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Bruce Dowbiggin

Will Cable Cord Cutting Shock Pro Sports Back To Its Senses?

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If there’s one constant in modern sports it’s bewilderment at how high salaries have risen for elite athletes. Where a million dollars a year was once the “unheard-of” threshold for salaries, today’s stars are easily taking home 20, 40, even 50 million a year under the new economy in sports. Even college athletes, once forbidden to accept remuneration, are cashing in millions for their name, image or likeness.

When people complain about overpaid athletes to IDLM we simply say the money is in the business, who else do you think should get the cash? Ditto for franchise values, where the Denver Broncos recently sold for a staggering $4.65 B. and the Washington Commanders might fetch $6B.

Largely the infusion of riches in pro sports has come from TV and digital-rights contracts between leagues and regional sports networks (RSN). Those RSNs are the carriers of the local and regional teams. Packaged through cable or satellite carriers they deliver valuable programming dollars to leagues. And for smaller media markets they are a vital source of revenue to keep up with the big boys whose ancillary revenues are pumped by many more customers.

As just one example, the MLB St. Louis Cardinals are currently earning about $66 million a year from their 15-year, $1B deal they signed with Fox Sports in 2015. There are 18 other teams on Sinclair/Diamond local TV deals, all of whom rely on RSNs to play New York salaries in Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

In Canada, as opposed to the American model, regional sports contracts are held directly by either TSN or Sportsnet, national carriers. The monopoly status has suppressed revenues to Canadian NHL, MLB or NBA teams relative to the deals cut in large markets such as New York’s tri-state area, southern California or Chicago.

Recently TV rights packages values were boosted by the arrival of Amazon, YouTube and Google which began to compete with traditional networks for U.S. broadcast rights. But now RSNs are threatened by the cord-cutting trend that sees American and Canadian consumers dumping their traditional bundlers of services to go à la carte digital directly with the producers of programming. ( In Canada the DAZN network has gone head-to-head with TSN for NFL games on a digital deal with the league.)

This past week the American cable giant Comcast reported a year-over-year 11 percent loss in its customer base. That’s about two million Americans saying “I can do without the middle men and the useless channels. I want to subscribe directly to the producers of the material I want to see.” From a peak of 110.5 million customers in 2013 the Comcast market is estimated to drop as low as 65 million customers by 2025.

In part this is consumers shedding programming bundles they never watch and bloated subscription fees as they tighten their belts. It’s also a reflection on the Netflix streaming revolution sparked by Covid-19 lockdowns that saw locked-down consumers get used to the convenience of directly streaming programming from Netflix or Amazon Prime or Disney without paying for a raft of useless channels.

Advertisers have noticed, too. They are headed to streaming services, where their messages can be more targeted to desired audiences than cable TVs scattershot approach.

The impact is being seen in the U.S. where Diamond Sports Group, which controls a huge portion of the pro sports RSNs, is said to be headed to bankruptcy court to restructure its $8.6B in debt. “There are a lot of business and financial terms and policies to work through,” says Deadspin, “but the long and short of it is that DSG is likely going to skip an interest payment it owes, which should be enough for them to get to the bankruptcy claim they’ve been rumored to be after for a while now.”

Bloomberg reported that if they file for bankruptcy it could “potentially put at risk crucial broadcasting rights revenues” for major North American sports networks. Greg Boris, a sports management professor at Adelphi University summed up the looming disaster for pro sports. He told The Score that RSNs have “been a golden goose. You remove cable TV from the scenario, and franchises are worth a fraction of what they are today, players make a fraction of their salaries today… the boom has been going on for almost 30 years. But the vast majority of the people that pay never watch (services they purchase). That’s been the model.”

Leagues are now investigating what to do if the RSN model collapses. Currently the leagues operate direct streaming services for customers wishing to watch out-of-town games not involving their local team. They could simply add the RSN rights too these streams.But direct-to-consumer can be very costly. The Disney+ operation was thought to be a slam dunk, but now management at Disney admits it will be a few years before the operation gets out of the red. American carrier Comcast launched the Peacock network as an outlet for NBC content. It lost $2.5B in 2022 and projects to lose another $2B in 2023. Similar startups such as CBC Gem have been flops.

Direct-to-consumer is also not the easy money machine that RSNs were. If a league or a team operates a direct customer service it takes on the responsibility of signing up and maintaining its customer base. That means dealing with the fickle fans who might drop his/ her package to an NHL, NFL, MLB or NBA team for a few years till the club improves.

That could be a disaster for underperforming teams like MLB’s Pirates or NHL Vancouver Canucks who had the assurance that, while their programming sucked, the other offerings on the cable package were worth customers retaining the service. Direct-to-consumer could, however, be a ray of hope for fans of bad teams that force clubs to finally get serious about producing a winning product.

This potential financial shortfall is probably one of the reason pro sports has so fervently embraced sports betting— to the annoyance of many fans. If the TV money goes, they’ll need every dollar they can find to pay out the contracts they’ve been issuing with impunity the past decade.

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Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Sorry, Justin. Social Media Won’t Give You A Mulroney Epitaph

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The polls suck. His party is restless watching his constant gaffes. His NDP allies are similarly hoping he quits before he brings down their party, too. The public now laughs at his Happy Ways demeanour and lush living on the public dime.

It seems inevitable that Justin Trudeau is at the end of his runway as prime minister of Canada. If the polls are right, he could experience one of the greatest electoral repudiations when the federal election finally happens. Just as he replaced the dour technician Stephen Harper, Trudeau will be dismissed by the public, seen as yesterday’s man.

In desperation Trudeau has tried labelling his nemesis Pierre Poilievre as a Trump wannabe, a divisive alt-right force who would reverse the generous graft he’d bestowed on Canadians. His paid media have picked up the theme calling Poilievre’s strategy “shameful”, “cynical” and his “scorched-earth approach” is “contributing to a breakdown in overall faith in the system”. You go with that.

What makes them mad are Poilievre’s insouciant takedowns of Liberal hacks and media flacks, best epitomized by the apple-eating destruction of a lazy B.C. journalist out for a cheap score to raise his profile. A host of self-appointed press figures lost their minds. “You are not supposed to treat interviewers this way!” Since that moment, Poilievre has repeated the formula on cabinet ministers and played-out press figures.

Leaving Liberals and their wind therapists in the press to wonder what will be Skippy’s legacy in ten or fifteen years if he can’t control the messaging? Most look at the recent funeral for Brian Mulroney and the forgiving attitude from his former enemies toward Mulroney. Indeed, those who watched Wayne Gretzky and others eulogize the 18th PM of Canada as a statesman assume that this charity will eventually be extended to Trudeau.

Sure, Justin told the UN his citizens are genocidal, installed felons to cabinet posts, applauded Nazis in Parliament  and showered his pals with graft. But wasn’t Mulroney also found counting bribe money from paper bags in a hotel room? Surely the charity shown to Mulroney will also be extended to Trudeau in the fullness of time?

It would be if the media/ government apparatus that existed in the Mulroney 1980s were the ones writing the epitaphs. “Let bygones be bygones”. But this fantasy scenario misses the collapse in authority suffered by that media/ government apparatus the past decade. A collapse Poilievre has duly noted.

While they rail against Poilievre’s dismissive attitude toward them, the Conservative leader understands the new dynamic where voters— especially the young— get their information from social media, not the scrum theatre of the past, engineered by politicians and the people who followed them. If Poilievre appears dismissive of their game it’s because he knows they’re irrelevant to him.

This outrage from the Family Compact comes from people like the self-obsessed MSNBC staff who whined like babies at the thought of a GOP voice on their shows. An attitude parroted by their Canadian cousins fed money by the ruling class. No wonder Trudeau is rushing through laws to censor the internet. X hates him, and he knows it.

After years of toeing the line, however, influential journalists are suddenly recognizing the damage done by their obsessions— and the peril in which  their business finds itself. NPR Senior business editor Uri Berliner shocked many with his confession that Trump-obsessed NPR “lost its way when it started telling listeners how to think.

“Today, those who listen to NPR or read its coverage online find something different: the distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population”. A segment so deranged by Trump’s election in 2016 that it fed phoney stories about Russiagate and Hunter Biden’s son’s laptop to its audience over Trump’s term. NPR’s managing editor for news dismissed revelations over Hunter spilling the beans on Dad: “We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.” We know now this senior journalist helped bury a generational story.

Getting it deliberately wrong is bad enough, continued Berliner,. “What’s worse is to pretend it never happened, to move on with no mea culpas, no self-reflection. Especially when you expect high standards of transparency from public figures and institutions, but don’t practice those standards yourself. That’s what shatters trust and engenders cynicism about the media.”

As Berliner suggests, a population that understands the massive Covid deception is now dumping the news sources they long trusted. Hollywood, too, is reaping the whirlwind in cables cut from the nightly Colbert Chorus of Insanity. A worried NY Times has tried a limited mea culpa on overselling the pandemic (one of their reporters claimed in 2022 that Covid had “racist” roots), but the stain of its irresponsible censoring of any critics endures.

In Canada, no one at CBC, CTV, the Globe & Mail or the Toronto Star is even remotely close to owning up to their role in creating panic over Covid. (One prominent reporter received the Order of Canada for his support for lockdowns, vaccines). They have ceased reprinting Trudeaupian propaganda on the virus and the vaccines. But the silence on their enthusiastic support for closing of schools, the isolation of the dying and the firing of those reluctant to try untested vaccines speaks louder than any mealy-mouthed correction.

So the next time the prime minister and his media pals try to portray the earnest— sometimes plodding— messaging of Poilievre as a new Dark Age, consider the source. And then move into the future. Because it won’t be written anymore by the people who assume their infallibility.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

‘Why Is He On?”: We Went There With Toronto Mike

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Tolerance will reach such a level that intelligent people will be banned from thinking so as not to offend imbeciles— Dostoyevsky

We are continuing our trek across the continent, and so find ourselves in Toronto this week researching our next project, a contemporary history of The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at St. Michael’s College. Yes, a slight divergence from our new book Deal With It: The Greatest Trades In NHL History and How They Changed The Hockey World. Self-published, it should be out this month (if we can get the website to work).

Toronto also means a return visit with our friend Toronto Mike for his popular podcast TorontoMike’d. The quintessential antidote to corporate media, he operates out of his basement near Lake Ontario in the west end of Toronto. To describe him as prodigious understates the case. Our show this week— the fourth appearance for us— was No. 1464 for the show.

Mike sells his own advertising, produces other podcasts and generally has made himself a must-appear for people in Toronto’s media, film, TV and pop culture from the 1970s to the present. Our penultimate show as a Tony Bennett versus Frank Sinatra showdown with Steve Paikin of TVO. Yup.

The best part is that Mike will talk to anyone without inserting himself into the show, especially if the craic is good. We discussed that at length in Ep.1464 about the current media mania for demonizing people with whom we disagree.

The list of guests is a prodigious snapshot of a time and place, the time being now and the place being Toronto. In any event, this episode we talked for one hour, fifty minutes on a range of topics from Joe Flaherty, our Montreal Expos fandom, Shohei Ohtani, civil war battlefields, PEI’s fabulous East Pointers  and much more.

So for this week, Usual Suspects brings you an audio, not a print stroll through current events. Enjoy and subscribe to Mike or else we won’t get any more Palma Pasta lasagnas or beer from Great Lakes Brewery. Or future considerations from Ridley Funeral Home.

https://www.torontomike.com/2024/04/bruce-dowbiggin-toronto-miked-podcast-episode-1464/

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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