jets mean stretching resources further. “We’ll be staffing Winnipeg to stay on top of the story,” Woodgate says. “Plus we have the CITY TV station there that we own. It’s going to be a great couple of years in Winnipeg. Not sure where it goes after that. We have the challenge with the Oilers and Flame already on Sportsnet West. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. But that’s for people above me to decide.”

Compounding the problem is the shortage of available sports TV talent. Hence the hiring of newspaper veterans such as Mark Spector and Grange. “A lot of the talent we have and that our counterparts (TSN) have comes out of the West, because the local stations there are still doing sports and junior hockey. Ontario's not. ... The new talent is harder to find in the East.”

Jets Take-Off: The Jets are about two weeks away from announcing their regional broadcast package. Sportsnet and TSN are both still in the picture. TSN will likely need to create a back-channel for the Jets as it did for the Montreal Canadiens regional English broadcasts. Sportsnet could fit some games into the West channel, but would need a secondary channel for the rest of the inventory. NHL sources say that Winnipeg’s protected territory will include pasts of northern Ontario and Saskatchewan as well as Manitoba.

NHL, NBC Combine: How much does the NHL love the new NBC Universal family? The league announced this week that it’s allowing NBC to sell all the advertising for the NHL’s television, online and mobile platforms in the US. Talk about a cozy relationship. The presumed benefit for the NHL will be placement on the entire NBC family of channels from (about to be renamed) Versus to NBC Golf channel to CNBC and MSNBC. Makes us wonder if the winners of the Canadian TV rights auction in 2014 will have the same symbiotic deal for domestic platform advertising.

Meanwhile, NBC cannot be happy with the IOC awarding the 2018 Winter Olympics to South Korea. After shelling out a boatload of cash ($4.4-billion) for the next four Games through 2020, NBC has two Winter Games in time-zone hell and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. If the NHL takes a pass on the Games in Russia and South Korea, it will dim the appeal of the broadcasts significantly. On the bright side, the IOC virtually has to give the USA the 2020 Summer Games if it doesn’t want a peacock leaving something rude on its doorstep.

Scully Curtain Call: Fox Sports bingo caller Joe Buck says he’d give this year’s World Series play-by-play duties to Los Angeles Dodgers voice Vin Scully. The 83-year-old Scully is an icon, having broadcast Dodgers games for 62 seasons. While Scully has not confirmed when he’s retiring, Buck would like Scully to have another national exposure before calling it quits. Just as long as Buck doesn’t say he’ll let Chris (Back, Back, Back) Berman call the Series. As a big fan of Berman's NFL work, we wish ESPN would just hoist his baseball and golf credentials. It's like hearing Bob Cole on a bad night. Tarnishing a star.

By the way, Buck has not suddenly become a chain smoker. For viewers curious about “why the raspy voice, Joe?” at the All Star Game, Buck has been battling a serious virus since February that affects his voice. Buck has said that he thinks it’s getting better but has been a serious setback for him.

McCourting Disaster: Not sure if Scully watches Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, but this year's debut show has a very funny take on the ownership meltdown for Scully's beloved team. All we'll say is it involves David's lawyer.

Damage Control: The broadcast team for the Oakland A’s was caught up in the tragic death of Texas fan Shannon Stone, who fell from the left-field stands while trying to catch a baseball from Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton. “For a baseball,” Fosse said dismissively after watching Stone’s fall. Listeners could hear laughter in their booth.

When the gravity of the fall was apparent, both Fosse and Kuiper changed their tone. Nonetheless, the A’s broadcaster Comcast SportsNet California went into instant damage control. “We want to express our condolences to Shannon Stone's family. This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to everyone involved in this incident. Our coverage reflected our concern as soon as the severity of the situation became apparent.”

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