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CBC's Hockey Night in Canada logo (Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail)
CBC's Hockey Night in Canada logo (Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail)

USUAL SUSPECTS

Rogers, Bell told they can’t team up on NHL TV rights bid Add to ...

Apparently the NHL has never heard Shakespeare’s undertaking, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.” Even as Bell and Rogers got their NHL parents’ consent to marry within Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment on Tuesday, the Board of Governors put a very dicey impediment between them. The two broadcast behemoths will not be allowed to bid together for the NHL’s Canadian TV rights which are up in 2014.

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In other words, the partners will be forced to compete against each other when the chance to steal Hockey Night In Canada from CBC comes up after next season. Rogers (Sportsnet) and Bell (TSN) have both said they’ll go after the rights which CBC fully intends to defend. How this works in a real world is anyone’s guess, except that it’s going to take some very principled parties to avoid the temptation of getting a leg up on the other.

The Bell-Rogers marriage under the roof of MLSE was always going to be a balancing act (who decides who succeeds Richard Peddie as president of MLSE, for instance?). But the NHL’s little caveat had just made it that much more fun to watch.

We requested comment from the NHL but had not received a reply by press time.

Mike At The Mike

The Toronto Blue Jays are in full turbulence mode. Pitchers are turning up lame, the team can’t escape the gravitational pull of .500 and the fans of the team have turned surly. It can only mean one thing: It’s Wilner Time.

As in Mike Wilner, pre- and postgame host for Blue Jays radio broadcasts on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590. In his role as the first responder in the moments after any Jays loss or win, Wilner is equal parts Dr. Frasier Crane and Tim McCarver. He’s a shoulder to cry on, but if you cry too long he’ll tell you to get a grip, too.

“Yes, wait until next year,” he tweeted during last week’s losing streak. “They’re five games out, and there are only 99 games left.”

This season, which began with the promise of youth, has gradually ground down to waiting for one of Toronto’s celebrated young pitchers or hitters to take a step forward. So on a nightly basis, Wilner has been subjected to baseball’s version of being tied to the whipping post. “Man, will Mike Wilner ever say anything negative about the #Jays? Been saying ‘the plan’ is on track since the start of the J.P. Era.” Or “Mike Wilner after every Jays loss: “Only 3 back.” “Only 5 back.” “Only 7 back.” “They are .500, that’s pretty good!”

It can get taxing holding the hands of an army of emotional fans. “I can’t do this anymore, guys. Please take out your frustration over a 1-6 week for the #Bluejays on someone else.” (Or as Frasier put it, “Oh, fewer nuts, more money – something I’ve been aspiring to for my entire professional life!”)

In the past, postgame hosts simply manned the phones and made the occasional public appearance. Today, Wilner not only practises his phoneside manner but he blogs on sportsnet.ca and tweets about the team on Twitter. His recent blog sums his philosophy after 12 years on the job. “Keep Things In Perspective.”

“You’ve got to be thick skinned,” the 42-year old Wilner told Usual Suspects. “And you’ve got to be emotionally stable. It can be tough, because the fans are passionate. I’m the first place they can talk after a game when their frustration is at an extreme. You can’t talk to the manager or the players, but you can talk to me, whether it’s happiness or disappointment.”

Case study: when the Blue Jays appeared to lose out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes last winter (the Japanese pitcher signed with Texas after a secretive wooing process with his club in Japan and Darvish’s agent) Wilner spent four-and-a-half hours fielding calls on the radio station from fans who groused about everything from the Jays being stingy to the turf at Rogers Centre.

To defuse the emotion, Wilner uses a Jack Webb approach – just the facts. “When people say, ‘What’s with the pop-gun offence?’, I reply that the team is fifth in runs scored in the American League. When they complain about the porous defence, I say the Jays are third in defensive efficiency in the American League. I don’t try to steer the listeners, but I do try to be a realist.”

Wilner has seen storms blow out and new ones move in from phone callers over his dozen years. Now he’s also using Twitter to calm the faint of heart. “Twitter is a big part of my job. I use it sometimes to pre-empt an issue. When there were dozens of tweets about Francisco Cordero blowing a save, I pointed out that he had only been scored on in two of his past 15 appearances.” Unfortunately, Cordero melted down in appearance No. 16. Sic transit gloria.

Wilner, who’ll do play-by-play for 28 radio games this season when Alan Ashby does TV, says intuition is a big part of predicting when issues will boil over. But even he’s surprised sometimes. “When the release of Vlad Guerrero was a big topic, I expected to get a ton of calls. But after the game, nobody called about him. They just wanted to talk about the game.”

So with the Blue Jays owned by the company that employs him, how does Wilner avoid the tag as a company man? “I can’t stop that charge so long as Rogers owns the team. It comes back to the truth. As long as I’m dealing in facts, you can call me anything you want. I’ll let the record speak for itself.”

Tiger Tracks

Whaddya know? Tiger Woods falls out of contention, and the ratings for the U.S. Open’s final round take a tumble. While up from last year’s final round (when Woods was not playing), the Round 4 rating is not as healthy as those from the first three rounds when the four-time Open winner was still in contention. In defence of Round 4, it was up against Game 3 of the highly rated Miami-Oklahoma City NBA final. Plus watching the best golfers survive the Olympic Club was as entertaining as watching climbers make the final summit on Everest. All they needed to complete the picture were Sherpas as caddies.

Further to our Monday epistle about the vagaries of Woods’s play of late. The legendary Dan Jenkins, as usual, summed it up best. “@danjenkinsgd Summing up with Tiger: We know where he’s been, we know where he went & we know that he’s not back, but we don’t know where he’s going.” Perhaps most amazing is all this is Dan Jenkins on Twitter.

Roger Over And Out

Roger Clemens may not get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but after his acquittal on perjury charges he’s a surefire first-ballot inductee into the O.J. Simpson Phyrric Victory Hall of Fame. The Hall is controlled by the writers, and they’re not going to be as forgiving as the jury was this week. Plus, Clemens never made nice with them. If you don’t believe it can happen, just ask Pete Rose, a great player who won’t get in until he admits his gambling problem.

Stern Words

As if his nasty lashing from NBA commissioner David Stern wasn’t bad enough, Jim Rome’s new TV venture on CBS is tanking. Since leaving ESPN, Rome has seen his audience shrink by 90 per cent on the new CBS Sports Channel.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon gave Stern a very, very light dusting for his nasty Rome segment last week. Interviewing Stern at halftime of the NBA Finals game, Wilbon never asked Stern if he felt he should apologize for asking Rome “When did you stop beating your wife?” and other unprofessional comments. An unrepentant Stern, faced with a cowed interviewer, smiled like a Cheshire cat. Here’s saying Bob Costas would have asked the question.

Twitter Case

This Twitter thing has taken some getting used to for Case McCoy, quarterback for the University of Texas and brother of Cleveland QB Colt McCoy. Seems Case was sucked in by a fake tweet saying his brother had been traded to Philadelphia. Without calling his bro, Case headed to the wide open spaces of Twitter to register his dissent and shout out to Browns No. 1 draft pick Brandon Weeden, who’s supposed to replace Colt. “@CaseMcCoy6 Good luck Brandon! Fan of you, but my brother’s pulling the lucky straw on this one! Cleveland is only going downhill!”

Case is now blaming aliens for luring him into a diabolical trap. Colt, who is indeed losing his starting job, has yet to pipe up.

dowbboy@shaw.ca

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeHockey

 

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