Sports TV News
Rogers Finds Right Guy In Brace
As Rick Brace takes over as president of Rogers Media, he will have the undivided attention of both those who work for him and those he works for.
The trepidation of the people who work for him was evident over the past week when everyone contacted declined to speak about him on the record. While new bosses often mean change among the employees, this is especially so at Rogers Communications Inc., where turnover is practically part of the culture.
And since Brace, who took up his new position on Monday, spent most of his 40-year career at TSN, the rival network to Rogers’s Sportsnet, more than a few staffers are worried about changes, especially since he has a reputation as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense boss.
While one person who spoke to Brace about his new job came away convinced that he does not plan any major changes, at least not right away, this could not be confirmed. Brace himself declined to be interviewed.
Any worries among the people like Rogers chief executive officer Guy Laurence, who hired Brace to replace Keith Pelley (who left to become commissioner and CEO of the European Tour, a professional golf circuit), are confined to the performance of Rogers Media’s holdings such as the Toronto Blue Jays and, in particular, Sportsnet.
Rogers placed a huge bet on the NHL with its $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast contract with the league. Despite Laurence’s claim of a 10-per-cent profit on the deal itself in its first year, poor ratings, because of the collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are expected to be in rebuilding mode for several years, do not bode well for the future.
While Brace is well versed in running sports properties, he is also considered an expert in advertising sales and the business side of television. The latter skills probably appealed to Laurence, as Rogers Media lost $32-million on revenue of $464-million in its last quarter, partly because of hockey-related expenses as well as the continuing trend of viewers moving away from television to other forms of media.
But this is the first time in his career that Brace will lead such a large and important business unit. While he has been the president of the TSN and CTV networks, much of his career was as the second-in-command to a division CEO.
The appointment was something of a surprise, as Brace faded from prominence in broadcasting after BCE Inc. became the majority owner of CTV and TSN in 2011. BCE brought in a new slate of executives and Brace wound up as head of specialty channels and CTV production for Bell Media before leaving the company in 2013.
“He’s the right guy at the right time for Rogers,” said Ivan Fecan, who was president and CEO of TSN’s former owner CTVglobemedia and appointed Brace president of TSN in 1998. “They made a big investment and now they need to make it work.”
First, though, industry watchers are curious to see how Brace’s relationship works with his most important department head, Scott Moore, Rogers’s president of Sportsnet and NHL. Canadian television sports broadcasting is a small world and while Moore and Brace were both at the CBC early in their careers, their last direct contact was seven years ago in a nasty fight over the rights to Hockey Night In Canada’s storied theme song.
The relationship between the CBC and the theme’s composer, Dolores Claman, was long strained and it fell apart when the rights to the song came up for negotiation in 2008. Moore, who was executive director of CBC Sports at the time, offered Claman $1-million to buy the theme outright. She demanded at least $2.5-million and talks stalled.
That is when Brace, who was president of CTV by then, entered the picture along with Fecan. They offered Claman the sort of money she wanted and the famous theme song went from the CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada to TSN in perpetuity. It was front-page news across Canada.
While Moore could not be blamed for the loss of the song, it was still his painful duty to explain to the media what happened. There were also harsh words between him and Brace. Moore accused Brace and Fecan of interfering in the CBC’s negotiations with Claman.
“Their move capitalized on a lot of publicity and had the added benefit of making a competitor look bad,” Moore wrote in a blog post on CBC.ca. “I hope it ends up being worth the money for them at the end of the day.”
Brace called Moore’s accusation “ludicrous” and insisted that CTV did not talk to Claman until the CBC said it was withdrawing from the negotiations. “They made a decision. They announced it to the world. And they walked away,” he told The Globe and Mail.
Fecan just laughed when he was asked how the contretemps would affect the working relationship between Brace and Moore.
“It’s all good sports,” he said. “It’s a small broadcasting community in the sports area. Everybody knows each other. You’re colleagues one day, competitors the next, and vice versa.
“I have no idea either [how they will get along], but I think they’re both grown-up people.”
Credit to The Globe and Mail who originally published this article
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Sports TV News
Stephen A. Would Welcome Shannon Sharpe to First Take
“If that included him wanting to come on First Take, the bosses at ESPN know that is something I would support. Not every day, but one of those days every week.”
Following a report of Shannon Sharpe leaving FOX Sports 1’s Undisputed at the conclusion of the NBA Finals, there may be a new landing spot for him in the future at ESPN on First Take. On Friday’s edition of The Stephen A. Smith Show, a digital podcast live streaming on YouTube, show host and executive producer Stephen A. Smith extended an open invitation to Sharpe to join him at ESPN.
“I don’t know what his plans are. I don’t know what he’s trying to pursue. I don’t know what he’s after, but if Shannon Sharpe needs me, I’m happy to be here for him. And if that included him wanting to come on First Take, the bosses at ESPN know that is something I would support. Not every day, but one of those days every week.”
The decision to publicly voice his support for Sharpe comes a day after incoming ESPN midday host Pat McAfee stated that he hopes Sharpe joins the network, as he feels he has a voice that can contribute to coverage. Sharpe has been working with Skip Bayless on Undisputed since 2016, but reports of tension between the two co-hosts presumably led to his purported exit. Front Office Sports reported that Bayless will have the final say on who replaces Sharpe and sits opposite him each morning.
“I’ve gotten to know Shannon Sharpe a little bit over the last few years,” Smith said. “I genuinely like him and respect him. He is a three-time Super Bowl champion; he is a Hall of Famer; he is one of the greatest tight ends in the history of the National Football League, and I personally think he’s done a hell of a job on television and with his podcast Club Shay Shay.”
Smith implored those listening that he will not speak against Skip Bayless, despite having contrary points of view on most topics. The duo previously worked together at ESPN on First Take for four years and elevated the morning show to new heights, attaining record ratings in sports television. When it was disseminated by the New York Post that Sharpe is leaving FS1, Smith recognized how big of a loss it would be for the network, but is content with the show’s current setup of having different panelists on the show throughout the week. Smith and co-host Molly Qerim are the only constants on the program at the moment on a day-to-day basis.
“I get to handpick who’s on First Take once they’re in-house for ESPN,” Smith said. “I don’t get to bring them from the outside in without the bosses’ okay. We have to be honest – I’m not the boss. That’s Dave Roberts; that’s Jimmy Pitaro; that’s Burke Magnus; that’s those dudes. I answer to them – it’s not the other way around when it comes to all matters pertaining to ESPN, but they know where I stand.”
Sports TV News
Judge Rules Diamond Sports Must Pay MLB Teams in Full
“As with the Padres, MLB will stand ready to make games available to fans if Diamond fails to meet its obligations.”
A judge has made his ruling has been reached in the caustic bankruptcy trial between Major League Baseball and Diamond Sports Group. Diamond Sports Group must pay the full value of the contracts with the four teams that are involved in the legal proceedings. These teams include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Guardians, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers.
There was an additional caveat to the final ruling. The judge urged both sides to talk to one another, perhaps realizing the level of contemptuousness evident throughout testimony from both sides in the trial.
“Maybe market forces change terms of deals, but market risk is always there [and] inherent in every contract,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez said in his ruling. “Knowing that I think the contract rate is the reasonable and the right rate, the way that teams are locked in [and] the evidence that’s presented before me, I’m going to find that the fees are the actual necessary cost of preserving the state. The teams can keep the 75% I believe they’ve already received and they should get the [other] 25%.”
Diamond Sports Group now has a decision to make regarding if it will oblige by the ruling and pay the four teams as directed. If not, they will be forced to relinquish the broadcast rights for those teams, just as the entity did for the San Diego Padres earlier this week.
Sources close to the situation have indicated that this represented somewhat of a breaking point between the two sides, and that the hostility will be too much to overcome for future deals. Diamond Sports Group is tasked with renewing rights for 28 teams across the NBA and NHL at the conclusion of next season, in addition to five Major League Baseball teams.
“MLB appreciates the ruling from the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Houston requiring Diamond to pay the full contractual rate to Clubs,” the league said in a statement. “As always, we hope Diamond will continue to broadcast games and meet its contractual obligations to Clubs. As with the Padres, MLB will stand ready to make games available to fans if Diamond fails to meet its obligations.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. described a meeting he had with Diamond Sports Group’s management where the company threatened bankruptcy – despite having money in liquidity to pay the rights fees – in order to restructure itself and selectively reject contracts. He also divulged that the league will cover at least 80% of the payments the afflicted teams were supposed to receive from Diamond Sports Group, which operates as a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group. Major League Baseball says it is ready to take over production and dissemination of local broadcasts and prepared for this move in advance by strengthening its media division, including the hire of Billy Chambers as executive vice president of local media.
While Diamond Sports Group is technically a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the role of the latter has been diminished because of the former’s declaration of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Creditors agreed to trade the debt they owe for equity in Sinclair Broadcast Group, rendering the management structure somewhat ambiguous. The company’s decision to engage in bankruptcy protection will aid in eliminating $8 billion of outstanding debt after Sinclair Broadcast Group acquired the regional sports networks from The Walt Disney Company in 2019 for $10.6 billion. Major League Baseball, in partnership with Liberty Media, bid nearly $9.6 billion for the networks ($3.5 billion in leverage), but ended up falling short. Diamond Sports Group has local broadcast rights for 28 teams across the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, with all of those deals – along with five among Major League Baseball teams – set to expire at the conclusion of next season.
Sports TV News
Ernie Johnson: Death of Kobe Bryant Solidified Inside the NBA Crew’s Bond
“I’m in the fortunate position [of] getting us from point A to point B to point C with three guys who have been in every conceivable situation in a basketball game.”
As the Eastern Conference Finals concluded, Inside the NBA signed off for the final time of the 2022-23 season, officially closing the 33rd year of broadcasts led by Ernie Johnson. Kenny “The Jet” Smith joined the show on a full time basis in 1998, and Charles Barkley joined him two years later, creating a trio for the next 20 years.
They were joined by different fourth analysts over the years, including Reggie Miller, Magic Johnson and Chris Webber, but the company made a permanent hire in 2011 by adding Shaquille O’Neal. From that moment on, the four gradually blended into a family and now share a unique chemistry not often seen in television.
“Nobody tries to make themselves the show,” Ernie Johnson told Dan Le Batard on South Week Sessions. “They’ve never tried to make the show about themselves. I’m in the fortunate position getting us from point A to point B to point C with three guys who have been in every conceivable situation in a basketball game.”
Johnson undoubtedly knows his role on the show is to facilitate discussion and position the analysts in the best position possible to share their basketball knowledge gained through their playing years. He is a veteran studio host and broadcaster, contributing to TBS’s Major League Baseball coverage during the offseason, and is able to seamlessly transition between different sports over the course of the year.
“If you try to stray outside your lane and be something you aren’t, then it doesn’t work,” Johnson said. “The fact that we don’t rehearse and the fact that we just let it rip – there you go.”
The feeling is mutual between Johnson and his co-workers that they view each other as family and hold one another in extremely high regard. Le Batard acknowledged how he has heard Barkley talk about Johnson in such a venerated manner, and that he and the others give the impression that they would do anything for Johnson.
Johnson simply replied, “And I would do the same for them. We all would.”
Johnson vividly remembers when Kobe Bryant passed away and the Inside the NBA crew was doing a show from Los Angeles reflecting on his life and legacy. At one point on the broadcast, O’Neal addressed his colleagues and told them that he loves them, realizing that he does not say it enough. It was a heartwarming moment for Johnson, and one that brought their bond to light.
“I think one thing that whole moment of time taught all of us was that you don’t know how long you have,” Johnson said. “It behooves us to make sure that everything’s cool between us – not just between the four of us on the show, but between everybody in your life… If the unthinkable happens, do you want to leave that with, ‘Man I wish I had said this. I wish that silly feud; I could have stepped up and defused it.’… I think it was a pretty brutal reminder of that.”