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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

The Buck Stops Nowhere: Biden / Trudeau & The Accountability Gap

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It’s unlikely Donald Trump will have time or energy for a post-presidential TV encore. But were he to do so at the age of 85 he might call it You’re Not Fired! In this take on his Apprentice franchise, Trump brings on governments officials and employees who’ve never been fired despair egregious mistakes, many costing lives.

They compete to see which one made the most gargantuan mistake without ever taking responsibility. Bonus points are awarded for players who can say things like  “The buck stops here” with the most cloying insincerity as they keep their job. At the end of the episode Trump declares to the winner, “You get to keep your job forever. Better yet, we are giving you a raise.”

It’ll be a smash hit. Certainly he can talk from firsthand experience about government service being the gift that keeps on giving. To its employees and contractors. This past weekend, for instance, a complete cock-up by the Secret Service nearly cost Trump his life in front of a worldwide TV audience. As snipers tried desperately to put down a shooter, Secret Service folks heroically draped themselves over the president’s body. (At least those tall enough to shield Trump from incoming fire.)

The term heroically is key here. While the sunglasses/ walkie-talkie dudes risked their lives in service of the president, their superiors safely back in a DC office were cravenly insisting that they’d do better next time. In an NBC interview, Biden appointee Kim Cheatle claimed the mantle of “the buck stops here.” She promised transparency in finding out why her department had failed so many basic tasks of the raid to almost getting Trump’s head blown off.

What she didn’t do was resign in shame for almost getting the former and likely future POTUS killed. Nor was she asked to resign by her boss at Homeland Security, Antonio Mayorcas. Ditto the Big Boss, Joe Biden. Even when DEI appointee and Jill Biden chum Cheatle tried out a shameless meme about the sniper’s rooftop being unsafe (too severe a slope), no one asked for the keys to her office.

She held tight to her pension even when it was revealed her squad knew the shooter was around hours before the shots that wounded Trump and killed at least one other. That Trump was allowed to take the stage when the sniper’s parents were desperately calling police to find him. That her claim of local police screwing up was debunked. That the crew was undermanned while a more experienced crew worked a Jill Biden function.

Look, this is not to conduct a review of the protocols flubbed and the roofs abandoned. This is about accountability. To say that there is no glory without honour. And from Biden on down, honour has been MIA throughout the years of affirmative hiring and official bungling. They claim glory, but it’s a shattered chalice.

As just one example, DHS head Mayorcas still gets a seat at Joe’s cabinet table despite the total breakdown of border security. So does Kamala Harris, who was named “czar” for border security. Transport secretary Pete Buttiegieg has overseen fatal bridge collapses, train derailments and transit shutdowns without connecting it to his administration of the department.

The same absence of responsibility has ruled in the decade of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government in Canada. While his father earned (and then wasted) some honour by facing down rock-throwing separatists in 1968, Justin has been Brave Sir Robin, high-tailing it to the rear at the first sign he might be asked to show some stones.

While his media toadies downplayed Ol’ Yellow Stain at the time of the Truckers Convoy, most now acknowledge that had he emerged from under his desk at the Rideau Cottage in the early days to confront the protesters the disaster might have been averted. Instead, Skippy sent in the Ottawa Police and the Mounties to do his job, thereby converting a temporary problem into a historic assault on civil rights and the dignity of his office.

Whenever the coast was clear, Trudeau has predictably acted like a schoolyard bully to give himself gravitas. In addition to the Convoy, there was his draconian vaccine assault on the unconvinced, the cemetery pantomime leading to calling his nation genocidal at the UN, the imposition of the Carbon Tax and the honouring of a former Nazi in Parliament to silence his Ukraine critics. To impress his UN, EU and WEF pals he’s dissed Donald Trump at a distance, something that will now haunt him after November.

His cabinet and party quickly learned that they’d never be canned if they polished the PM’s apple. Most recently came the news that a cabinet minister had ordered the military to prioritize his fellow Sikhs in the frantic retreat from Afghanistan. Using the armed forces to protect your kin? Trudeau gave Harjit Singh Sajjat a pass because Harjit thinks (publicly at least) that the Boss is swell.

The Chinese cutouts in his caucus are likewise exempt from accountability, because Justin wants to be loved in Beijing. Why not? When he’s been repeatedly nailed on ethics violations or self-dealing he’s just gone la-la-la-la-la-la and moved on to new catastrophes. Or had a former Governor General whitewash his devious dealings.

In fact, the only way to get in trouble with Trudeau is to DO your job properly. Justice minister Jodi Wilson Raybould, a signature appointee as a woman and native, was canned by Trudeau for insisting the RCMP get to the bottom of a scandal from Quebec-based SNC Lavalin. Bill Morneau was edged out, because his view of a functioning economy didn’t include the top-down imposition of fantasist climate and gender diktats.

Both Biden and Trudeau drone on about restoring people’s faith in government without ever asking whether there are the problem. When your heart is pure, they say, your mission is noble. Now shut up.

Except Biden and later Trudeau are about to find out that their public is in no mood to shut up anymore.

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. His new book Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed hockey is now available on Amazon. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his previous 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

Trump Almost Killed by Assassin: Corporate Media Says He Had It Coming

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This was meant to be about the NBA’s new eight-year $76 billion TV contract, but other stuff has intervened. So we will save that for later…

Speaking of media, they had a great day on Saturday. They also had a disastrous day. Donald Trump was the target of an assassination attempt that grazed his head and killed a spectator at a rally in Pennsylvania. (Two others are in critical condition.) The legacy media and the populist press were there to record it. The images will endure for generations.

How did the media have a good day? For an industry hemorrhaging viewers and readers to social media since Trump become president in 2016, the shooting brought back the mainstream audience. In the same way that Joe Biden’s disastrous debate produced 1980s-style ratings, the networks, cable news and Tiffany media saw old customers return to them, if briefly, for authority and instant news gathering. They can now assure their advertisers that old habits die hard, and they should still command M*A*S*H-like ad rates.

The pictures of the shooting on a beautiful summer day were gripping. An image of the dead 20-year-old gunman at the feet of snipers was produced. The networks assembled images and witnesses promptly. (The best live interview was by a blind BBC reporter who found spectators who’d warned in advance of a shooter on the roof.) Within hours alternate videos were broadcast. And footage of diminutive Secret Service agents fumbling Trump’s departure sparked questions about their failure to protect the president.

A series of stunning Iwo-Jima style images of Trump and his Secret Service group beneath Old Glory are breathtaking examples of the craft of news photography. So perfect was the staging in some photos that viewers could not help but wonder if it was all an AI Simulation.

It was not, course. The picture became a lot blurrier when the talking heads inserted themselves to blot the copybook of the story. The first headlines from Trump-loathing media were comical. Despite images instantly showing blood and Trump tackled, CNN bugled, “Secret Service Rushes Trump Offstage After He Falls At Rally”. “Trump Escorted Away After Loud Noises at Pa. Rally”. “Gunman Dies In Attack” was the banner headline in the Denver Post as if he’d shot a gopher.

And so on, as the Seventh Cavalry of Truth rode to the scene. After eight years of Hitler comparisons and invocations of death for Trump they briefly pivoted like Pontius Pilate, washing their hands of the Bobby DeNiros, Kathy Griffins and Rob Reiners who might have gotten their Trump death wish. Starting with Biden himself, whose raving over a Trump 47 presidency (“It’s time Trump was put in a bullseye”) has gone to 11 on the Hysteria Scale. “He’s literally a threat to everything American stands for”. Suddenly, Senile Joe was conciliatory Joe.

Leading to mocking tweets such as “Thank God Hitler is okay and wishing Hitler a speedy recovery.” DEMs stalwart Nancy Pelosi, too, was concern incarnate. “I am horrified by what happened at the Trump rally in Pennsylvania and relieved that former President Trump is safe. Political violence has no place in our country.” This is the same Pelosi who’d urged followers to punch Trump in the face while saying he “must be stopped. He cannot be President.”

Senate Speaker Chuck Schumer— he of “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions”— was also working the faux-concern speech. You can understand how this reversal of fortune was playing out for the Bette Midler Glee Club after Biden’s self-incineration during the debate with Trump last month.

The conciliatory barely tone lasted into Sunday morning. Confronted with their previous bloviation, the RussiaGate crowd pivoted back to blaming Trump’s rude rhetoric for escalating the tension between Right and Left. Fresh from acid-washing Biden last week, George Stephanopoulos joined fellow ABC pundit Martha Raddatz in a game of “Trump said it first”. “President Trump and his supporters have contributed to this violent rhetoric…etc,.” “And let’s remember January 6th…” etc.

Here was MSNBC stalwart Joy Reid working the “Trump as Hitler” theme last week. And then, despite Trump’s Jan. 6 request to “peacefully and patriotically march to the Capitol”, she again charged him with inciting the riot.  Others were reviving Trump’s use of the term “bloodbath” in the economy as proof he’s a stone-cold killer. They declared Trump’s defiant “Fight! Fight! Fight!” response as unpresidential, raising tensions in a crisis.

Perhaps the realization that this botched takeout has all but guaranteed Trump’s election this November was sinking in. So “It’s all his own fault” again became the default position. Axios wants Trump to announce that “he has been too rough, too loose, too combative with his language — and now realizes words can have consequences, and promises to tone it down.” Sure. Victim asked for it.

Sensing that their crazed hosts might resume their Hate Trump mantra too soon, MSNBC took its Morning Joe off the air Monday. Comedy Central said it would shelve some prepared material for the GOP Convention this week. Late night shows sheathed their blades (briefly) to appear sensitive.

In the “anything you can do we can do worse”, Canadian media were quick to get the blame back on a guy who came within a millimetre of having his brains splashed over the stage. Even as the president was being wheeled away my old CBC pal Paul Hunter was lamenting Trump’s speech for poisoning the dialogue and warning about a violent reaction from the MAGA crowd.

CBC News At Issue panelist Andrew Coyne set a world record for pivoting from decrying an assassination attempt to midwit gripes about how this “is going to embolden/incite his more violent followers. It is going to push some who were not disposed to violence to justify it to themselves… it is going to make Trump even  more bent on revenge  if he gets elected.”

Considering this unhinged bias it’s no surprise that the sewer of Canada’s universities continued to produce fruitcakes like this UBC medical instructor who took time from her day to contact her just-as-unhinged friend with a “Damn, so close. Too Bad.” Her pal responded with “I really wish this person had better aim”.

Don’t feel too bad, Canada, Britain’s media are equally odious, with Sky News asking, “Did Trump play a part in changing the rules of engagement?” This from  the gender police who think a woman dressed lasciviously cannot be blamed for enticement. Meanwhile the far-left Guardian accused Trump— with no evidence— of encouraging revenge.

Calls are now going out in America for peace in the valley, finding unity and brotherly/ sisterly love. Don’t believe it. By week’s end the howler monkeys will be back in full voice, trying to get you to unsee what happened Saturday. Sorry, can’t be undone.

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. His new book Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed hockey is now available on Amazon. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his previous 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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