By Bruce Dowbiggin Published: Sunday, Aug. 07, 2011
In the intense competition between telecommunication giants Rogers and Bell, it’s the contest between Sportsnet and TSN that has become the keenest. While both make healthy profits (TSN made $40.3-million in 2009, Sportsnet $40.7-million), TSN has the primacy of national NHL packages and being first on the scene in 1984. Sportsnet has five separate regional channels that broadcast NHL games. It also has the means to promote its products across a number of Rogers media platforms.
Both have sports radio outlets, websites and iPad and iPhone apps. Both are connected to larger TV networks (TSN has CTV while Sportsnet has CITY and Omni). Both boast an array of top-flight sports rights. Both are wedded to the lucrative mobile phone business.
What distinguishes Sportsnet from TSN, however, is its ability to leverage market share via its Rogers publications wing, which includes titles such as Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Canadian Business and many others. TSN publishes its own website with its own journalists, but Rogers is making a concerted effort to win the print battle, expanding past its own website to create a sports publishing empire. While TSN sticks to its own hires, Sportsnet has gone outside the tent to recruit new voices.
It has attracted mainstream journalists such as Michael Grange, Mark Spector and Shi Davidi to bolster its website content and support its radio and TV franchise. It also employs Globe and Mail writers Stephen Brunt and Jeff Blair as hosts or co-hosts on its Sportsnet Radio Fan 590. And on Sept. 29 it will launch Sportsnet Magazine. This week, Steve Maich, the former group publisher of Rogers’ consumer business magazines (Canadian Business, Profit, and MoneySense) and editor-in-chief of Canadian Business, was named publisher and editor-in-chief of Sportsnet magazine.
Maich is a self-confessed sports fan who feels that the time is right for a magazine that speaks to Canadian sports readers. “We’ve always been able to read Sports Illustrated, but that felt like overhearing a conversation with Americans talking to Americans. Hockey’s a perfect example of how we’re different. While SI covered hockey, it was never a focal point of the magazine. Sportsnet magazine is a great opportunity to write about the things that Canadians talk about.”
While magazines as a genre seem under duress these days, Maich believes there’s still growth in the sector. “It’s true that magazines aren’t growing as an industry. But our experience here at Rogers with Hello, Chatelaine, MoneySense and Maclean’s shows our magazines are growing handsomely. I feel like there’s a resurgence in traditional magazines. Everyone tried to emulate websites, but now it’s moving back the other way. Look at Grantland.com [the new online sports website in the U.S. headed by ESPN’s Bill Simmons]. Readers are looking for depth and quality of story telling. I believe there’s still a sizable audience that wants the traditional magazine in its hands.
“We can learn from ESPN (The Magazine), but it would be a mistake to say we’ll emulate it. We prefer the European approach to design and editorial in soccer magazines in England, Italy. They’re written almost from the fan’s passion, the energy that leads people to pay $50 to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in an event in which they have no input but an emotional one.”
Then, finally there’s the potential to take a traditional magazine across a series of platforms and outlets in the Rogers chain. There will be a traditional magazine, available at news stands, an online version ($29 for a yearly subscription) and an app for iPad and iPhone use, all serviced by Rogers. “I don’t think anyone is in as advantageous position as Rogers at the moment to do this,” Maich says.
Award Goes To
This year’s Gemini nominations for best play-by-play announcer are Bob Cole, Gord Miller, Chris Cuthbert and Mark Lee. We’ll never quite understand the vagaries of the Gemini voting, but how does Bob Cole rate ahead of Jim Hughson? Maybe they can make a Seniors Tour version of the award to give to Cole, but really? Hughson’s the best at CBC, bar none. Our vote among this year’s nominees (if we had one) would be to recognize Gord Miller reaching one million air miles this year in his career. And giving up Christmas every year for the world juniors.
The best host category has James Duthie, Michael Landsberg, Ron MacLean, Scott Oake and Scott Russell. Duthie’s the funniest, most able hockey host at the moment, a pro who gets his point across without a heavy hand. But for this year, how about a Gemini for Scott Russell, who escaped Hockey Night in Canada to do a fine job on the 2010 World Cup of Soccer?