Category Archives: Sports

Posted in Radio, Sports

TSN 690 picks up rights to Alouettes games for 3-4 years

To the surprise of absolutely no one, TSN 690 announced Friday morning that it has acquired the rights to Alouettes games from now sister station CJAD, completing the trifecta of Montreal major sports rights.

The deal is for three years, starting this one, with an option for a fourth, Bell Media tells me. It includes the two preseason games, all regular season games and all postseason games, including the Grey Cup. TSN said it would also air special events like the CFL draft, training camp and Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductions.

Rick Moffat and Dave Mudge will be the broadcast team, as they were at CJAD.

The station also announced that it is moving The Als This Week to Mondays at 7pm, and that Alouettes general manager Jim Popp will be a guest every week on the show.

The Alouettes’ first game is June 14.

The regular-season schedules of the Alouettes and Impact this season includes three conflicts where both teams are playing simultaneously: July 19, Aug. 16 and Oct. 18, all Saturdays. In those cases, expect Impact games to move to CJAD.

We’ll see what happens when the Alouettes conflict with fall Canadiens games. TSN has said it plans to broadcast all games from both teams.

Financial terms of the deal were not discussed on air and are usually not disclosed.

As silly as it is for TSN 690 to wrestle rights away from a station it now shares not only an office but a program director with, this deal more importantly represents a renewal of the broadcasting rights, which expired after last season.  It ensures that Alouettes games will continue to be carried on English radio through the end of 2016, and likely 2017 as well.

Posted in Sports, TV

Alyson Lozoff leaves City, Sportsnet

Alyson Lozoff

Alyson Lozoff

City Montreal is barely a year old (and none of its local programs have even reached that anniversary) but it has already lost its first personality.

Alyson Lozoff, who was the Montreal reporter for Rogers Sportsnet and also the co-host of City TV’s local sports magazine show Montreal Connected, “is no longer with the company,” a Rogers Media spokesperson confirmed to me today.

She wouldn’t comment on why this is, and my attempts to reach Lozoff and City Montreal have failed to generate any response. Her Twitter account has been silent since March 22.

Lozoff’s departure was not addressed at all on the air. She last appeared on Montreal Connected on March 20 with co-host Wilder Weir as if everything was normal, without a hint that it would be her last show. During the week, the show’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were changed to list only Weir as the host.

Weir hosted this week’s episode solo, never explaining why his co-host from the previous week had suddenly disappeared.

This type of disappearance usually indicates a firing or unamicable resignation (say, to join a competitor). I have no idea which of these is the case.

Lozoff’s disappearance is curious because if anything Rogers should be hiring more people to be covering hockey in places like Montreal where it currently doesn’t have any broadcasting rights but will gain them starting this fall. On the other hand, it could be that in the process of re-evaluating its staffing across the country, the company has decided that Lozoff shouldn’t be part of the team.

Or maybe we’ll find out soon that she got hired by TSN or something. I really have no idea.

All I know is that the teeth on City Montreal just got a little less white.

Posted in Opinion, Sports

It’s time to get serious about women’s hockey

It was one of the great highlights of the Sochi Olympics: Down 2-0 with three and a half minutes remaining in the gold-medal game, Canada’s women’s hockey team mounts an improbable comeback, with a goal by Brianne Jenner and another with less than a minute left from Marie-Philip Poulin to send the game to overtime, where Poulin would strike again to make Canada the Olympic champion once again.

It was no Miracle On Ice. The Canada-U.S. final was given before the tournament even started, and Canada had won the gold in the three previous winter Olympics. But in terms of sheer excitement and the holy-crap-did-that-just-happen feeling, it was hard to beat.

Now, with the Olympics over, the male players return to their professional teams in the NHL, KHL or other leagues. The women, meanwhile, return to relative obscurity.

It’s unfortunate that while the NHL gets all the attention, the women’s hockey players that created such a spectacle at the Olympics get so little three years out of every four. The Canadiens sell out the Bell Centre for 41 games a year even though tickets cost $100 to $400 apiece, the concessions are wildly overpriced, the team is often mediocre and the players don’t speak French.

Meanwhile, at the Étienne Desmarteau arena, the Montreal Stars team of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League struggles to fill seats 12 games a year with $10 ticket prices, incredibly cheap food, players that are mostly from here and who always stay after games to give autographs to anyone who wants them.

And they’re also good. How good? Going into this weekend’s games, the Stars are riding a 20-game unbeaten streak in regulation. The only game they lost in 60 minutes was the season opener in Boston. Their record this season is a ridiculous 18-1-2, their record at home is a perfect 10-0-0, and they have more than twice as many goals for as goals against (91 vs. 40). All four of the top points leaders in the league play for this team.

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Posted in Sports

Alternative Sochi medal table

Country/region Gold Silver Bronze Total
Planet Earth 99 97 99 295
Countries with red in their flags 95 87 91 273
Every country except Russia 86 86 90 262
Europe (includes Russia) 73 67 73 213
Axis powers, its allies and occupied states 49 41 52 142
European Union 43 51 52 146
Roman Empire 33 34 40 107
Holy Roman Empire 30 32 33 95
Eastern Bloc 29 21 18 68
North America 19 17 17 53
Soviet Union 19 13 14 46
Landlocked countries 18 15 11 44
Scandinavia 14 15 17 46
British Empire 12 14 15 41
Poland if it stole all of Germany’s medals (payback’s a bitch, ain’t it?) 12 7 6 25
Commonwealth 11 13 8 32
Athletes named Alex, Alexander, Alexey or Alexis 10 7 3 20
Austro-Hungarian Empire 9 15 11 35
Netherlands speedskating team 8 7 8 23
Asia (not including Russia) 7 11 8 26
Rest of Canada 5 6 3 14
Norwegian cross-country team 5 2 4 11
South Korea if it stole all of Victor An’s medals 5 1 2 8
Dutch speed skaters Ireen Wust and Sven Kramer together (not that we’re suggesting anything) 4 4 0 8
Red states 4 1 0 5
Czechoslovakia 3 4 2 9
Blue states 3 3 6 12
Quebec 3 3 2 8
East Germany 3 3 1 7
Countries starting with “Slov” 3 2 4 9
West Germany 3 2 3 8
Darya Domracheva 3 0 0 3
Marit Bjoergen 3 0 0 3
Swedish cross-country team 2 5 4 11
Swing states*/red-blue mixed 2 3 5 10
Yugoslavia 2 3 4 9
Ahuntsic (the Dufour-Lapointe home) 1 1 0 2
Charles Hamelin/Marianne St-Gelais when embracing 1 1 0 2
Southern hemisphere 0 2 1 3
Me 0 0 0 0

*Defined as a state that has voted for both parties for president since 2000.

Posted in Radio, Sports

Impact games move back to TSN 690

In news that will surprise precisely nobody, TSN and the Impact announced today that TSN Radio 690 will pick up English-language radio broadcast rights to Montreal Impact games for the next three years.

For the past two seasons, Impact games have aired on CJAD 800, which picked up the rights to home games to help fill the gap left by the loss of the Canadiens to TSN 690 in 2011. Now that CJAD and TSN are sister stations with the Bell purchase of Astral, the two don’t need to fight over such rights, and sports is being consolidated on TSN.

The new deal calls for all regular season and playoff games to air on the radio, which marks the first time that we have all away games on radio.

Rick Moffat, the former CJAD sports guy who has since moved to TSN, and Brian Wilde, CTV Montreal reporter who sidelines as an Impact fan, will “share play-by-play duties”, and former Impact player Grant Needham will do colour commentary during the broadcasts. Program director Chris Bury confirms to me that the broadcast team will travel with the Impact.

The press release says that TSN and CJAD will share broadcasts of the games, which likely means that when an Impact game conflicts with a Canadiens or Alouettes game, it’ll move to CJAD. The Alouettes haven’t released their 2014 schedule yet, and the Impact schedule is incomplete, but we already know that the first two Impact games of the season, on March 8 and 15, will conflict with Canadiens games, so expect those two Impact games to be on CJAD.

Alouettes broadcast rights in English still belong to CJAD, but it’s a formality at this point that most of the games will move back as well to TSN, with only those that conflict with Canadiens games airing on CJAD.

In the unlikely event of a three-way schedule conflict, there’s always CHOM, which has been used during CJAD’s conflicts in the past.

The announcement is good news for Impact fans, who will now be able to access all the games on the radio instead of just the home games and a few marquee away ones. The fact that Bell is sending a broadcast team to those away games — no small expense — is also a strong indication that it believes it’s worth investing in this franchise.

This news has already annoyed some francophone Impact fans because the team does not have a French-language radio partner. CKAC Sports used to air some Impact games before it became an all-traffic station. News-talk station 98.5 FM, which carries Canadiens and Alouettes games, doesn’t seem to be as interested in Impact broadcasts.

Posted in Canadiens, My articles, TV

The Rogers/TVA/NHL deal: What we know, and what we don’t

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

It’s the biggest media announcement of the year: A $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast rights deal between Rogers Communications and the National Hockey league. Included in it are side deals with the CBC (which will air games but won’t get revenue from them or handle their staffing) and TVA, which becomes the official French-language broadcaster.

We’ve suspected for a while that the CBC wouldn’t be able to afford to keep its rights to Saturday night hockey and the Stanley Cup playoffs. But what’s most surprising about this deal is that Bell Media, which owns TSN and RDS, is also a loser here.

A lot of details are still to be decided. Regional rights to NHL games are up in the air. We also don’t know what rights-holders will do with those rights. What games will we see on City TV? On TVA? Who will be the on-air personalities and play-by-play announcers? We’ll start knowing that in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s a story I wrote for The Gazette about the French side of this deal and how it will affect Canadiens broadcasts. Pat Hickey also has his thoughts on the deal.

In short, here’s what we know and what we don’t know about this deal so far:

  • CBC will continue to air Saturday night and playoff hockey for at least four years. And the Hockey Night in Canada brand will continue. But that’s about it. Those programs will be run by Rogers, not CBC. Rogers will pay all the expenses, but also get all the revenue. (Which makes me wonder why CBC is bothering.) This puts the future of personalities like Ron MacLean and Don Cherry up in the air. It will also mean a huge loss of income to the CBC, which means cuts will have to be made elsewhere.
  • TVA gets 22 Canadiens regular-season games a year: TVA will get all national games, which includes all games that air on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights. (Afternoon games on those days are not considered national.) Whether these air on the TVA network or TVA Sports is still up in the air.
  • RDS gets 60 Canadiens regular-season games a year, plus all preseason games: But these will be available only regionally. So people west of Pembroke and Belleville, Ontario will see RDS blacked out during Canadiens games it airs. It’s unclear if Rogers, which has out-of-market rights, will provide another way for fans to access the games, and if TVA will be involved.
  • There will still be some NHL hockey on TSN. The channel has the rights to all regional Winnipeg Jets games through 2021, as well as some Maple Leafs games in the coming season and beyond. It currently airs some Canadiens regional games, but the future of that deal is unclear.
  • TVA gets all playoff games and all special-event NHL programming. The NHL draft, NHL awards, Winter Classic and NHL All-Star Game will now air on TVA Sports. TSN can keep its TradeCentre and Free Agent Frenzy specials, because those are news broadcasts and aren’t subject to exclusivity deals.
  • TVA will launch TVA Sports 2. This will be a multiplex of the TVA Sports channel, which means it will share a licence with TVA Sports. It’s a relationship similar to TSN/TSN2, RDS/RDS2, Teletoon and The Movie Network, where channels come in groups instead of individually. But TVA Sports 2′s availability will depend on deals Quebecor signs with distributors. (Having it on Videotron is a given, of course.)
  • City TV will air Saturday night hockey. It will be called “Hockey Night in Canada on City.” But the details, and how they will decide which games air on City and which ones air on CBC, are unknown. There are also musings about Sunday night hockey on the City TV network.
  • Rogers and TVA retain mobile and other video streaming rights. Streaming will probably be available, but likely through distributors and only to those who subscribe to the linear TVA Sports channel. On the English side, Rogers gets all the online and mobile rights, including the Saturday night games that air on CBC. This means an end to online streaming on CBC.ca for people wanting to catch out-of-market games. RDS’s deal with the Canadiens for rights to regional games does not include any mobile or streaming rights.
  • Rogers takes control of NHL Centre Ice, NHL GameCenter Live and will sell Canadian ads for NHL.com.
  • No changes to radio. Radio rights are unaffected. Cogeco announced last week a five-year extension to 2018-19 that will see Canadiens games continue to air on 98.5 FM in Montreal, 93.3 FM in Quebec City, 106.9 FM in Trois-Rivières and 107.7 FM in Sherbrooke. The deal for English radio rights for the Canadiens remains with Bell Media until 2018-19, which means they will continue to air on TSN 690.
  • Bell keeps The Hockey Theme.
  • UPDATE: The National Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the deal. Though the Toronto Star reports that the Maple Leafs abstained from the vote, apparently because of internal conflicts between its two main owners, Rogers and Bell.

What has been reported but not confirmed:

  • How much TVA is paying Rogers. No comments, despite repeated questions. We know that the Rogers deal is for more than $300 million a year, and that it includes the sublicensed deals. The Globe and Mail reports it was $120 million a year, though because they lost regional Canadiens games to RDS, that number has dropped to $52 million a year, reports Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc. To give some perspective, TVA Sports’s entire budget for 2012 was $30 million.
  • How much Bell (TSN) and CBC were willing to pay. The CBC said it couldn’t meet the high bidding of its competitors in a fiscally responsible way, and they’re probably right about that. Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc reports that Bell’s final offer was $5 billion, very close to the Rogers bid, and that Bell wasn’t given a chance to match what Rogers offered.
  • How much RDS is paying the Canadiens for its regional deal. Martin Leclerc of Radio-Canada says RDS’s deal for 60 regional games a year is worth $68 million a season, or about $1.1 million a game.

What either hasn’t been decided yet or hasn’t been told to us:

  • Details of the negotiations. Though this Maclean’s story has some general idea (Maclean’s is owned by Rogers) and the Toronto Star put together a timeline of the talks between Rogers and CBC. There’s also this story talking to Rogers executives.
  • How English regional Canadiens games will be split up. In English, TSN carries some Canadiens games regionally on a special channel. It’s unclear what will happen with them next season.
  • How out-of-market games will be distributed. The NHL’s deal with Rogers says there won’t be regional blackouts for the games Rogers owns rights for. But there are still regional rights deals. So I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Rogers owns NHL Centre Ice and out-of-market games, so we could see a different situation than we’re used to. It seems clear that games carried on Rogers won’t be regionally restricted, but for those carried by its competitors, it’s unclear. Rogers has said it’s too early to tell what they will do with these rights.
  • Whether games will air on TVA. A sample schedule published by Rogers suggested Canadiens Saturday night games could air on the over-the-air network, but TVA president Pierre Dion said they haven’t decided whether to use it yet. There are good arguments for and against airing Saturday night and playoff games on the conventional network. Keeping them on TVA Sports would drive subscriptions to the specialty channel. But with the games available in English on CBC and/or City, that effect will be mitigated. There’s also a huge promotional value for TVA Sports by putting big games on TVA. The decision will also depend on how many games TVA will get the rights for.
  • What happens to hockey on CBC after four years. This deal includes a strange agreement with CBC that sees the games continue to air on the public broadcaster and carry the Hockey Night in Canada branding, but under the control of Rogers, not the CBC. This means the CBC doesn’t have to worry for now about filling Saturday nights on their schedule. But otherwise there’s no real advantage here. And because Rogers has its own over-the-air television network, it doesn’t really need CBC, except to reach areas of the country where City doesn’t have local stations. But Rogers says the plan is not to phase out the CBC, and the deal will probably be renewed unless there’s a dramatic shift in the way people watch television.
  • What on-air talent will look like. We have almost a year before this deal comes into effect. That leaves plenty of time for TVA Sports to poach more personalities from RDS, and similarly for Rogers to grab people from CBC and TSN. (Apparently there will be discussions with Don Cherry, and others have already expressed interest.) Who does play-by-play is up in the air. UPDATE (Jan. 13): After losing Michel Bergeron and Félix Séguin to TVA, RDS says it has multi-year deals with its on-air personalities.
  • The future of shows like 24CH: These aren’t broadcast rights deals, but they are deals between broadcasters and hockey teams, so you can imagine that there will be more such deals with TVA and fewer with RDS. The next season of a 24CH-like show could be airing on Quebecor-owned channels.
  • How plans for the Nordiques are affected. Quebecor has made no secret of its desire to bring the National Hockey League back to Quebec City. TVA’s Pierre Dion wouldn’t make any comments about the Nordiques today. But while this deal is great news for TVA, and national rights to a theoretical Quebec City franchise would likely be included in the TVA deal, this is probably bad news for the Nordiques for two reasons. First, it means that TVA no longer needs another NHL team to drive subscriptions to its sports channel. And second, revenue sharing on this national deal means that every NHL team becomes several million dollars a year richer. Even with an inevitable salary cap hike, this will mean less pressure for struggling teams to sell to new owners who would relocate them.
  • What happens to rights for other sports. This deal will mean a huge shift in programming, which will undoubtedly have consequences. TVA and Sportsnet will have less money for other sports like UFC, MLS, NBA and baseball. And TSN/RDS will be desperate to add high-value content to replace lost hockey games. We could see some of these rights go back to Bell. A first step has already been taken with Bell winning rights to 4pm NFL games from Rogers.
  • How many jobs are lost or gained. CBC has said there will be job losses as a result of this deal. (This story explores the consequences for the CBC in more depth.) For the rest, we don’t know yet.
  • How much more consumers will have to pay for Sportsnet and TVA Sports. Neither Rogers nor Quebecor can simply absorb the extra costs in this deal. Ad revenue will surely go up, and they’ll be creative about platforms, but expect both companies to take a harder line during negotiations with distributors. TVA Sports gets about $5 a year on average from each of its 1.6 million subscribers, compared to RDS, which gets $30 a year on average from 3.5 million subscribers (for both RDS and RDS2). Sportsnet gets $17 a year per subscriber (for the regional channels, which doesn’t include Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World or Sportsnet 360), plus about $10 a year from its 6 million Sportsnet One subscribers. TSN (which includes TSN2) gets $26 a year from its 9.2 million subscribers. Expect the gap to narrow significantly as deals come up for renewal.
  • Who will be carrying TVA Sports by next fall. The big players in Quebec all have the channel: Bell Fibe, Shaw Direct, Videotron and Cogeco, plus Telus and Rogers. But major players like Shaw cable, MTS, SaskTel and Eastlink still don’t have it. Francophone Canadiens fans outside Quebec will have more trouble, as will anyone with analog cable.
  • How much money (if any) Rogers and TVA Sports will make on this deal. That, of course, is the biggest question, and the one nobody can answer. Analysts take a lukewarm look at this deal, neither loving it so much (because of its high cost) nor hating it so much (because of all the benefits it brings). All we can say for sure is that this is a big gamble, and both broadcasters will need to be very creative to make it work financially.

A petition has already started to ask — well, it doesn’t say who it’s asking, but presumably the NHL — to reverse its decision and put Canadiens games back on RDS. This obviously won’t go anywhere. The NHL isn’t going to walk away from a $5.2-billion deal.

What’s funny about this is that the reaction to RDS losing the Canadiens is similar to the reaction when it won Canadiens rights in the first place. Before the 2002-03 season, Saturday night games aired on Radio-Canada. When RDS picked up the rights to the entire Canadiens package, there was nationwide outrage. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps even went to the point of demanding Radio-Canada explain itself in front of a hearing. The summer 2002 controversy led to a deal between Radio-Canada and RDS to air Saturday games on RadCan, but eventually all 82 regular-season Canadiens games became exclusive to RDS.

Posted in Montreal, Sports, TV

Montreal Connected leads off City Montreal’s local programming

City Montreal staff. Seated: Montreal Connected Executive Producer George Athans (left), City Montreal Executive Producer Bob Babinski (right). Standing, from left: Montreal Connected hosts Wilder  Weir and Alyson Lozoff, New Media Producer Elias Makos, Montreal Connected Associate Producer Kelly Greig, Montreal Connected Director of Photography and editor Ian Graham

City Montreal staff (so far). Seated: Montreal Connected Executive Producer George Athans (left), City Montreal Executive Producer Bob Babinski (right). Standing, from left: Montreal Connected hosts Wilder Weir and Alyson Lozoff, New Media Producer Elias Makos, Montreal Connected Associate Producer Kelly Greig, Montreal Connected Director of Photography and editor Ian Graham

After years of wanting to get into the Montreal market, and months after acquiring a station here, City television is finally ready to dip its toe into local programming. It announced last week that May 30 would be the premiere of Montreal Connected, the station’s weekly half-hour sports show, and named its two hosts.

I spent Monday afternoon with the staff at the station for a story that appears in Thursday’s Gazette that introduces the anglo community to the show and its two hosts, Wilder Weir and Alyson Lozoff.

As is usually the case, I learned plenty more about them, the staff behind the camera and the station that I couldn’t cram into that story, so I’ll lay it all out here.

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Posted in Montreal, Sports, TV

City TV’s Montreal Connected debuts May 30; Alyson Lozoff, Wilder Weir to host

Montreal Connected hosts Wilder Weir and Alyson Lozoff

Montreal Connected hosts Wilder Weir and Alyson Lozoff (Photo: Rogers Media)

CJNT, which officially became City Montreal in February after it was bought by Rogers, will launch its first local program a week from now.

Rogers Media announced on Wednesday the details of its new weekly sports show called Montreal Connected (formerly “Connected Montreal”), which starts May 30. Here they are in point form:

  • Schedule: Half an hour a week, Thursdays at 7pm, with repeats Saturdays at 3:30pm and 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm. The show will also air on Sportsnet East on Saturdays at noon.
  • Hosts: Alyson Lozoff, the Sportsnet reporter for Montreal (did you know she’s also a lawyer?), and Wilder Weir, a producer and former hockey reality show star
  • Contributors: Include Sportsnet personality Stephen Brunt, Globe and Mail Quebec sports reporter Sean Gordon, Gazette Alouettes reporter/columnist Herb Zurkowsky, and LNH.com managing editor Arpon Basu
  • Behind the scenes: As previously announced, former water ski champion George Athans will be the show’s producer, with Kelly Greig, formerly of CBC Montreal. They will work under Executive Producer and Local Content Manager Bob Babinski

The show promises to be “an in-depth look at the city’s professional and amateur teams, along with athlete profiles and feature stories on local, national and international sports.”

City Montreal is also launching a culture/lifestyle show in July, and its main local programming, a three-hour local morning show, in August.

Posted in Montreal, Radio, Sports

Randy Tieman leaves TSN 690 show

Randy Tieman

This one kind of came out of nowhere. Randy Tieman, who in addition to anchoring the evening and late-night sportscasts on CTV News in Montreal hosts the early afternoon show on TSN Radio 690, is leaving the latter gig. Tieman made the announcement on Friday’s show that that would be his last one.

It’s unclear to me at this point why he’s leaving (I missed the announcement, in case that provided some clue), but I’ve asked Tieman and CKGM station manager Wayne Bews for comment. I’ll update this if I hear from them.

Tieman’s two gigs made for gruelling work days, as he would come into TSN’s studios for a show from noon to 3pm, then to CTV to prepare for the 6pm news and working through to just after midnight, when the late-night news would end, he’d pretape a segment for the next day’s noon newscast and could finally go home.

Hopefully this will mean Tieman has more time to sleep and do other things the rest of us do with those extra four hours a day.

Tieman clarifies on Twitter that he’ll still be “kicking around at times.”

No announcement has been made about who will replace Tieman.

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Posted in Media, Montreal, Sports

Montreal Stars need journalists

Hey, remember hockey?

It’s that game they play on ice. Rubber disks, large nets, lots of padding, you remember.

Anyway, while the National Hockey League continues to not play because of a lockout, Montreal sports media (which are always all about the Canadiens, even during the offseason) have been struggling to find other things to do with their time. Some have decided to follow the Canadiens’ farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, or Canadiens players biding their time in Europe. Some have written countless stories recounting every minute detail about NHL labour negotiations. Some have written a 12th story about how Montreal bars are suffering because drunken hockey fans aren’t pouring in to watch the game three times a week. Some have just decided to report on things that didn’t actually happen.

And some have decided to look at other sports. (Hey, did you know we have professional football and soccer teams in this city?)

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Posted in Montreal, Photos, Sports

Celebrating, win or lose

A police officer directs traffic (most of which is celebrating Spanish fans) with his Italian flag shortly after Spain defeated Italy in the Euro 2012 final on July 1.

It’s not often in this town that you see a police officer smiling and laughing on the job. Not because they’re evil or humourless, but just because they’ve been called on to do some rather serious stuff with some rather confrontational people. Many of them are overworked, tired, frustrated and otherwise not in the best of moods.

And yet, here he is, enjoying himself on a day you’d expect him not to be.

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Posted in Canadiens, Media, Montreal

(Some awesome pun involving the words “Red” or “Fisher”)

Updated June 20 with link to Ken Dryden’s story in the Globe and Mail.

The news hit pretty suddenly on Friday morning. In fact, I heard about it on CFCF’s noon newscast, having just woken up. Red Fisher, who has covered the Montreal Canadiens for more than half a century for the Montreal Star and The Gazette, has retired at the age of a billion and three (or, more accurately, 85).

There’s no farewell column, no big party. He’s not even giving interviews. Other media who wanted to report on the end of this long career had to settle for talking to some of Fisher’s friends and colleagues. Dave Stubbs, in particular, was busy talking to various media while preparing his own story on Fisher’s departure. It’s the only one I’m aware of that quotes Fisher directly speaking after his retirement was announced.

Fisher is a legend in more than just his hockey writing. He has a reputation as a friendly curmudgeon, who wouldn’t go after players unnecessarily but wouldn’t acknowledge anyone’s existence until they proved themselves worthy of it. The list of respected figures in Canadiens history who lauded Fisher speaks to the man’s reputation.

Even though I work at the same paper, I’ve never spoken to him in person. Sports writers in general spend little time in the office, and Fisher even less. We’ve conversed over the phone, but by “conversed” I mean he called to confirm that his postgame column had arrived by email and after a quick reply of “yeah, I got it” we hung up.

There are many stories of younger (and by that I mean under 60) colleagues at The Gazette that involve the elder sportsman uttering the words “who the f*** is …” – I don’t think I even reached that level. Though I remember the first time I saw him file a story that had my name in the address list. I imagined him typing my email in and wondering who the heck I was.

Everyone knew who Red Fisher was, though. For years, his reputation was such that there was a column devoted to him, the only column devoted to writing about another columnist. Of course, that column was Mike Boone’s Eeeee-mail, and it wasn’t so much writing about Fisher as it had some fun at the man’s expense (consistently referring to him as the Living Legend of Sports Journalism or LLSJ). But still, I can only wish for status like that someday.

Fisher’s refusal to give interviews is unusual in today’s hypermediatized world, but not so much for him. Fisher wasn’t the type to appear on radio or television regularly, chatting with the TSN hockey panel or giving his take once a week on CKGM’s morning show. Even though his reputation and wealth of knowledge about Canadiens history would make him a fantastic guest, he’s said no to such requests from those broadcasters and others who haven’t long ago given up trying to get him.

There are some who say Fisher retired 10 years too late, that his relevance had waned significantly in the past few years. There are points in favour of this argument. He wasn’t the scoop machine he used to be, and many of the big announcements come via RDS, TSN, La Presse or some of the younger front-line journalists who cover the Canadiens, if they beat the official announcement at all. Fisher stopped travelling with the Canadiens years ago – Pat Hickey does day-to-day team coverage. And the weekly Red Line page sometimes felt more like a roundup of hockey news reported elsewhere than anything original from Fisher.

But Fisher was still influential, and he could still write things that made a difference. In 2008, Fisher won a National Newspaper Award - the most prestigious Canadian award for this industry – for a column saying the Canadiens should not retire the jersey of Patrick Roy (they did anyway, of course, but Fisher’s column provoked a lot of discussion). It’s hard to argue someone has one foot in the grave when he’s winning an award many of his colleagues only dream of one day getting once in their careers.

It’s unclear if Fisher will continue to contribute occasional freelance pieces for The Gazette. He was the go-to guy for Canadiens-related obituaries, for example. But it is clear that the Saturday Red Line is history, and nobody should be expecting a regular column in its place.

He’s done.

Coverage

See also

UPDATE: Mike Cohen says he moved this resolution at Côte St. Luc city council Monday evening:

Whereas Red Fisher is a longtime resident of Côte Saint-Luc.

Whereas Red Fisher has covered the Montreal sports scene for The Montreal Star and The Montreal Gazette, specifically the Canadiens for the past 56 years.

Whereas Red Fisher Fisher won the National Newspaper Award for sports writing in 1971 and 1991 and has been nominated for that award on two other occasions.

Whereas Red Fisher was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Media Canada in 1999.

Whereas Red Fisher is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Whereas Red Fisher last week announced his retirement.

It was

MOVED BY COUNCILLOR Mike Cohen

AND SECONDED BY COUNCILLOR Allan  J. Levine

AND RESOLVED

THAT Council wish Red Fisher the very best in his retirement and that a formal letter of good wishes be sent to him signed by the mayor and council.

“I will now come back to council with some recommendations as to how we can further honour Red Fisher,” he says.

Posted in Media, Montreal, Sports

Montreal Stars are unfortunately anything but

A database search tells me it was Saturday, March 21, 2009. I was on the sports desk and putting together a package of hockey notes. Among them was an item about Montreal’s team in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League winning the inaugural Clarkson Cup, a trophy designed as the women’s hockey version of the Stanley Cup.

A hockey championship for a Montreal team, and it was essentially a brief.

I helped it a bit by taking a photo of the team with the cup that the league had put out through Canada Newswire. If there wasn’t going to be much text, there could at least be a nice photo. But there’s just so much an editor can do without copy.

Three years later, Montreal has won its third championship and women’s “professional” hockey is being taken a bit more seriously. The Gazette had a story advancing the tournament, and had a freelance story about the championship final afterward, though there wasn’t a photographer so we had to use a file photo to illustrate the story.

The championship game was televised. On TSN2. On tape delay.

Small steps.

Gazette hockey writer Pat Hickey wrote a column about the Stars, about how women’s hockey is still far from professional, and the players have to spend their own money to participate. But, as he points out, it’s getting better. They have to pay less, partly because more people are going out to see the games. As in more than 200, paying $5 a pop.

I wanted to go see a Stars match this season, but my work schedule didn’t give me an opportunity. By the time I could find the time, they weren’t playing any more home games.

Okay, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has a lot of work to do. It only has six teams, for one, and one of them doesn’t play a full season because it would require too much travel.

But if there’s any hockey team that deserves support, it’s them. A championship team with locally-bred stars (many Olympic champions) who play not because they get millions of dollars for it but because of their love for the game. A team who, despite having dirt-cheap ticket prices can’t draw a significant crowd at home games.

They are, in just about every sense, the anti-Canadiens.

But public support is tied with media support. The Stars and other CWHL teams are covered as much as amateur and university sports. Local media send dozens of people to every Canadiens game even after they’ve been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but nobody is seriously covering the Stars.

I’ve used this team as an example when talking to young people who want to get their start in journalism. When they say they want to cover the Canadiens, I wonder: Why? What could you possibly report about this hockey team that dozens of veteran professionals haven’t already dug up and rehashed ad nauseam?

Yeah, it’s cool to go to Canadiens games and sit in the press box (or so I assume – I’ve never been). But journalism is about finding out things everyone else doesn’t already know. And there’s little opportunity for that at the Bell Centre.

And yet, across town, there’s a team of dedicated hockey players who would be happy to grant you interviews, to talk at length about their games and their lives without resorting to sports clichés. There’s an opportunity for a young journalist to own a beat that nobody else seems to care about, to instantly become the expert in something rather than a forgettable also-ran in an overcrowded dressing room. An opportunity to uncover fascinating stories about real-life people who are at the height of athleticism while others celebrate the chance to be the seventh person to ask Mathieu Darche what his favourite food is.

It’s a golden opportunity, but nobody is taking advantage of it.

When I brought this up with one up-and-comer in the journalism industry, his response was that he doesn’t really care about women’s hockey, but he is very interested in the Canadiens.

I can’t tell him he’s wrong. I understand why a fan would feel that way. But I don’t understand how a journalist would.

UPDATE: The New York Times, of all things, has a story about the CWHL and the Stars along the same lines.

Posted in Montreal, Radio, Sports

CJAD to broadcast Impact home games

There were rumours for a while that Astral’s CJAD would take over broadcast rights for Montreal Impact games – as kind of a consolation prize for losing rights to the Canadiens. A few journalists came out with the news before it was announced, although nobody got it exactly right.

The announcement came Monday morning on Andrew Carter’s show: CJAD will be carrying all Impact home games this season, as well as the season opener this coming Saturday in Vancouver. They even got some players to pretend they care about a radio broadcasting agreement say hi to their fans listening on CJAD.

The broadcast team will consist of CJAD Sports Director Rick Moffat doing play by play, and former Impact player Grant Needham doing analysis. The station will also cover the team outside of games, notably with interviews during Abe Hefter’s Locker Room show.

The press release is here, but it’s a bit short on details. So here’s what I got out of CJAD brand director Chris Bury:

  • CJAD will broadcast all home games during the season, plus the season opener. (You can see which games on the Impact’s website)
  • CJAD will broadcast all home playoff games (if the Impact reaches the playoffs), but road playoff games are still to be determined. “We’ll take a look at the possibility of broadcasting road playoff games when the opportunity presents itself,” Bury says.
  • There are no direct conflicts between home Impact games and Alouettes games, which CJAD still holds the radio rights to. (There are two Impact away games that conflict with Als games, on July 21 and Oct. 20.) But in the event that there might be conflicts during playoffs (which is during November for both leagues), “we will deal with that if it happens,” Bury says. Among the options Astral would have would be moving one of the games to CHOM (a workaround they have used in the past when Alouettes and Canadiens games conflicted).
  • Abe Hefter will act as a backup for Rick Moffat if he’s unavailable. (Since Moffat also does Alouettes play-by-play, this might happen a few times.)
  • The broadcasting agreement is for two years (the 2012 and 2013 seasons).

Other Impact broadcasters

All of the Impact’s 36 regular-season games will be televised this season, which is a big plus for fans. A third of them, including the season opener, the home opener, the first game at Saputo Stadium and all games involving Canadian opponents (Vancouver and Toronto) will be carried in French on RDS. The other two thirds will be on the new TVA Sports network.

In English, all games that RDS has rights to will be carried on TSN or TSN2.

You can see which games are on which networks on the schedule on the Impact’s website.

The big remaining question mark is French radio. The transformation of CKAC into Radio Circulation complicates matters immensely, because it leaves Cogeco with one talk station, and that station carries Alouettes and Canadiens games, making scheduling difficult. The station’s sports programming director told Métro that they’re working on something, but because of the conflicts it would cause (less than if the Canadiens would make the playoffs this season), it’s unlikely CHMP will air a full season of Impact games.

With the Impact’s season opener just days away, a deal on French radio rights should come soon.

Posted in Montreal, Sports, TV

Michel Godbout leaving CBC for TVA Sports

Michel Godbout has found a new career opportunity over the horizon

Quebecor’s soon-to-be-launched TVA Sports specialty channel isn’t just looking to RDS hockey analysts like Dave Morissette and Yvon Pedneault (or La Presse’s Réjean Tremblay) for on-air talent. Their hiring spree has also poached CBC Montreal’s sports anchor.

Michel Godbout confirmed Monday that he will be leaving the CBC to join the TVA Sports channel set to debut this fall. His last day is July 30. (He was cut off early: see below)

Godbout (who is, as you can imagine, fully bilingual) worked for 15 years at Radio-Canada and then CBC Montreal – most famously as the evening news anchor between 2005 (when Dennis Trudeau retired) and 2009 (when Andrew Chang and Jennifer Hall took over a revamped newscast). He starts an anchoring job at TVA Sports on Aug. 22.

TVA Sports, which was approved by the CRTC in February 2010, has already signed deals to carry some Ottawa Senators games and most Montreal Impact soccer games, though it failed to get the government to break the deal the Canadiens have with RDS. Quebecor is also trying to get an NHL team to Quebec City, giving another big reason for fans to subscribe to this channel.

No word yet on who will replace Godbout permanently. CBC Montreal News Director Mary-Jo Barr is on vacation until August.

You can follow Godbout on Twitter at @GodboutSports (fortunately he won’t have to change that name – but expect it to be a bit more francophone in the future).

UPDATE (July 21): Thursday was Godbout’s last day. He says during an interview this morning on CBC Daybreak that he gave his two weeks’ notice on Friday (July 15), but was told that Thursday would be his last day, being let go because he was leaving for a competitor.

Godbout had a brief goodbye on air with Debra Arbec (Andrew Chang was off):