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Toronto Is Capable of Handling Two Superstars

Tyler McComas

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It’s currently a pretty special time in Toronto for sports radio. The Maple Leafs have the best record in the NHL and the NBA season is underway, with, quite possibly, the biggest superstar the Raptors have had since Vince Carter. Stations such as Sportsnet 590 The Fan are sure to enjoy the payoff, as the excitement in the city will more than likely reflect the ratings for the next several months. 

This is a dream situation for Dave Cadeau, the program director for 590 The Fan. The man who once held a psychology degree out of college, knows the importance of capturing the excitement of the fans over the airwaves on a daily basis. Both the Maple Leafs and Raptors have a realistic chance to be in a Finals series, come seasons end, which would surely turn the city of Toronto into a frenzy come next June. 

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Though the expectations are high for both teams, there seems to be a different level of connect from the fans between the two teams. For instance, hockey is always going to be the biggest sport in Toronto. That means the Maple Leafs are more likely to receive the greater amount of coverage. But on its roster, the Leafs have two players who were born in Toronto, five others who grew up in Ontario, and several others scattered throughout Canada.

There’s also a familiarity and appreciation for the players, seeing as the fans probably knew the names of most of the players, way before they donned a Maple Leafs sweater for the first time. That includes a player such as John Tavares, who signed a 7-year $77 million deal in the offseason. The former No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 NHL draft is now playing for the team he grew up cheering for. The fans loved him before he ever stepped foot on the ice. And most importantly, he loves them back.

The Raptors on the other hand, have just one Canadian born player. Their big offseason acquisition also provided the opposite feel of Tavares coming home to join the Leafs. Kawhi Leonard has previously expressed his desire to play in Los Angeles. When Leonard was, instead, shipped to Toronto, the frustration on his face and in his voice was clearly visible. 

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So, on one hand, the Maple Leafs and Raptors did their due diligence to land big offseason pieces. However, one seems to have always wanted to be here, and the other seems to be counting the days until the end of the regular season. It’s an odd situation, but one that all Toronto sports fans will likely have a strong opinion on. 

Cadeau knows the landscape of Toronto and what works in sports radio. His station at 590 The Fan could probably survive and still have high ratings if they dedicated every single minute to covering the Maple Leafs, but there’s still a draw in the city for the Raptors and the NBA. Especially considering the franchise has enjoyed recent success and has built, quite possibly, the best roster it’s ever had. Sometimes, there can be so many big stories happening in a city that it’s tough to balance them out and give each their due diligence. 

Cadeau highlights just what works in Toronto sports radio, as well as balancing two athletes with two totally different mentalities. 

TM: Just how much more popular are the Maple Leafs compared to the others sports teams in town (Raptors, Blue Jays, etc.)?

DC: I would say that it’s all about hockey and baseball in Toronto, and basketball. When it comes to football, I think the NFL is bigger than the Argonauts.

The Argonauts are definitely a legacy sport and they have a long tradition with a fan base, but it’s a very competitive market. If you look it, the last two championships that have been won in the city are by the Argonauts and Toronto FC. In the seasons that have followed, they haven’t been major players on the sports landscape radar. In part, because their performance in the following season hasn’t been tremendous.

But to answer your question directly, the Leafs are absolutely big in Toronto. We went through a period, a few years ago, where they had surprisingly become somewhat irrelevant, just because they were in this mode of where the roster only consisted of a couple players on the roster that you hoped were long-term players with the franchise. Most of the players were either playing out contracts or hoping to be traded at the deadline. With Mike Babcock coming in and Auston Matthews being drafted to the team and other excellent young players joining, such as John Tavares, the team is absolutely at the top of the pile. They’re miles above the other teams in the city. When you say that, the Raptors have, quite arguably, the best roster in the entire history of the team. They’re going to be a big deal this year, but the Leafs will tower over them. 

TM: There’s a fascinating dynamic with two superstars in Toronto this year. For the Leafs, John Tavares is a local kid that’s always wanted to play for the team. He loves the city and it loves him. However, the Raptors have Kawhi Leonard and it seems like he doesn’t want to be in Toronto at all. How have listeners received two guys that are stars, but seem to have complete interest or disinterest in Toronto?

DC: I think Raptors fans have typically had players on the roster they assume or feel, rightly or wrongly, that the players don’t want to really be here. You get a lot of players that come through the city and come to love it when they’re here, but Toronto has challenges in that league. It’s the only team where, every time you go on the road, you’re going through customs. That’s a challenge.

Many years ago, we had Antonio Davis here who was a celebrated player on a team that was built to win. When he grew tired of being here, he was saying things like, well, it’s difficult having my children learn the metric system. I mean, c’mon, that’s pretty weak. Or when Vince Carter said he couldn’t find any good soul food in Toronto, even though it’s one of the most diverse cities in North America with a huge Caribbean festival. It’s just one of those things where players tend to lay down excuses. We had an athlete in town a few years back that was upset because he couldn’t watch as much college football as he wanted. We look at these athletes and think, since they make so much money, they can find their comforts, but sometimes there’s just things you need.

Kawhi Leonard is an enigma. I don’t claim to know anything about him on a personal level. I sure hope he can come in and perform like a star and whatever he’s going to do next year is whatever he’s going to do next year. I think the fan base, when it comes to the Raptors, they want the players to come in and love the city, because that’s a personal thing. It feels amplified, because the vast majority of the players in the NBA aren’t from Canada. It makes it very different from hockey. The fan base kind of always feel like its hosting. 

TM: So all the teams the Raptors are playing are inside the United States. Same for the Blue Jays, seeing as the rest of the AL East is in the northeast. Do your listener’s interest in sports teams extend into the U.S. since that’s who the teams in the cities are competing with? Or do they want to keep it local to Canadian sports?

DC: So when you look at our three markets, Vancouver is hyper-local, Calgary is hyper-local and Toronto is very local, but also there’s also a lot of people living in Toronto that aren’t from here. So, there’s of a demand for sports talk that ranges outside of Toronto. I think the best example of that would be the NFL.

We don’t have a team in Toronto, but we carry the Buffalo Bills’ games. They actually used to have an agreement where they played a home game every season in Toronto. The challenge they ran in to, and it’s only two hours away, but they’d play the Steelers and the place would be half full of Pittsburgh fans. It’d be the same with the Cowboys. All of those big NFL teams that have a legacy, also have a lot of fans in Toronto, and the Bills never got any kind of home field advantage. When it comes to the NFL, our audience really has a numerous amount of teams they want to know about.

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But we do talk about the NHL in a national sense with a Toronto bent. We will talk a lot this year about the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins, because we expect them to be the beasts in the east. There’s a huge rivalry with both the Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal. Montreal because of pure legacy, Buffalo because of proximity and Ottawa because of the history in the early 2000’s. Like any other sports radio format, we focus local in Toronto but we also branch out quite a bit. 

TM: Like we discussed, the Leafs are often the biggest story in town. But is there room for a clear No. 2? For instance, the Raptors have a great year and Kawhi decides to stay, is it possible they could be the clear second option in town?

DC: Of course so, there’s a lot of room. The Blue Jays even took the spotlight for a short period of time during 2015 and 2016. The Blue Jays are likely to remain at No. 2 for some time, partly because of legacy. We’ve had the Raptors for 20 years, but we’ve had the Blue Jays for 40 years. Right there, the fan base just has more depth for baseball. Plus, they’re different sports on the radio.

If you’re talking to me about broadcast audience of the actual games, baseball is just a different animal when it comes to radio, it was just built for it. The other things about the Blue Jays and the Raptors is that they’re seasonal and offsetting with each other. We will talk about the Maple Leafs all year long. We’ll talk about the Blue Jays, deeply during the season, and the Raptors, deeply during the season. But we need notable storylines to talk about them in the offseason. One of the real beauties about being in the city, is that we have so many teams to talk about. We’re not in a situation, like Montreal, where there’s only one local team that everyone cares about. 

TM: In terms of most influential athletes in Toronto history, could John Tavares make a run at that? If he does, what is the payoff for your station going to look like? 

DC: Well, I’m not going to sit here and tell you he can’t be. The potential is there, being from the city and choosing the city in a sport that always has superstars moving. He’s very engaging and aware as an athlete with the fan base. The potential is there and he’s a superstar in his prime on a team that’s a contender. Everything is there for that to happen.

As far as the payoff on sports radio, sure. There’s huge potential, but what you really need to do is look at this roster, it’s loaded with young and exciting talent. John Tavares added so much more momentum to the excitement about the Leafs, but Auston Matthews is really lighting it up to start the season.

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What’s been amazing about this team, is that a decade ago, the argument was that there was too much pressure for Toronto raised kids to come back and play for the Leafs. So rarely do you see that happen and now this team is loaded with local kids. It’s amazing and they’re really important players on the roster. What will John Tavares’ impact be on sports radio? Well, it’ll be big, but it’ll also be a big part of something that’s amidst. I wouldn’t peg it all on him, you look down the roster and it’s what this entire team can do for sports radio that’s exciting. 

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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