Toronto Sports Media Turning
“I know you; you are the guy who covers the Leafs”. I hear that every time I return to Toronto. “Nope, that’s not me. I’ve never met him. He’s Jonas, I’m Jonah. He covers the Leafs. I, oddly enough, cover people like him”.
That typically leads to very odd, long stares and polite, walk-offs from the person I was introduced to.
If you are here, I don’t need to tell you why I have this website or the Twitter handle or podcast. I’m into sports media. Can’t say why, I just am.
I will say one of the reasons I am is happening right now.
This piece was going to be about what I was going to ask all of you about, reporters who in the aftermath of Charlie Montoyo’s firing say or write things that suggest that they knew it was coming despite never reporting it before. The student mistrust of media if you will.
Different versions of items like this suddenly appeared in reports, both written and on-air yesterday “It was clear, however, his time leading the team was all but over.”
I am not going to pick on the person who reported this. That’s not the point. There are multiple reporters who reported similar things.
My question for you was going to be is that acceptable to you and if so, do you think there is an issue of honesty here?
Are you okay with a reporter, after the fact saying in effect, we knew this was coming despite not reporting those facts?
I understand there are relationships that a reporter has. I understand that part of the job means having to face the manager day in and day out. However, it seems off-putting to me to report after an event of this magnitude happens to report, I knew it was going to happen. If you knew, why didn’t you report it? It’s the old “I told you so”. If you knew and you didn’t report it, why exactly are you telling the world that you knew now?
Instead of that story, however, I am writing about two other things. One is related to Charlie, the other is not.
We all remember back in the day when there was this battle cry of the Rogers bias in the sports media world. We remember Greg Brady multi-time Fan 590 host going OFF on his show about it. For those who don’t, when Rogers bought the Jays, there was a notion that Sportsnet employees were biased towards the Jays. This only increased when MLSE was formed, and Bell and Rogers owned the Raptors and Leafs too (yes Argos and TFC).
Thankfully we don’t hear that all that often anymore. I’d say that in large part the media members are fair and balanced, and the teams have done a better job organizationally improving. That’s not to say they are winning championships, but they are dotting i’s and crossing t’s and headed in the right direction and generally above reproach from a fan and media perspective (yes, the Raptors won a championship I am well aware.)
Yet, while definitely not on an outlet basis, the management teams of the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays specifically have been living large over the last couple of years. While fans may not be happy with the end results of their team each year, the media for the most part has been generally supportive of the direction the management teams have been taking. Emphasis on generally. That’s not to say every move has been praised or every media member is supportive. However, I think it’s fair to say that the Shapiro/Atkins and Shanahan/Dubas management teams have received supportive coverage over the last couple of years. Yes, you and I can find articles or interviews/segments ripping them. They do exist. I am saying directionally that this media market views both management teams positively.
Well, that in my mind has shifted. The Toronto Sports Media is turning.
On the Maple Leaf’s side, a few voices came out and took issue with management’s stated roll-it-back plan. Elliotte Friedman suggested on Jeff Marek’s radio show and podcast that while Dubas suggested a bring it back approach, he thought perhaps there was pressure to make a change. Not picking on Elliotte here, it was clearly stated as an opinion and not fact. Kypreos and Bourne along with the OverDrive crew were much more critical as were Dave Feschuk and others. The Athletic crew seemed in line with the bring it back philosophy for the most part. I am not going to talk about every reporter or every outlet, but you get a sense I hope.
On the Blue Jays side, as or should I say slide, those who cover the team have been positive about Shapiro and Atkins until recently. Despite missing the playoffs last year, the team has received exceptionally positive media coverage overall. Shapiro and Atkins have come a long way from their dark days when it appeared literally they could not do or say anything right in the local media. Replacing a media darling like Alex Anthopoulos wasn’t easy and everything they did was Cleveland light (compared to Soo light now with Kyle.) Of course, not every segment or article was roses, but again you get the idea.
Something has shifted for both management teams and in case there was any doubt before, the honeymoon is over now for sure. The Toronto Sports Media is turning.
From the NHL Draft through the end of the first day of free agency, Maple Leaf MSM certainty seems to have soured. Reporters who have always been very supportive of The Shanaplan are suddenly not so vocal. They aren’t bashing the duo, but they are questioning the performance this off-season to the likes we haven’t seen before. Overdrive was harsh (accurately) on the Leafs’ inability to get Ottawa to retain more salary in their Matt Murray trade. The Athletic has an article questioning whether the Leafs roster is currently any better than this past year. Those who are typically enthusiastic about the Leafs and Kyle Dubas have clearly turned a page.
On the Blue Jays side, things are different. Jeff Blair wrote a scathing article prior to the firing about how the management team was to blame for the current state of the team by doing nothing to fix the flawed lineup. Post firing, all those who have been very supportive of Atkins and Shapiro are singing a very different tune. The story goes something like this – they hired a manager that was a placeholder, he went above and beyond being the face of the team during lousy times. Despite not making the playoffs, they extended his contract. They knew exactly what he was, and what he wasn’t from the beginning. Yet, when things went south, despite dealing with the death of the daughter of one of his coaches they still fired and replaced him with one of his coaches when he didn’t appear to do anything wrong per se. They didn’t have a hired gun waiting. He didn’t become a bad manager overnight. They just fired him to do something. Worst of all, they treated someone the media (and fans) like and respected as a good person ( a rarity these days.)
The change in tune started with Ken Rosenthal at the Athletic and carried all the way through those most who cover the Jays who have been big Atkins/Shapiro supporters.
“Credit to the team’s executives for understanding what they’re not good at – speaking English to other humans. Even when it didn’t have much logic to it, Montoyo never talked to people as though they were stupid. That was a major improvement. “>The Jays’ teams under Montoyo stayed chipper. Even when it got dark, Montoyo had a wonderful ‘Ain’t it a great day to play baseball?’ way about him. Montoyo was there to take the hits and spin on-field incompetence into a weird sort of heroism. Occasionally, he was there to express a relatable level of frustration. He did both things with panache.”
“The move to fire Montoyo runs counter to the front office’s steadfast support of their now former manager. It appeared as though Montoyo’s job was to implement the plans of the front office and maintain a positive atmosphere within the clubhouse far more than to be an X’s and O’s guy between the lines“.
The 56-year-old held the team together last season in a year in which they didn’t play a true home game until July 30th, earning praise from several players who suggested Montoyo should be named American League manager of the year.”
The terrible timing of the Montoyo firing is reminder: If you’re not sold on the manager, then make a change in the offseason. There was always a sense he was on double-secret probation with the FO. As of today, the Jays would make the playoffs.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 13, 2022
On radio, tv, and pods, it is clear that the media side has soured on both management teams in a hurry. With the fans, I always say winning cures all. It would be impossible for the media to hold a grudge on both fronts should winning ensue. If not, it could be a very bumpy road for all involved. The next firings won’t just be at the managerial level.
The Toronto Sports Media is turning.
Unfortunately, things are not rosy in Calgary with sports radio. Dean “Boomer” Molberg and Ryan Pinder are no more, with Pinder having just signed off. Only Will Nault and Pat Steinberg are left. I am told the station is being run part-time by the crew in Vancouver. Word is things are so bad that if the technical staff get sick or can’t make it, shows get canceled. It’s hard to tell what exactly is going on, but no one seems to be saying ‘yes, we are investing in sports radio in Calgary. Not sure what this means to Calgary Flames radio rights but as far as we know, there is currently only one local radio show on the station. I’ve heard for months that things are being slowly turned off and it certainly looks that way right now.
I am told that the ratings are out for the NHL Free Agency coverage.
Keep in mind TSN was on twice as long so that widens the gap so to speak.
— jonah (@yyzsportsmedia) July 16, 2022
To clarify that tweet, TSN was on the air twice as long as Snet was. The result of being on the air longer would be a drag on the TSN results so the gap between the two networks would be larger.
It would be one thing to say that TSN benefits by not being the network that is “bought and paid for by the league”. Radio stations that didn’t have radio rights used to do that all the time. They would argue that they could be more honest with their coverage because the rights holders weren’t paying the bills. I don’t think that’s a fair comment in this case. I don’t think anyone, in this case, isn’t watching Rogers because the coverage isn’t critical enough. While I am sure the league is very happy with the size of the cheques cashing every month, I don’t know how they feel when the rights holder is losing in the rating game.
The Athletic published its annual results of a fan poll of NHL broadcasters. You can read the entire piece here. Here are the things that made me go hmmmmm: