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Spanish fans cheer at Euro 2012 soccer championship (Darko Vojinovic/The Associated Press)
Spanish fans cheer at Euro 2012 soccer championship (Darko Vojinovic/The Associated Press)

USUAL SUSPECTS

Is the beautiful game finally ready to conquer North America? Add to ...

For many years, soccer zealots have predicted their sport would finally conquer North America. They might finally be right. TSN’s rating for the Italy/ England Euro 2012 elimination game on Sunday was 2.058-million viewers. In case you’ve forgotten, TSN averaged 774,000 per game for its coverage of Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. There were extenuating circumstances, of course. The NHL games were in the West, there was overlap from earlier games going to overtime (on CBC) and there were no Canadian teams involved.

Still. When soccer games outdraw the NHL playoffs on a Canadian sports specialty channel it is worth noting. In case you think the England/ Italy game was one-off, consider that the quarterfinal phase of the Euro on TSN averaged 1.27-million a game. Spain vs. France drew 1.13-million viewers on Saturday. (These are all record numbers.)

Ratings for North American soccer haven’t seen anything like this increase. One reason why European soccer is becoming so popular was advanced this weekend by NHL COO John Collins. “There was a lot of hope for American soccer,” he told Usual Suspects. “It’s the No. 1 sport in world, why doesn’t it take effect in North America? But now you’re seeing major sponsors and FOX and ESPN getting into European soccer or the World Cup instead. They’re starting to get interesting (ratings) numbers. Big numbers.

“They’re starting to understand the event nature of soccer. They’re doing a better job of getting the casual sports fan to pay attention to the Euro or the World Cup, even if you’re not a hardcore Manchester United fan. That’s what we’ve been talking about in the NHL. Creating event programming.”

The NHL’s playoff problem is that, unlike the Euro or World Cup, its playoffs can’t be shoehorned into three or four weeks, which seems the optimal time frame for sustaining peak interest in an event.

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IOC You Later: The dissolution of the CBC/ BCE partnership bidding for the 2014/ 2016 Canadian Olympic TV rights did not come as a surprise in the industry. Some insiders had predicted for months that one of the parties might bolt given the short window before the Sochi Games, the uncertainty of NHL participation and the wonky world economy.

Bell and CBC made all the right noises in their public statements announcing the split. Behind the scenes, insiders say that, even with the NHL participation, the numbers were not lining up for Sochi, which is eight hours earlier than Eastern time zone in North America. CBC cannot afford to run a loss on the Games under its advertised austerity. Bell is losing money on its 2010/2012 ownership of the Canadian IOC TV rights. (And is spending half of $1.32 B on Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.) With the NHL looking for a big boost in its next Canadian TV rights package, this may be a good time for networks to keep their powder dry.

Perhaps the most telling angle to this story is the once-invincible IOC brand having to scramble for a Canadian purchaser for its TV rights. There is brave talk about Yahoo! coming in, but the internet giant still needs a broadcast partner to distribute much of the Games. The NHL’s indecision has only highlighted the fragility of what once were strong individual TV properties in figure skating and skiing. The Winter Olympics themselves still pack an emotional wallop, but in an global economy threatened by a collapsing European Union, it will take more than warm feelings and O Canada to get networks to overpay again.

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The Hall Truth: How important is playing in Toronto’s media fishbowl when it comes to being named to the Hockey Hall Of Fame? Being the star performer every Saturday on Hockey Night In Canada certainly didn’t hurt Mats Sundin, who got the call Tuesday in his first year of eligibility. Sundin is not in the top 25 in any major playoff offensive categories nor did he win any major NHL trophies in his 18-year career. Adam Oates, who goes into the HHOF with Sundin, had to wait six years; Oates is sixth all-time in assists, seventh all-time in assists per game and 14th in playoff assists.

Oates made several wingers in to HHOF members, but none of Sundin’s wingers ever distinguished themselves. Brendan Shanahan, who was snubbed Tuesday in his first attempt, won three Cups and outscored Sundin, who never advanced past the third round. Eric Lindros, also left to wait another year on Tuesday, won a Hart Trophy, captained Team Canada at the 1998 Olympics and was the top player in the NHL for almost five years.

We could go on but you get the idea. Is Sundin a HHOF member? By the Hall’s moving goal posts, certainly. But there’s no doubt that playing in Toronto and on national TV every Saturday didn’t hurt in getting him the call as soon as he was eligible.

More germane is the fact that HHOF voters are never made to stand publicly by their vote (as are voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame). Privacy is said to protect the deliberations of the 18 voters, but if you are against the late Pat Burns not being voted into the builders’ category shouldn’t you let the world know why?

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To Erin Is Human: HBO’s Newsroom program that debuted Sunday got the one hand applauding from many critics. Usual Suspects appreciates creator Aaron Sorkin’s attempts to lecture us media types on our foibles, but all I need to know about American discourse today is Veep, the diabolical comedy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the American vice president.

One Sorkin indulgence that did work? The rumoured romance between Jeff Daniels’ anchorman character and ESPN’s reporter Erin Andrews. It was mentioned twice in the first episode. Andrews, whose career had some drama of its own, played along.

@ErinAndrews: I can neither confirm nor deny speculation I’m dating the main character :) RT @kpow508@ErinAndrews just got name dropped on @HBO#Newsroom.”

Now just waiting for Republic of Doyle to work in a Jennifer Hedger storyline.

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Enough Already: Finally, ESPN’s Mary Jo Fernandez sets a record for consecutive cliches in a run-on sentence while discussing American tennis pro Brian Baker at Wimbledon. “ He’s on a mission, he’s living the dream, he never gave up hope, he kept believing, and now he’s got an opportunity to go further.” When you put it that way...

dowbboy@shaw.ca

 

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