Saturday, 20 May 2017

Sports media in Canada hits more uncertain waters

     There was a pending air of finality on Sunday at the Brandt Centre in Regina, and it had nothing to do with the Regina Pats needing to win to stay alive in the WHL Championship series.
    The Pats were down 3-2 going into Game 6 of the best-of-seven set and needed a win against the Seattle Thunderbirds to force a series deciding Game 7 the next night. If you were in the media and scouts lounge pre-game during the hour before puck drop, there was a pending feel of finality circulating from a large number of media members in attendance.
    The obvious feel of finality came from the crew working the Shaw television broadcast. Shaw bought itself out of its contract to show WHL games next season, so Sunday could have been potentially be the last broadcast.
    If the Pats won, a Game 7 on Monday would definitely be the last hurrah. Ultimately, the Thunderbirds claimed Game 6 by a 4-3 score in overtime to make Sunday the final Shaw broadcast.
    Away from the Shaw crew, a number of other people were wondering if they would be around a year from now, when the Pats host the Memorial Cup. Some of the Regina media members noted they wouldn’t get to go to Windsor, Ont., for this year’s Memorial Cup if the Pats won the WHL title. That latter worry was erased with Seattle’s win.
    In reality, the media landscape that covers sports in Canada has the potentially to be vastly different when September arrives bringing with it the next winter sports season, which has the potential to run through to March, April or May.
    Shaw is closing television stations in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver on Aug. 15. Corus Entertainment and Shaw Communications made that announcement in late April. Corus acquired Shaw’s media arm, which includes Global, in a $2.65-billion deal last year.
    Corus also announced that on Sept. 1, Global News will get a $10-million boost and part of those funds will be used to bolster coverage of university-level sports.
    Still, the closing of the Shaw stations in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver means at the moment WHL hockey games and U Sports football games from the Canada West Conference will no longer be shown in Western Canada.
    On the U Sports front, the Silhouette, which is the student paper at McMaster University, ran a big column on March 31 that showed how U Sports has been messed over on its television contract with Sportsnet.
Saskatoon Blades HC Dean Brockman takes part in a media scrum.
    In late March, Bell Media cut a total of 14 jobs in local sports departments at CTV stations in Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta and Windsor, London and Kitchener in Ontario. A total of 20 jobs were lost in all at those CTV stations. Local sports was cut out at the CTV station in Barrie, Ont., in February.
    Thanks to all these cuts, there was a small fear by some in the sports media in Regina that it is possible their positions could be eliminated any day without notice.
    The saving grace in Regina is the presence of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, whose national popularity will be keep local sports positions in that market. Still, the total number of sports media positions in that market have shrunk. It is easy to find people with the University of Regina athletics department that believe coverage of their teams will be considerably less at the start of this coming season now that Ian Hamilton is no longer with the Regina Leader-Post.
    The Leader-Post’s parent company, Postmedia, keeps constantly finding ways to downsize and did more downsizing late last year, where the company parted ways with Hamilton. Postmedia also owns the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and there was downsizing at that outlet last last year as well.
    Across Canada, the number of people covering sports in the mainstream media in Canada outside of the NHL beat will be generally less in September of this year than it was in September of 2016.
    On the bright side while traveling across Saskatchewan and Alberta covering the WHL playoffs, it was nice to see mainstream media outlets in Regina, Swift Current and Lethbridge following their communities’ teams on the road to cover games.
    When I ventured across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta covering WHL playoffs in 2016, the only media outlet I saw hit the road to cover their community’s team in the post-season was the Brandon Sun, which is basically an independent outlet.
    The WHL office itself is trying to do more to cover its member teams. Due to the cuts across the sports media in Canada, coverage of WHL is way less than it was five to eight years ago in mainstream outlets.
    Leagues like the WHL, U Sports and the Canadian Junior Football League are going to be forced to do more of their own media coverage on themselves through their websites and social media lines in order to get more exposure. The National Lacrosse League seems to already have made a big push on that front.
    The exposure of all those leagues would be helped if national wire services again decided to circulate stories about them, but anything outside of the NHL, UFC, Roughriders, Toronto Blue Jays or Toronto Raptors won’t even get a look by a wire service these days. The big mainstream media outlets and national wire services are addicted to getting instant gratification.
    Locally in Saskatoon, I can already see less cameras on the sidelines of the home opener for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team in September compared to their home opener on Sept. 2, 2016, when the Dogs downed the U of Regina Rams 41-39 in overtime.
    In the past three months, this blog has seen over 53,000 page views, which is the largest surge of views over any similar period since starting it up in late August of 2014. I thank those who have checked my blog out.
    I know some of the surge has come from the fact leagues like the WHL, U Sports, CJFL, the Western Women’s Canadian Football League or local minor sports like female midget AAA hockey are covered a lot less by the mainstream, and this blog is one spot that provides information on those circuits.
    I big time thank and appreciate the support of Gregg Drinnan, who the greatest to ever cover the WHL, and Cam Hutchinson, who is the editor of the Saskatoon Express, for consistently giving me encouragement and reinforcement.
Saskatchewan Rush HC and GM Derek Keenan takes part in a media scrum.
    With that said, I know I want to take time to reset and see where the chips covering sports in the media industry in Canada fall by the time September rolls around. I am not going to make any guarantees about what I will be around writing about in September.
    On top of media changes, I never know how things will unfold in my personal life.
    My goal is to ensure whatever I do cover it will be something I am passionate about. I find that when you cover something you are not passionate about, the readers see through it, and you do them a disservice. I really hope to avoid that.
    Until September, I just take things one day at a time and roll with the punches as they come, which is something I always try to do.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to To see column from the Silhouette regarding the television contract between U Sports and Sportsnet, you can do that by clicking here.