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Sports broadcasters have a dirty little secret about airing live games – The Globe and Mail

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Ever since professional sports crashed to a halt last month, I’ve been thinking about the poor folks at TSN and Sportsnet in the sort of terms that God and Abraham argued over Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible.

In Genesis, Chapter 18, you’ll recall, God reveals that he – sorry, I mean He – intends to destroy the twin cities for their sins. Horrified, Abraham tries to negotiate. What if there are 50 righteous people there, he asks God: Would He spare the cities then? Sure, God says. So, er, how about 45 people? asks Abraham, just getting started. Okay, God says. All right, then how about 40? Abraham asks. Yes, fine, comes the reply. Abraham continues in this vein like a reverse auctioneer, reducing the number by 10 until God agrees that if there are as few as 10 righteous souls in Sodom and Gomorrah, he’ll spare everyone.

(Psst: He did not spare everyone.)

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For more than five weeks now, TSN and Sportsnet, as well as internet-delivered subscription services such as DAZN, have had no live sports content to offer, prompting for some of their subscribers a Sodom and Gomorrah sort of quandary: How little do I need to watch these channels before I decide to dump them and save the cash?

There’s a dirty little secret at the heart of the sports-TV subscription business: Showing fewer games can actually be better for the bottom line. A couple of weeks ago, a former sports TV executive explained to me that the NHL lockout years were, counterintuitively, some of the most profitable for TSN and Sportsnet, because the networks didn’t have to pay either the rights fees or the production costs for the games they didn’t air. Although their ad revenue dropped, their subscription revenue continued to come in.

And those subscription fees have only gone up: In 2012, Sportsnet earned about $17.30 a customer from subscriptions annually, according to Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission filings. By 2018 – the most recent year for which figures are available – that was up more than 260 per cent, to $45.23 a subscriber. TSN also had a sharp rise, although not as steep, to $43.10 in 2018 from $26.27 a subscriber in 2012. (Those are wholesale prices; cable customers pay perhaps twice that much.)

Sure enough, the fourth quarter 2012 report for Rogers Communications Inc., which owns Sportsnet, found a “$30-million net positive impact from the NHL player lockout.” (That was before Rogers signed its $5.2-billion ,12-year NHL rights deal.) Bell Media, which owns TSN, also cited the three-month lockout as a significant factor for higher profits that quarter.

Still, there’s a difference between no hockey and no anything at all, which is why the programmers at TSN and Sportsnet have been throwing stuff at the wall over the past month like frenzied amateur pasta chefs in hopes that something will stick: E-sports featuring real athletes, gimmicks (TSN’s April Fools slate included the European tram-driver championship, in which trolleys push mammoth bowling-ball-style beach balls careening into oversized pins) and days and days of so-called classic games that are sometimes merely unremarkable, middle-of-the-season matches that were forgotten as soon as they were played.

For the most part, that stuff is empty filler, Styrofoam peanuts to make the package seem bigger; nobody actually thinks you’re going to watch it. But the networks know they need to give subscribers some sense of value, so they’ve been pursuing a two-pronged approach: repackaging old games in ways that create communal events and getting marquee personalities on air as much as possible. TSN has gone one big step further, recently bringing back its nightly SportsCentre news shows, including the midnight bros Jay and Dan. On Monday, it will also bring its afternoon drive-time radio show, Overdrive, back to TV.

“We want to entertain viewers with the most engaging, entertaining content possible, and really provide sports fans with the ability to relive some of their best memories in a time when they need it most,” Shawn Redmond, the vice-president of Discovery Networks and TSN, said in an interview. In many cases that means “presenting big events in stunt form,” such as the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 playoff run (in partnership with Sportsnet) over 24 successive nights. This week, TSN will re-air Bianca Andreescu’s run to the U.S. Open championship from last year.

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TSN’s rebroadcast of the Raptors’ win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals a week ago pulled in about 750,000 viewers. Nothing close to the 15.9 million who tuned in to some portion of the game when it aired live last June, but not bad for a rerun.

“I’ve been very pleased with the reach,” Redmond said, using the industry term for the aggregate number of viewers who tune in for any period of time to a single broadcast. While average-minute-audience (AMA) is usually the metric used by broadcast networks whose primary focus is on delivering ads to the largest audience, cable networks such as TSN know that as long as their subscribers tune in for even a fraction of a broadcast – measured by “reach” – they’re probably going to hold on to the service.

And both networks have been packaging the old events with new content, such as last Friday night’s watch party when Jose Bautista joined Sportsnet’s Arash Madani, Hazel Mae and Shi Davidi during that network’s rebroadcast of the madcap “bat flip” from Game 5 of the Blue Jays-Rangers American League Division Series in 2015. When TSN re-aired Mike Weir’s 2003 Masters championship, the network packaged it with a fresh FaceTime interview Bob Weeks did with Weir from his car.

“It’s impossible to replicate the [average-minute-audience] ratings of a period when sports are live,” Redmond said. “But I’ve been really happy with the reach and engagement with our content, and the feedback from viewers and partners.”

The networks are the lucky beneficiaries of two simultaneous shifts: one, technological; the other, aesthetic. Over the past few years, more and more reporters can use their phones as mobile TV cameras. So if a story broke during the day, they would report it as quickly as possible, and the content would be uploaded to a network’s social-media streams and website, rather than waiting to get the reporter into the studio and saving the story for the suppertime broadcast.

“If I think back to the early days of SportsCentre, so much was keyed towards … that 6 o’clock [broadcast],” said Ken Volden, vice-president and executive producer at TSN, where he is responsible for the network’s in-house production. “Now, you know, if something happens at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, we want it on one of our platforms as soon as we get there.”

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“How we view content has been changing or morphing as the platforms morph,” he said, mentioning TSN’s Bar Down broadcast team, which originated on the network’s digital platforms and has found its way onto its TV channels over the past few weeks. “It felt normal, for instance, to do a hockey chat with our Bar Down team, and getting some of the younger NHL players on at 8 o’clock on Instagram, because we were doing that already.”

That aesthetic shift also means we’re likely to cut the network’s biggest names some slack when, say, Jay and Dan try to replicate their in-studio chemistry over the internet and it ends up feeling like one of our family’s awkward Zoom calls.

Still, having them and other old TV friends back on air provides a sense of normalcy, which counts for a lot these days. Is it enough to keep viewers engaged – and more to the point, subscribed?

Only God knows. And maybe even He doesn’t.

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Canadian Premier League moves forward on proposed strategy for a 2020 season – Canadian Premier League

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Toronto, ON – (June 5, 2020) – Today, the Canadian Premier League together with its owners, clubs and player leadership unanimously agreed on the structure and concept of a proposed strategy on the possibility of a 2020 CPL season.

The CPL feels an obligation on behalf of our players, teams, supporters and partners, to get back on the pitch and that can’t happen without the players input and support. The health and safety of all is the single most important issue and it is vital that appropriate health and safety protocols mandated by the local and Provincial officials are in place and agreed to by all stakeholders – players, clubs, owners, league and Canada Soccer, the CPL’s governing body.

“Our position since we began the journey of building the League from the ground up has been to work together,” said David Clanachan, Canadian Premier League Commissioner. “We started this process behind the scenes many weeks ago in consultation with our owners on the many details and protocols required to safely return to the field of play, and potential opportunities that may emerge.  This led to the next step of a collaborative discussion with the players this week.”

Clanachan continued, “It’s been gratifying and rewarding to see how much collective enthusiasm and co-operation there has been, and we have landed in an excellent and unanimous position with our clubs and club player leadership.”

“I and the rest of the squad are looking forward with excitement, energy and enthusiasm as we work towards a return to play. The CPL has gone to the extreme in ensuring player, staff, and club safety as we discuss a new format of play for the 2020 season,” said HFX Wanderers player Alex De Carolis. “We know this season has not turned out the way we expected but we are all excited for whatever format is presented. There will be no excuses or asterisk on this 2020 season, and we will be fully prepared for the opening kick-off. We want to compete for our fans and the city of Halifax as best we can!”

“As a player, I think the ultimate goal is to get back to playing as soon as possible but under the right conditions,” said Forge FC Captain, Kyle Bekker. “This unique situation has opened the door for us as players to have open and honest direct lines of communication with the league. We value being a part of this conversation and look forward to finding the best solution possible in getting back on the field.”

“Since the suspension of sanctioned soccer on 13 March, Canada Soccer has worked closely with all stakeholders including the Canadian Premier League and our Provincial and Territorial Member Associations to ensure the health and safety of all who participate in the game of soccer in Canada,” said Peter Montopoli, Canada Soccer’s General Secretary. “Through close collaboration with the Canadian Premier League and their clubs and the sharing of Canada Soccer’s Return to Soccer Guidelines, we are pleased that the league and its clubs have solidified their plan for Return to Soccer where the provincial and local governments have permitted a return to physical activities and look forward to a return to competition soccer through this initiative soon.”

The next step will be to engage with the fans and partners as the Canadian Premier League with its Clubs work collectively to find a solution for a 2020 CPL season.

-30-

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Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley says Donald Trump doesn't have 'a moral bone in his body' – The Globe and Mail

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In this Nov. 13, 2019, file photo, Toronto FC MLS soccer player Michael Bradley speaks to the media during an end of season availability in Toronto.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley pulled no punches Thursday, lamenting the “zero leadership” south of the border as the U.S. is ravaged by racial unrest.

The long-time U.S. skipper took square aim at President Donald Trump.

“We have a President who is completely empty. There isn’t a moral bone in his body,” Bradley told a news conference call.

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“There’s no leadership. There’s no leadership from the President, there’s no leadership from the Republican senators who have sat back and been totally complicit in everything he’s done for the last three and a half years.”

Bradley urged his fellow Americans to speak with their ballot in November, saying it was “impossible to overstate” the importance of the coming election.

“I just hope that people are able to go to the polls in November and think about more than just what is good for them, more than what is good for their own status, their own business, their own tax return. I hope that people can go to the polls and understand that in so many ways, the future of our country and the future of our democracy is at stake.

“We need as many people as possible to understand that at a real level, to think about what four more years with Trump as president, what that would mean, how terrible that would be for so many people.”

Referencing racial inequality and social injustice, Bradley added: “If we want any chance to start to fix those things, then Trump can’t be president, it’s as simple as that.”

The 32-year-old Bradley has run through the gamut of emotions while watching the violence and unrest unfold in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while three police officers restrained him — one with his knee on Floyd’s neck.

“I’m angry, I’m horrified, I’m sad and I’m determined to do anything and everything I can to try to be a part of the fix,” he said. “Because it has to end. And we all have to be part of that fix.”

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He acknowledged that while he has much to learn on the issues, politicians, policy-makers and businesses have to be held accountable.

Bradley has criticized Trump before. In January, 2017, he said he was “sad and embarrassed” by Trump’s travel ban aimed at citizens of predominantly Muslim countries.

The TFC captain, while happy to see the MLS labour impasse over, noted there had been “some real difficult moments along the way.” That included a threat of a lockout from the league.

Such tactics “did not sit well with the players,” he said.

He also said there had been a frustrating absence of dialogue right from the beginning of talks, which he acknowledged played out against an unprecedented global threat.

“This, at a certain point for me, was about what’s right and what’s wrong in the middle of the pandemic. And the way to treat people and the way that you look after people. I kept coming back to that idea. That we have all put so much into growing the game in North America, at all levels — ownership, league office, executives coaches, players, fans.

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“Everybody is important to what we’re trying to do. To try to dismiss any of the entities that I just named would be short-sighted and disrespectful because the game is about everybody.”

He said he would have loved to have seen everyone get on the same page early on and find a way “to cut through the [bull].”

“To just say, ‘This is where we are right now. Nobody has a playbook. Nobody has any answers, but how are we going to come out better and stronger from all of this?’ … I think conversations would have carried so much more weight and I think we would have been able to avoid so much of the way certain things played out.”

Bradley underwent ankle surgery in January to repair an injury suffered in the MLS Cup final loss in Seattle on Nov 10. His rehab over, he was part of a small group training session Thursday.

“I’m doing well,” he said. “I’m continuing to make progress. … At this point, physically, I feel really good. My ankle feels really good. And now it’s just about training. Getting back into real training in a way that now prepares me for games.”

Still, he said injuries are an issue in the league’s return to play given the time that has passed since the league suspended play March 12.

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“That is a big concern,” he said. “And it’s not a big concern only amongst players. I know that has been a real topic amongst coaches and sports science staff and medical staff.”

While teams will do everything possible to get the players ready, a compressed schedule at the Florida tournament that awaits teams won’t help injury fears, he said.

“That certainly is a big question. Maybe the biggest question when you get past the initial health and safety stuff of COVID, among players and coaches and technical staff,” he said.

“How are we going to give ourselves the best chance to win, but also do it in a way where guys are at their highest level both technically and physically.”

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MLBPA rejects league’s demand for additional salary concessions – Sportsnet.ca

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NEW YORK — Baseball players reaffirmed their stance for full prorated pay, leaving a huge gap with teams that could scuttle plans to start the coronavirus-delayed season around the Fourth of July and may leave owners focusing on a schedule as short as 50 games.

More than 100 players, including the union’s executive board, held a two-hour digital meeting with officials of the Major League Baseball Players Association on Thursday, a day after the union’s offer was rejected by Major League Baseball.

“Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless players negotiate salary concessions,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon. This threat came in response to an association proposal aimed at charting a path forward.”

“Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless players agree to further salary reductions,” Clark added.

Players originally were set to earn about $4 billion in 2020 salaries, exclusive of guaranteed money such as signing bonuses, termination pay and option buyouts. The union’s plan would cut that to around $2.8 billion and management to approximately $1.2 billion-plus a $200 million bonus pool if the post-season is completed.

MLB last week proposed an 82-game season with an additional sliding scale of pay cuts that would leave a player at the $563,500 minimum with 47% of his original salary and top stars Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole at less than 22% of the $36 million they had been set to earn.

Players countered Sunday with a plan for a 114-game regular season with no pay cuts beyond the prorated salaries they agreed to on March 26. That would leave each player with about 70 per cent of his original pay.

MLB rejected that Wednesday, when Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter to union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer informing him “we do not have any reason to believe that a negotiated solution for an 82-game season is possible.”

“Nonetheless, the commissioner is committed to playing baseball in 2020,” Halem said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “He has started discussions with ownership about staging a shorter season without fans.”

Management officials have said they are considering a slate of perhaps 50 games or fewer. There has not been a schedule averaging fewer than 82 games per team since 1879.

“The overwhelming consensus of the board is that players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well,” Clark said in a statement. “The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.”

Baseball’s March 26 deal allows games if there are no government restrictions on playing in front of fans and no relevant travel limitations. The sides agreed to “discuss in good faith” the economic feasibility of playing in empty ballparks, which appears to be the likely option.

MLB says that without fans it would average a loss of $640,000 for each additional game played. The union disputes the teams’ financial figures.

Teams also worry about a second wave of the new coronavirus this fall and don’t want to play past October, fearing $787 million in broadcast revenue for the post-season could be lost. MLB proposed expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 14, which would generate additional broadcast rights to sell, and players have offered to guarantee the larger playoffs for both 2020 and 2021.

While baseball has reverted to the economic bickering that led to eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the NBA announced plans Thursday to resume its regular season with 22 teams on July 31, the NHL is moving ahead with plans for an expanded Stanley Cup playoffs this summer and MLS is planning to have teams return with a tournament in July.

“In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, players want nothing more than to get back to work,” Clark said. “But we cannot do this alone.”

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