Onrait and O’Toole A Good Hire for Fox

Onrait and O'Toole with the Prime Minister at last November's Grey Cup (credit: PMO/Jason Ransom)

Onrait and O’Toole with the Prime Minister at last November’s Grey Cup (credit: PMO/Jason Ransom)

Fox aims to do the unthinkable when it launches Fox Sports 1 this August, overtake ESPN as the most watched sports channel in America. And it certainly has a chance. At launch it has MLB (beginning in 2014), NASCAR (including Sprint Cup races in 2015), college football and hoops, just like ESPN. Fox Sports also has UEFA Champions League and FIFA tournaments beginning in 2015. All Fox is missing out on are the big events (minus the World Cup) that ESPN and Turner’s TNT have. ESPN has the BCS, Turner has March Madness. ESPN has weekday coverage of three of golf’s majors, TNT has the other. ESPN also has all four tennis Grand Slams.

Due to the long-term nature of broadcast contracts, there isn’t a lot more Fox can do to compete with ESPN. They can compete with ESPN’s highlight programs though. Late Friday news came that the faces of TSN’s SportsCentre, Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, were leaving TSN for new jobs in Los Angeles along with “Producer Tim”. It was quickly confirmed, as I initially speculated, that these jobs were at Fox for the new nightly news show “Fox Sports Live”, which will air weeknights from from 11pm until 2am Eastern. The new program will compete directly with ESPN’s SportsCenter, something that sports channels in the US are usually reluctant to do.

While SportsCenter is incredibly popular, it does have its faults. There is certainly a base in American looking for something new and refreshing. Fox is known for going against the establishment and trying new things, and gimmicks, in sports broadcasting. Some, like the FoxBox, have stuck. Others, like the glowing puck, not so much. Onrait and O’Toole certainly fit the Fox ideal of different, and yes, at times gimmicky. Not that it usually detracts from their broadcasts. After Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, who also called their SportsCenter “The Big Show”, ESPN would never go for a duo potentially bigger than the network like Onrait and O’Toole.

Last year The Wall Street Journal wrote an article on Onrait and O’Toole asking “Why Can’t We Have Canada’s SportsCentre?”. Now you do, America. And before anyone asks, no I do not know if Fox Sports 1 will be available in Canada.

theScore to Rogers… Last Tuesday the CRTC finalized the sale of theScore Television Network to Rogers. Sportsnet immediately took control of it, although it will go by theScore until a rebrand on Canada Day. Live @ theScore and the Footy Show both ended Monday, without so much as a goodbye. You can read Kristian Jack and James Sharman’s final thoughts on the Footy Show here. A new “Hockey Central Xtra” replaced Live @, airing from 5-6pm Eastern on weeknights with a mix of theScore and Sportsnet on-air talent. Tim and Sid returned to theScore with a simulcast of their Fan 590 radio show on Wednesday. In other immediate changes Monday Night Raw is now live and theScore will have 8 Toronto FC matches this season.

Rogers valued the transaction at $172 million, while Rogers will contribute $17.1 million to a tangible-benefits package for amateur sports in Canada. The CRTC did deny Rogers’ idea of using the tangible benefits package to create a Canadian version of the X Games. The CRTC’s main problem is that in the broadcasting community, Rogers would exclusively benefit from the “Sportsnet Winter Games”. I agree. What’s the point in a required investment to improve amateur sports and broadcasting in Canada if the company paying is the lone company to benefit? As a result, Rogers must submit an alternative plan by the end of the month.

What interests me are the interventions put forward by other media companies. Eastlink asked the CRTC to reclassify theScore as a “mainstream sports service”, similar to TSN, TSN2 or Sportsnet ONE. The CRTC opened up this sector to Canadian competition a few years ago. Previously TSN had protection. theScore enjoys similar protection as a sports news service. Unless Eastlink plans on launching a sports news channel, which seems unlikely, I find this is an odd intervention. Bell’s intervention was also interesting. Bell wanted the new license to include a condition to prevent theScore from tape-delaying programming by 15 minutes to get around live-programming rules imposed on it. theScore has previously done this with Serie A soccer and WWE.

I expect theScore will continue to air mostly basketball, soccer, WWE and college/university/amateur sports. The channel has found a niche with these sports, and I think for the most part Rogers will continue this. Rogers has already bought rights to FIBA basketball tournaments for theScore. Sportsnet has rights to CIS football and basketball games that air on Fox and Fox Sports 1 in the US. The CIS Hockey Championship would also make sense for theScore. There’s also always more room for UEFA Champions League group stage matches. WWE will continue to anchor theScore’s line-up on Monday and Friday. Regardless of whether it’s a sport, it is theScore’s highest-rated program. It consistently competes with Monday Night Football for the best cable ratings on Mondays in the fall. Limitations on the amount of live sports broadcasts will limit how many live games can air on theScore.

One thing I think Sportsnet really needs to capitalize on is the Footy Show’s popularity, even if it is gone. James Sharman, Kristian Jack, Brendan Dunlop, John Molinaro, and Thomas Dobby are all working for the same company again. The best time period for the podcast is when they were on it, in my opinion. Either a podcast or radio show would be great.

Late Starts… Anyone reading this live in St. Louis, Chicago or Minnesota? I hate the idea of 8:30pm local starts in the playoffs just for TV. The NBA does it regularly, but the NHL only started this year. I think one reason for this, aside from pleasing CBC and NBC, is to test the waters for next season when the divisional playoff format begins. One or two series in next year’s first round will feature two Central Time teams. That will create headaches for the NHL with three-quarters of all playoff games in the Eastern or Central time zones. Moving to an NBA-style schedule is one way to fix it. In other news, puckdrop of game 5 of the Kings-Blues series will be at 9pm Eastern, which means CBC will have to miss the first period since it conflicts with the Leafs-Bruins game. No word if cable/satellite providers will make this game available on an alternate channel yet.

Dowbiggin GoneToronto Sports Media is reporting that the Globe & Mail will not re-new Bruce Dowbiggin’s contract. I have heard the same thing. While Bruce could, at times, write a good piece on sports media, I thought his columns took a sharp dive when he began writing mostly about hockey and sports in general. Since Dowbiggin does love to include Tweets in his columns, here’s one to prove my point:

Now before I get into a rant defending Gryba (not on the hit, but in general), I just want to say he had a +28 rating in the minors this year. He was -3 logging 20 minutes a game for the Senators during the regular season. He blocked more than a shot a game, good enough for tenth among rookies. As this Ottawa Citizen article points out, you can’t judge Gryba (or many other defensemen) by their offensive output. Seems obvious, but isn’t to everyone I guess.

The Globe will have other writers write about sports media when needed. Media columnist Steve Ladurantaye already writes about sports media from time to time, while soccer columnist John Doyle has written about Fox Soccer Report and (the lack of) beIN Sport in Canada. While it is sad to see the last regular sports media in a mainstream paper, it wasn’t the same since Bill Houston retired and the Star axed Chris Zelkovich’s column anyway.