Let's cut to the chase about Rogers' new biweekly sports magazine Sportsnet. Is there going to be a swimsuit issue? Ken Whyte, Rogers vice-president of publishing, allows himself a laugh. "There are a couple of challenging precedents out there. It might be a little cold to do a body issue in a Canadian February."
Don't mistake that for a lack of seriousness about Rogers' foray into sports magazines – the first attempt at a domestic sports product since MVP's short-lived run in the 1990s. As Rogers (eight million customers strong) attempts to extend its brand across its many media and sports platforms, giving its sports channel a print equivalent makes good sense, Whyte said. "The biggest reason we didn't do this before is that we didn't own Sportsnet. Before, there wasn't an opportunity to do cross-platform stuff. Now we have it that gives us a real competitive edge."
A dedicated sports magazine has always been thought of as a noble but hopeless enterprise in Canada. "One other reason we never considered it before at Maclean-Hunter [previous owner of Rogers publications] is that Sports Illustrated would simply have hired a few people for its Canadian edition to be a formidable competitor," Whyte explained. "None of that pertains today. Time has flamed out in Canada, while Macleans is doing just fine growing its business. We believe there's a big hole here."
That's in both editorial and advertising in Canada, Whyte reminded. "The men's advertising category has developed over the last decade for men's grooming products [like Axe deodorant]. And auto is back, too, after two or three years. It now seems likely that you can get them back."
Even then, it wasn't till Macleans put together a 27-page Toronto Blue Jays supplement this spring that Rogers decided to commit to a sports magazine. "It was a lot of fun," Whyte said. "We started talking about it. … 'Maybe we can do it.' We challenged all the traditional reasons why it would not work and found they don't apply any more. It made sense on its own as a magazine, and it more sense when you add the other platforms like Sportsnet and the Blue Jays."
So will Sportsnet emulate Sports Illustrated or ESPN The Magazine when it starts publishing in the fall? Neither. Whyte said the inspiration will come from the European model of sports magazine. And don't suggest that Sportsnet will be a so-called writer's magazine. "It'll be a reader's magazine. I like to say that about everything I publish."
As the NHL hands out its awards in Las Vegas Tuesday, it'll be looking to expunge the media images from one of the nastiest Stanley Cup finals in recent memory. Most depressing was the image of thousands of young men in Vancouver who seem to have mistaken a riot for a South Park episode. The other was the sight of Boston Bruins rookie Brad Marchand using the head of Hart Trophy finalist Daniel Sedin as a speed bag – to the approval of hockey's blood culture.
The league can't do much for the street rioting but it could do something about the latter. Imagine an NBA rookie speed-bagging Dirk Nowitzki's head going into a timeout or a first-year NFL player hitting Tom Brady in the head repeatedly after the play. What do you think the response would be from those leagues? They'd hammer the kid.
But the NHL stands by as useless as a Vancouver city cop watching his cruiser burn. Better yet, media types – some of whom piously decry fighting – blame Sedin for bruising Marchand's knuckles and tell Vancouver to wise up and get some tough guys. Hope all the parents with kids in hockey are following this.
One final thought on rookie Marchand: How come when he abuses a superstar he's applauded by Hockey Night in Canada and the media as a savvy kid who gets under the skin to win. But when Montreal Canadiens rookie P.K. Subban did the same, we were told by the same voices that he was a punk with no respect who needed to be taken down a notch? Is it because Marchand is a Bruin, a sacred squad on Hockey Night, because Sedin is a European or because Marchand is white while Subban is black, or all of the above. Take all the time you need to answer.
If you're tuning in to the NHL draft Friday to see the new jersey of the Winnipeg Whatchamacallits, guess again. The team will have a new nickname by Friday (Whatchamacallits has a ring to it) but no jersey. This is in keeping with the blank-slate strategy of team owner True North. It wants a whole new image for their team from the previous Jets. Then how about winning?