When TSN was rocked by the firings of a large number of employees last week in both its radio and television operations, the damage was mostly self-inflicted but rival network Sportsnet managed to land a huge blow.
The announcement by Scott Moore, Rogers' president of Sportsnet and NHL Properties, that popular ESPN broadcaster Dan Shulman will leave TSN to appear on 30 Toronto Blue Jays broadcasts was an unpleasant aftershock for TSN in the wake of the mass firings by Bell Media.
Much of the focus of that announcement was on Shulman, who made his name in broadcasting in the early 1990s at Toronto radio station Sportsnet The Fan 590, rejoining his old broadcast partner Buck Martinez for 30 Jays games. But the real importance of Sportsnet's coup was in this sentence farther down in the press release: Shulman will also make appearances on Sportsnet's Blue Jays Central, Blue Jays Central at Noon, Tim & Sid and sportsnet.ca.
That is a big loss to TSN's programming. When the Blue Jays took off this season on a run to the playoffs, TSN's flagship radio station in Toronto, already a distant second to The Fan 590 in the sports talk ratings, was buried.
But TSN Toronto 1050 and the company's other sports stations in Canada could at least counter with two of the best analysts in baseball with Shulman, 48, and Dirk Hayhurst. Ditto for its Sportscentre television show. Not any more.
Sportsnet wasted little time exploiting its new asset. Shulman clocked appearances on two supper-hour shows on Thursday, hitting Tim & Sid on television and then flipping over to radio on the national hour of Bob McCown's Prime Time Sports.
Expect an even heavier rotation through the daily radio and television programming when the 2016 baseball season starts. This will be easy enough for Shulman to manage despite his main jobs with ESPN as its lead NCAA basketball play-by-play caller and voice of Sunday Night Baseball. The Toronto native maintained his hometown residence after joining the U.S. cable network in 2001.
TSN will still maintain a vestige of its former star as it still carries Sunday Night Baseball. But it will be a bittersweet reminder at best.
Since ESPN is a minority owner of TSN, there is the question of how Sportsnet could spirit away Shulman. TSN has the right of first refusal when its rival seeks to hire an ESPN broadcaster.
Shulman could not be reached for comment but a TSN insider said his contract with ESPN is structured in a way that does not subject him to TSN's first-refusal right.
Sportsnet scored another apparent victory this week when TSN's supper-hour television talk show Off The Record was cancelled as part of the Bell Media cuts. It only runs 30 minutes but was an institution for the past 18 years on TSN and starts at 5 p.m. Eastern, the same time as Sportsnet's hit two-hour supper show Tim & Sid begins.
Tim & Sid, hosted by Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro, started out on The Fan 590 as an afternoon radio show and quickly became popular with younger listeners. This prompted Sportsnet to switch them to television last July in a bid to boost their dinner-hour ratings.
This proved to be a success, as Tim & Sid moved past Off The Record in the ratings and became No. 1 for sports shows in the two-hour slot between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. when the Blue Jays were not on. However, TV insiders say ratings were not behind TSN's cancellation of OTR, which ends its run in this format Dec. 18.
While OTR's ratings dipped during the show's summer hiatus and in the fall when a lot of Blue Jay playoff games were on weekday afternoons, once the Jays were knocked out of the playoffs things got better. Exact figures are not available but broadcast sources say Tim & Sid's ratings dropped once the Jays were finished. The Sportsnet show remained No. 1 but OTR drew much closer.
TSN cancelled OTR because of the cost of producing a daily talk show, not because of a dip in ratings. Host Michael Landsberg will stay with the network and do segments similar in style to OTR for Sportscentre and other shows.
"For me the time is right," said Landsberg, who also plans to spend more time promoting mental health, a passion due to his well-known fight with depression. "I've thought about this for a couple years but it's tough to walk away from something because you like it and because it's a sure thing.
"Hopefully it will give me more time to focus on something that landed in my lap, the whole mental-health thing."