By Matt Brouwer 2017-03-31 09:11:51
In English Canada, two cable sport networks are engaged in eternal battle for supremacy. Backed by two of the largest corporations in the country, TSN (Bell) and Sportsnet (Rogers) have seemingly bottomless pockets to try and outspend the competition. In this war, content is the primary weapon, and both have curling in their arsenal. TSN currently has the rights to the Curling Canada events (Brier, STOH, Worlds, Continental Cup and the other one) while Sportsnet has the rights to – actually, they own – the Grand Slam of Curling series. First off, both networks do a decent job with the live game coverage of their respective events. Apart from occasional attempts at refreshed camera angles and upgrades to graphics packages and theme music (always needed but rarely delivered), all that’s left is the viewer’s obviously subjective impressions of the talent. Until now. Watch and consider how we can determine the degree of priority these networks give to our sport. The answer is to look at how they cover the events after they happen, on their Monday morning sports news show (TSN’s SportsCentre and Sportsnet’s Sportsnet Central) and decide: At what point in these shows are curling highlights delivered, and how much time is devoted to them? Now, I’m not naïve. I understand that circumstances matter. Different events in the sporting world will dictate priority given to any sport covered. For example, this year’s Brier final happened on a day when a Canadian golfer won his first-ever PGA Tour event. Both networks started their news shows with golf. But since I’m comparing the two networks to each other, that variability should be negated by comparing the highlight shows that air at the same time, which in this case is Monday at 7:00 a.m. My hypothesis is that the network that owns the rights will give more priority to curling highlights in their morning-after news show. In other words, I expect TSN to showcase Brier and STOH highlights earlier in their show, while Sportsnet will give priority to Grand Slam highlights. Poor effort Loyal readers will recall a smaller examination in the April 2016 edition of The Curling News with research undertaken after a few Slams plus the 2016 STOH and Brier. The results were surprising, as I found that Sportsnet gave both tournaments more prominence in their news shows than TSN; Sportsnet ran with curling highlights earlier in their shows and also devoted more time to their highlight packages. In fact, TSN’s effort was basically poor; they seemed clearly disinterested in showing curling highlights once their obligation to broadcasting the events were over. This year, I was more prepared for this little investigation by including not only the Brier and STOH, but also Curling Canada’s other “Season of Champions” events, as well as the full season of Grand Slam events to date. This trackable analysis will combine with some good old-fashioned subjectivity (you’ll see) to give us a final verdict. Before we start… the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was the original titan of curling coverage, but apart from quadrennial Olympic coverage they are now reduced to leasing selected Grand Slam matches from Sportsnet. As a result, they won’t be mentioned again. And TSN also broadcasts an independent curling event, the Skins Game, which is always announced at the last minute and seems to fly far underneath TSN’s own radar. As a result, I’m ignoring it completely. First, let’s compare the events I included last year… Canada’s women’s and men’s championships. TSN is the broadcast rights holders but these are in fact the national championships, so the expectation should be that both networks will prominently include highlights on the fabled “morning after.” The results showed that both networks improved their coverage for these events from last season, particularly TSN. For the women’s STOH, TSN showed their highlights starting in the 13th minute of their 60-minute show, whereas Sportsnet showed the highlights starting in the 25th minute. Both shows included highlights, interviews and on-location analysis of the event, with TSN showcasing two minutes and 42 seconds (2:42) and Sportsnet devoting 2:16. For the Brier, both networks showed their highlights starting at the 11th minute and devoted about five minutes in total. However, Sportsnet showed additional highlights of the party in St. John’s for another minute near the end of their broadcast. So, while TSN had the edge for the STOH, Sportsnet gets the nod for the Brier. Speaking of the Brier, I went a little nuts – DON’T JUDGE ME! – and examined the full week of news shows, not just the Monday morning after the championship. What I discovered was that TSN showed highlights every day of the Brier week. Sportsnet, on the other hand, inexplicably skipped highlights on the Thursday and Friday… right in the middle of the push for the playoffs! What were they thinking!? If you were going to skip a day of two for time savings purposes, then why not the Tuesday and Wednesday after the excitement of the opening weekend and before the final games of the round robin? Anyway, during the round robin, TSN usually stuck the highlights somewhere between the 37th and 46th minute, devoting 2:05 on average. When Sportsnet covered the round robin they showed it earlier, sometime between the 22nd and the 43rd minute, but with a shorter average highlight package at 1:16. For the playoffs (not including the final), roles were reversed with TSN showing highlights earlier (16th minute versus 25th minute) but with Sportnet devoting more time to highlights and analysis (3:00 versus 2:06). So for the weeklong coverage, it should have been a tie, except for those two glaring days of non-coverage on Sportnet. Not a word What about the rest of the season? One could argue that the Grand Slams offer more competitive fields – and they’d be right. Since Sportsnet owns the broadcast rights for these events, you’d expect them to show the highlights, but would TSN? That answer is a definite… no. While Sportsnet consistently showed the Grand Slam highlights between 30 to 40 minutes into their news shows (the exception was The National, where they showed the highlights in the 17th minute) TSN completely ignored the Slams. Not a single image or word. Then there are the other two Season of Champions events that TSN broadcasts, the Continental Cup and the Canada Cup. The Continental Cup is, to me, more of an entertainment exhibition and the Canada Cup is… well, I’ve never really figured out what the Canada Cup is. It’s like a Grand Slam, but only for Canadian teams, and sometimes it acts as a qualifier for the Olympic Trials. I honestly don’t know where to place that event on the scale of importance. But I included both Cup events anyway, because they caused Sportsnet to behave like TSN behaves toward the Slams. TSN showed highlights for the two “Cup” championships near the end of their Monday-after show, while Sportsnet showed nothing. Other subjective observations: • TSN should have had about seven commentators at the Brier, but they unceremoniously dropped the multi-sheet coverage they launched with much fanfare two years ago. They probably hoped Canadians wouldn’t notice – I certainly did! Did you? • As of the opening weekend of the women’s worlds, it looked like no TSN talent were on site in Beijing, and that the trio of Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard were bunkered in a TSN studio, commentating remotely. Then on the Monday a social media posting led me to believe that they might be in Beijing after all. If they were there, why hadn’t they appeared on camera at all? If they were not there, that would represent a surprising cost-saving measure given we are less than a year out from the Olympic Games and with a popular team (Rachel Homan) representing Canada. So, what are this year’s conclusions? Once again, I am left with the clear impression that TSN only cares about curling events shown on their network. With their Curling Canada contract running through the 2019-20 season, perhaps they’re taking their position as national events rights-holder for granted. It’s up to fans to decide how much of a disservice this is to the sport itself. Not perfect Sportsnet, meanwhile, certainly offers more coverage of the sport as they show highlights of events they don’t have the broadcast rights for (as they well should) and they also dispatch analysts to the STOH and Brier championships, too. But even their “news” coverage of the sport could use some improvement. No perfect marks given out this year. Absolutely full news-style coverage is needed for that. I’ll be keeping tabs on things and see if the situation improves next year. Early prediction: With next season being an Olympic year… we’ll be seeing more coverage, and that also includes other online, television and print media. Follow on Twitter @saxwithmatt
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