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(Peter Power/Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail)
(Peter Power/Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail)

Usual Suspects

TSN Radio facing long climb in ratings war Add to ...

It's one thing to start a sports radio station with oodles of promotion. It's another to get listeners and hold them. Thursday was the first real report card for TSN Radio 1050 and the numbers show the steep curve that lies ahead for the station that began in April.

In the coveted male 25-54 demographic Sportsnet The Fan 590 hasn't missed a beat with a 5.8 overall rating - its highest since the 2010 Olympics. Preliminary reports indicate a repeat of what an earlier two-week sample hinted at.

The new Fan 590 morning drive tandem of Greg Brady and Jim Lang have held off the challenge from TSN's Mike Richards. They achieved a 6.5 rating while Richards is at one.

In afternoon drive, Bob McCown's Prime Time Sports is doing historic highs with a 10.2 in May, while TSN's Cybulski & Company clocks in at 1.2. The wild card in the growth of TSN might be the fate of AM640, which has one more year left as the Maple Leafs broadcaster. While 640 insists it will fulfill the deal, sources suggest both TSN Radio 1050 and the Fan 590 could acquire the NHL team's rights by start of the season next fall. Should the Fan 590 add the Leafs to the Raptors and Blue Jays, it could force TSN into some difficult program decisions.

Fan 590 program director Don Kollins says the results are gratifying. "We're thrilled with our numbers. The talent on-air is best in country, and we're delivering to over half a million listeners a week. As well, the Blue Jays are doing really well for us in evenings and weekends. We're getting close to where the station is starting to hum."

TSN Radio executives have continued to insist that they're still in the soft-launch phase of their rollout. Televised versions of their shows begin in the fall. "Still very early days and a small sample size," says Chris Gordon, president of Bell Media Radio. "But we are really pleased with the results thus far from just six weeks on-air. We are doing well especially in the younger end of the sports radio demo that we are targeting."

Vancouver Rocks: Proof that an NHL team getting to the finals is good for ratings. The Canucks' host broadcaster TEAM 1040 is No. 1 in the M25-54, and up to No. 5 in adults 25-54. The afternoon tandem of David Pratt and Don Taylor is is No. 1 in M25-54. Who knew? The Canucks will be smiling as their radio rights are up for negotiations this fall. "We are very pleased with the results for TEAM Radio in Vancouver, " says James Stuart, vice-president and general manager of TEAM 1040. "People want to talk about the hockey playoffs, and the outlet to do that is TEAM 1040. Our other sports station, TEAM 1410 continues to improve, and we are seeing good results for specific programming such as the Vancouver Whitecaps broadcasts and daily show."

Seeking Stanley: No one is certain CBC can hang onto Canadian NHL media rights after the current contract expires in 2014, but the Corp. is leveraging its deal for all it's worth. No better example than in British Columbia, where managers there have added a popular postgame show Seeking Stanley and are hosting almost 15,000 fans a night on their plaza to watch the Vancouver Canucks games on the big screen.

The shots of the giddy throngs at the corner of Granville and Hamilton streets has become as much a staple of Hockey Night In Canada's repertoire as GM Mike Gillis's stoic visage in his box at the games. Meanwhile Seeking Stanley has found audiences as large as 730,000 viewers with a 45 share in the province - unprecedented numbers for a regional program. And impressive considering they're head-to-head with Rogers Sportsnet Pacific's Canucks Connected and TSN's Sportscentre.

Johnny Michel, the managing director CBC British Columbia, says the idea for Seeking Stanley came from sports anchor Shane Foxman. "We don't have a lot of regional content," notes Michel. "A lot of the time our news gets pre-empted for early games and doubleheaders. But when it comes to single games later in the playoffs, we have time postgame before The National. Shane said let's do a highlights program to fill that slot."

Foxman and fellow CBC sports staffer Karin Larsen are joined by former Sportsnet host Jody Vance. They break down the highlights, show the postgame press conferences and interview ex-players such as Cliff Ronning. The program is a unique show of initiative within regional CBC, a model for how CBC will need to impress the NHL when the next contract arrives.

The outdoor parties sprung from CBC's experience doing impromptu gatherings during the Olympics, utilizing the plaza in front of their building developed after selling part of their space for private condo development. When the Canucks bandwagon took off, its seemed a natural to apply outdoor parties to hockey playoffs. CBC Radio morning host Rick Cluff explains, "we started to invite people to come down to our plaza to watch the games live. And it just started to grow. Didn't matter what the weather they started showing up in big numbers to watch on the big screen. I think the crowd for Game 2 was estimated at 14,000 people."

Michel says the friendly crowds help eliminate the "Vancouver Riot" image that followed the Canucks' loss in the 1994 playoffs. "The police like it, the fans like it, we like it. I'm just glad it doesn't go on forever because we don't specialize in this. Frankly, the staff is tired. But happy."

Double Blue Barrage: The CFL has decided the best way to get Toronto Argonaut fans back into the boat is to go the 24/7 route. As in, HBO's highly successful 24/7 documentary on the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. TSN has announced that the same production company that did their Oil Change series on the Edmonton Oilers will produce a four-part documentary on the Argonauts to be seen this season.

According to TSN, the series will wallow in Argo history, lore and legend - plus go behind the scenes with the current team as it struggles to solidify its niche in the Toronto market. With rumours of the NFL on the horizon in southern Ontario growing more insistent, this may be a best chance/ last chance to get CFL fans onside with the Argos.

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