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Fans enter the NHL fanfare during the opening ceremonies to the All-Star weekend in Ottawa on Thursday, January 26, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Fans enter the NHL fanfare during the opening ceremonies to the All-Star weekend in Ottawa on Thursday, January 26, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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Dowbiggin: Disgruntled fans sick and tired of lockout talk Add to ...

The NHL lockout has been bad business for many, perhaps none more so than the broadcasters who depend on the hockey circus to help fill their tents. And within broadcasting, no one has been more challenged by the lack of hockey than sports-talk radio.

Across the country, the sports-talk results for the fall Bureau of Broadcast Measurement rating period (males 25-54) have reflected the ennui of hockey fans who are fed up and can’t take more lockout talk. “All sports radio including ours is down because of no NHL,” Phil King, CTV’s president of programming and sports, said in an e-mail to Usual Suspects. “Even those networks without NHL [play-by-play] are down because no one wants to listen to [contract] talk any more.”

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The ratings in Canadian NHL cities are not cataclysmic. At least, not yet.

“Most are only down a touch because of World Series, NFL, CFL, etc.,” said King, whose company has sports-talk radio formats in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. “Once the world juniors and NFL playoffs are over, there isn’t much to talk about except NBA, then it gets tougher for all sports radio.”

Making it more disappointing for programmers, any declines come after a period of ratings success earlier this year for the NHL host broadcasters in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, among others. Many had record numbers last spring.

Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 in Toronto accentuated its yearly rating numbers in a press release Friday, citing growth from last year. The station says it’s up 45 per cent in the fall period from this time last year. Imagine how strong the numbers might look if the Toronto Maple Leafs were on The FAN this fall.

As for the battle between The FAN and TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto, it remains one-sided for The FAN in all the mature audience demographics. There remain signs of an audience for TSN in 18-34 males, but until there is a decrease in the love that older categories have for Bob McCown, it’ll be a long slog to build Toronto loyalty.

Lockout TV Impact

While radio programmers try to put lipstick on the ratings pig for their advertisers, Canadian TV sports networks can at least content themselves with the fact that the lockout isn’t hurting their bottom line in the short run the way it’s hurting radio.

As we reported earlier, cable sports giants TSN and Sportsnet are saving millions in production costs without having to present NHL game broadcasts. They still collect their subscription fees, giving the bottom line a rosy hue. It’s obviously a temporary situation, as consumers will drop those channels if the NHL doesn’t return in the near future.

Plus, the ratings for replacement programming isn’t going to produce ratings that will cause advertisers to overpay for the product in the long run.

CBC doesn’t have a subscription fee, and it must pay approximately $100-million to the NHL for its rights fees this year whether there’s a schedule or not. However, it could get an extra year for free tacked on to its contract should 2012-13 not materialize, plus compensation if a certain percentage of the 2012-13 season is cancelled.

Star Turn

Thursday’s NHL presser with commissioner Gary Bettman was notable for the animated performance of a peeved Bettman. Which was a nice change for punch-drunk reporters on the lockout watch. There was also a plaintive “What are the facts?” question that caused Bettman to pause briefly before launching into another lament about how much the NHL is giving up in these negotiations.

Don Cherry was impressed. “I have never seen him so livid as he was tonight at the press conference,” Cherry tweeted. “He was almost shaking. That was no act.”

Costas storm

NBC’s Bob Costas set off a firestorm last Sunday night when, in the wake of the Javon Belcher murder/suicide, he chose his usual editorial spot on Football Night In America to launch a jeremiad against the “gun culture” in America. We took issue with the timing of the screed and Costas’s insistence that Belcher and his fiancée would be alive today without guns.

Costas’s controversy became a cottage industry this week. On his own NBCSN show, Costas Tonight, he interviewed Charles Barkley and John McEnroe about athletes and guns. To Costas’s claim that no athlete has ever been saved by owning a gun, Barkley said he was packing a gun and it gave him comfort to do so. (We later learned that about 70 per cent of NFLers and NBA players carry guns.)

Don’t look for Costas to feature the pistol and rifle events at the next NBC Olympic broadcasts.

dowbboy@shaw.ca / @dowbboy

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Sports

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