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Keith Pelley, president of Rogers’ media division (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Keith Pelley, president of Rogers’ media division (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Transcript: Canada’s biggest sports executives on state of the industry Add to ...

These comments were all made from the stage during the PrimeTime Sports and Entertainment conference at a panel discussion. These are edited transcripts – the conversation actually jumped from person to person and didn’t happen as a series of long speeches.

Keith Pelley, Rogers Media president

Two things – one will never change and one will only grow over time and that’s that sports is about passion. That will never change. But fundamentally what has changed in last 3-4 years and will continue to change how we operate as broadcasters and how we operate as team owners is social media.

The consumer now has complete control, it used to be the media. Media could influence whether something was fashionable or not. We used to say at TSN that the World Juniors is a nothing tournament anywhere but Canada. It was completely made by the media. It was made by TSN because we told Canadians that it was important.

I remember there was a football game in 1999 between Saskatchewan and Hamilton that drew 55,000 viewers, only one other event lower than that. Next year we thought give up on the football league or do things a little bit differently – we came up with a concept called Friday Night Football, increased our promotion by 262 per cent that next year. Changed everyone in panel, said there will be no more chats about backroom stories and ownership stories we’ll only focus on the field. Viewership went up incredibly where it’s now averaging 900,000 fans.

But that’s when media had control – consumers now have control. There are only four types of fans, and the second group is the most important. One is the diehard who is going to come whether you win or lose you know you’ve got them at the Argos and the Leafs. Will come regardless. Corporate Canada will come, the bandwagon jumpers will come if you win. But the No. 2 group which I think is the most important one is the people who just come because it is fashionable. And to Chris’s point, to Tom, nothing was more fashionable the Toronto FC in the beginning. And social media can make something fashionable or not. As well as winning.

We learned very quickly this year with the Blue Jays. We changed the logo, it was an incredibly fashionable sport. Everyone was coming to the games, attendance was the biggest increase in Major League Baseball. Then September hit and we went through a skid and had injury problems and we went from here to here and social media had a lot to do about it.

I think the biggest change going forward in sport is the consumer now has control of what will be successful or not. You really need to target consumer more than ever.

Kids want heroes. I have a nine-year-old and he follows the Jays because he is told to. But if he wasn’t, he follows because of Lawrie, Arencebia and Romero. Young, cool kids he thinks have personality and are fun. I think heroes can come in two ways – they can be fashionable for kids or be dominant players. And getting back to social media, they can become viral and they have to be so careful with what they say. So quickly someone’s brand can change overnight. We certainly learned that this year with Escobar. There was a guy who was a pretty big fan favourite, that overnight did something stupid, it went viral and all of a sudden he went way down in terms of our research studies of most liked Blue Jays.

Things can spiral out of control very quickly – in the old days the Escobar thing wouldn’t be an issue. A fan took the shot, put it on social media and it spiralled out of control.

During the Escobar Escapade we probably initially didn’t handle it the best that we possibly could. I think we rebounded very quickly and handled it properly. That’s from the team side.

But from broadcast side nobody more critical than our Sportsnet broadcasters. Sometimes they go the other way because they are so worried about being cheerleaders that they went totally probably too far the other way.

The No. 1 rule we have – this was a discussion we had a long time ago with Maclean’s magazine because Maclean’s is part of the Rogers media portfolio had conversation with editor because it obviously can affect political ramifications there’s areas we can criticizing some companies we do business with we sat down with Ken Whyte and said we’re going to go church and state and maintain journalist integrity that’s exactly what we’ve done.

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