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The Globe and Mail

Caps owner says the new media is the message

In this Sept. 11, 2007, file photo, Ted Leonsis, a majority owner of the Washington Capitals ice hockey team, speaks with the Associated Press during an interview in Washington. The family of late Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin says it has agreed on the "major economic terms" for selling its stake in the NBA team to Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP2007

It's no revelation that sports owners don't feel they always get a fair shake from the mainstream media. So organizations spend long hours dreaming ways to spin the stories about them. And those are the winning teams. If you're losing, as are the Maple Leafs, Senators, Flames or Oilers, it can seem like being caught in a gerbil wheel of media abuse.

But some owners are now fighting back via new media. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis - who made his fortune via AOL - dictated the new ground rules this week at the Washington Post's Business of Sports symposium. "I think this new media is like oxygen. Get used to it. I think that there is no more steering wheel in the hand of The Washington Post. I used to live in mortal fear about what you would write. Now, I don't care."

Dan Snyder, owner of the hapless Washington Redskins, describes the divide between the sides. "You sit there and read that the coach is this or the players this, your owner's this," Snyder told the same symposium. "And in reality, the fan support is spectacular. And the connection between the fan and his or her team is what it's all about."

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Added Leonsis to the Post staffers: "You are a part of the dialogue. You need to tone it down, too. You have a big role in what the community thinks, and in how the community interacts."

Leonsis then bragged about circumventing the mainstream media, reaching up to 90,000 customers on an issue via his blog or Twitter. "I have a direct, unfiltered way to reach our audience now," Leonsis told the audience, "and I think that harnessing that is what you have to do as ownership, because we are media brands. ... When someone goes to find out something about me or a team or a player, and they go to Google and they type that in, I want to learn how to get the highest on the list, and I've done that. I don't want The Washington Post to get the most clicks. I want the most clicks."

For the same reason, other sports executives have ventured into new media. Vancouver Canucks president and GM Mike Gillis has a Twitter account to have direct access to fans. Monday, Gillis extolled his all-star coach, Alain Vigneault. So far, however, few have been as bold as Leonsis in breaking the proscenium.

Watters Out: The axe continues to swing at Rogers Sportsnet since Scott Moore took over as president of broadcasting. This time it's analyst Bill Watters who's been asked to excuse himself from his role on Hockey Central at the network. Watters announced the move himself Thursday on The Bill Watters show on AM640. Officials at Sportsnet issued a no comment when asked why the former agent and assistant GM of the Maple Leafs had been let go.

Sources tell Usual Suspects that the mixed allegiances of the 67-year-old - working for Corus' radio against Rogers' The FAN 590 - will not be tolerated in the new regime. Watters will not be the final familiar face to disappear as Moore declares a ban on employees crossing lines with TSN or other competitors. Watters has approximately 18 months left on his current contract to host his show on AM640.

New channels? There is a serious glut of prime-time TV sports attractions these days. Yes, there's plenty of poker in off-peak. But even in a non-Olympic year, finding prime-time slots to meet the demand for contracted events is difficult. It's why TSN2 and Sportsnet One were created to handle the overflow of NHL, MLB, NFL, MMA and NBA games purchased by the networks.

So are we in line for TSN3 or TSNU? "You hit nail on head [about shortage of time slots]" TSN president Stewart Johnston tells Usual Suspects. "What we don't have is a magic wand that makes all these events line up in a jigsaw that makes sense. No one wants to see a tape-delayed event - that's what TSN2 came along to address. But a third network of some kind certainly is not out of the question. Is it an offshoot channel or 3D-related? We'll see."

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How bad is the pinch? "We found ourselves in triple conflict situations maybe a dozen times [last year]" Johnston said. "That's 12 more times than I'd like to have. We do have [to handle some of the overflow] Is that the same as the HD TV hanging from the wall? No."

So don't be surprised when the cable and satellite carriers start to complain about demands from broadcasters for new sports channels.

Time delay: One of our alert readers points out that Fox SportsWorld  Canada is broadcasting the Sky Sports News at 7 p.m. ET. The problem is that the show was broadcast seven hours earlier in Britain, making all the news of games that night stale. Our trusty correspondent says when he noticed this in November he was told that FSWC did not yet have closed-captioning for the program.

The delay problem still exists halfway through January. (Or is that still December, UK time?) Can a brother get a closed captioner?

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