In the world of pack journalism, being the lone media witness to an historic event is a reporter's dream.
So imagine how TSN's Darren Dreger felt in Chicago as the only journalist reporting live as the National Hockey League Players' Association fired its executive director, Paul Kelly, in the wee hours of Aug. 31. For the 11 or so hours it took for players to jettison the man they'd hired just 22 months earlier, Dreger's TSN reports and blog items were the sole window into the Machiavellian scene at the Drake Hotel.
"It was fascinating to see firsthand what appeared to be a clear divide," Dreger tells Usual Suspects in an e-mail.
Dreger says the Kelly camp, including NHLPA director of player affairs Glenn Healy and assistant director player affairs Pat Flatley, waited patiently at one end of a corridor while the board met. At the other end, interim ombudsman Buzz Hargrove, legal counsel Ian Penny, advisory board member Ron Pink and many of the player representatives waited.
"Unless called into the boardroom, the two sides never mixed," Dreger writes. "It was like witnessing the perfect storm. As the hours ticked away, Kelly sat helplessly while the 30 players reps determined his fate. I could plainly see what was unfolding. Kelly knew what was coming. … You could see it in his face. It was fascinating."
So was Dreger's solo account of the night of the long knives.
Dreger also mined gold last Friday with Bill Watters on Toronto's AM640 radio station when retired star Jeremy Roenick blasted his former union members on the executive board. "The education of those players is going to be very low," Roenick told Dreger and Watters. "I would say that most of them have high-school educations, not college educations, and, not to put athletes down, but they are not the brightest bulbs in the box. That being said, they are really influenced by the smarter people - the lawyers, and the guys who seem to have gone to college and wear the suits and ties and represent themselves as being the smart people … and sometimes they shouldn't do that."
Less is more
Is limiting the player field a solution for golf on TV? With the PGA Tour struggling every time Tiger Woods skips a tournament and both the LPGA Tour and Champions Tour in serious financial straits, some wonder if limited-field formats of the top stars would work best to draw eyeballs to the tube. The theory is that while people enjoy underdogs, they set their viewing times and PVRs to see players they know, such as Woods or Phil Mickelson.
One industry insider, who requested not to be identified, said the idea is gaining popularity. The LPGA has had limited fields this summer for several of its events. Since July 4, there have been just two full-field events (the CN Canadian Women's Open this past weekend being one) on the tour. And the current FedEx Cup playoff format on the PGA Tour reduces the field at the final event to just 30 players later this month. The Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup - all very successful TV properties - also employ limited fields.
It's not a new concept. Greg Norman once pushed for a limited-field "premiership" world golf tour in the mid-1990s, but the concept was shot down by powerful PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. However, the Tiger effect has since created a de facto two-tier tour. With TV cameras following almost every shot by Woods, there's simply not that much time in a broadcast for other players. And on weeks Woods or Mickelson are absent, viewership drops. So while they'd never say as much, TV networks would likely embrace stars-only fields.
LPGA Tour Hall of Famer Judy Rankin, who worked the CBC booth with Ron MacLean at the Canadian Women's Open, says something has to give.
"The golf has never been better, but there's probably too much on TV," Rankin said while taking a break in the CBC's broadcast compound at Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club in Calgary. "You can see almost every level of golf somewhere each weekend. Plus, there are so many other things competing for people's attention. When Tiger plays, that draws so much attention away from the other tours."
Rankin points out that fans are now accustomed to seeing a dominant player such as Woods as the key component of a golf telecast. The LPGA doesn't have one star who transcends the tour as Woods does. "It's too bad," she said. "Because people are just beginning to see that the players out here are hitting it a mile and can really play. They are fantastic athletes."
For the LPGA, with as few as 15 confirmed events for next year, something needs to happen soon. "First, we need a new commissioner [to replace deposed LPGA boss Carolyn Bivens]sooner than later," Rankin said. "I'm told that we will have over 20 events next year. The good thing is that the top players support the tour. But we have to take advantage of the talented stars we have right now. If that means going to Asia or where ever the fans are, then that's what should happen."
Silence Is Golden
Rogers Sportsnet's Jamie Campbell is the third most economical TV host in major-league baseball. A recent study in The Wall Street Journal shows Campbell uses just 62.66 words a minute to describe a Toronto Blue Jays' game. (The incomparable Vin Scully of the Los Angeles Dodgers tops the list at 143.5 words a minute.) Which is probably just as well. How many times can you say, "Vernon Wells pops up with two men on base" before it gets old?
Finally, Sportswriter won the $1-million Metro Pace for two-year-old pacers on Saturday night at Mohawk Raceway in Campbellville, Ont., in a world-record time of 1 minute 492/5 seconds for the mile. Sportswriter stayed away from getting Malicious in the early going. At the finish, not even Rock N Roll Heaven and Woodstock could compete with Sportswriter. And they say our profession is a sunset industry!
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