The Show Goes On - Part Two
By Mike Toth
In my last blog, I wrote about the recent Bell Media lay-offs. A number of talented people lost their jobs; just the latest example of the drastic changes that have hit the mainstream media over the years.
But what do those changes actually look like?
Let's sink our teeth into it, with a primary focus on the sports broadcasting industry.
To begin with, if you lost your job back in the 1980's and 90's ( a more "golden" era for sportscasters) it didn't take long to land another gig. When "Sports at 11" in Calgary was taken off the air in 1997, I received the first lay-off notice of my broadcast career. It was definitely sad to see the end of a show that I loved being part of. But on the bright side, I soon had five new job offers on my plate - a clear indication of the booming sports media business at the time.
In reality, however, storm clouds were already beginning to form.
As the folding of "Sports at 11" illustrated, local sports shows were beginning to lose their lustre. TSN had established itself as a powerful force and soon Sportsnet began to flex its muscles as well, using big network budgets to put the squeeze on smaller operations. Sportsnet, for instance, took over the broadcast rights to Calgary Flames games which had long been a staple of Channels 2 and 7, the local station that also carried "Sports at 11".
Soon, all the local sports shows that had been so popular in Canadian markets such as Calgary ("Sports at 11"), Toronto ("Sportsline") and Vancouver (“Sports Page”) disappeared from the airwaves.
Meanwhile, as local sportscasts were sacrificed, so were the sportscasters that came with them. For a while, there were still lots of jobs to be had at the big networks based in Toronto. But then CBC dramatically chopped much of it's once-powerful sports department and more recently Bell (TSN) and Rogers (Sportsnet) have also trimmed their budgets, saying good-bye to big-name talent such as Dan O'Toole, Bob McCown and Nick Kypreos.
The biggest reason for all the changes to the mainstream sports media?
There was a time when local shows such as "Sports at 11" were the kings of the community. Minor hockey teams, university football squads, the kids swimming program - they'd all beg the local TV station for coverage. If they received thirty seconds of hilites or even a brief on-air mention, they were completely over-the-moon.
Of course, the TV sports departments couldn't honor all the coverage requests and if you didn't send a camera to the local broomball tournament, you might have to answer a few angry phone calls.
But in the new social media world?
Most sports organizations have created their own media enterprises (Websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and they no longer have to rely on the TV guys with the big hair and fake smiles to show up once in a blue moon to toss them a bone.
My son, for instance, plays in the Greater Toronto Hockey League - the world's largest minor hockey operation. The GTHL has its own fancy website which produces all the stats, scores and stories you need and the league also publishes a glossy monthly magazine. Better yet, if I can't make it to the rink I can still watch my lad play thanks to the GTHL live stream which carries most games and even, believe it or not, allows you to choose different camera angles.
In addition to a multitude of social media broadcast options, there are also a pile of social media broadcasters
Hop on an elevator (wearing a Covid-inspired face covering, of course) and there's a good chance the two guys standing next to you who just won't shut-up are the hosts of their own podcast.
And the girl across from you with the purple hair and nose ring?
She's probably a social media influencer who has her own YouTube channel.
But even if a person simply maintains a Twitter account, they're still part of the social media revolution that has forced the mainstream media to search for answers.
Thirty years ago, sports fans didn't have much of a choice. If you wanted to watch the Flames hilites you had to tune into "Sports at 11" (or TSN and Sportsnet in later years) to get your fix. We like to think we put on a pretty good show, and I really believe we did. But the fact is "Sports at 11" also had a captive audience that didn't have too many alternative viewing options
Forget about "Sports at 11". Make it "Sports at 5, 6, 7".....or whenever you want your hilites. All you have to do is grab your phone and choose your favorite app.
I spent most of my broadcast career hosting hilites shows at "Sports at 11", TSN and Sportsnet. But to be honest, I haven't watched an actual TV sports hilites show in years - and I hear the same thing from most of my sports-minded buddies. Like a lot of people, if I want to see a specific piece of video, there are lots of places to find it without staying up for the late night sportscast.
No, it's not easy being a sports broadcaster these days and I'm definitely thankful that I worked in the era that I did. It was a lot more fun when you didn’t have to drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how to get a few eyeballs on your product.
With that said, it's not all doom and gloom.
Young broadcasters still get hired at TSN and Sportsnet, especially in the "live event" department where properties such as Toronto Maple Leafs and Blue Jays games still rake in the dough. Kyle Bukauskas, for example, is a rising star as a host on "Hockey Night in Canada" and I'm really enjoying the work of HNIC's new play-by-play voice, Harnarayan Singh. (I love his "It's time to hand out the sweets!" goal call!)
There are also tons of opportunities on social media.
Sure, most blogs and podcasts will usually only end up being viewed by a few friends and relatives. (Thanks for reading this Uncle Rick!) But you never know what's going to make it big.
My two lads and I, for instance, love the "Dude Perfect" bunch on YouTube. These guys were a group of college buddies from Texas who made a few videos of themselves goofing around and making some basketball trick shots. Today, they have over 55 million subscribers, 12 billion views, and let's just say they don't have to worry about paying off their student loans.
So, if you've got a good idea, get it out there.
These days, you don't have to wait for a TV reporter to show up and cover your broomball tournament. You can write your own broomball blog or start a "Broomball Boys” YouTube channel.
And if you can pull off a few broomball trick shots, who knows?
You might even be able to give the guys at "Dude Perfect" a run for their money.