Monday, May 30, 2011

TSN Radio launches with plenty of CFL/Argonauts content

Observers of the Canadian sports media scene will have noticed by now that there's a new big-name outlet out there; specifically, TSN Radio, which launched on Toronto's 1050 AM frequency Wednesday (and can be listened to anywhere on the web here). They already have plenty of prominent personalities in the lineup, including Mike Richards, Bryan Hayes, James Cybulski, Gareth Wheeler, Dave Naylor, Bruce Arthur and Dave Feschuk, and it's going to be interesting to see what kind of content they turn out. What takes this from a sports media story to a CFL story is the amount of three-down football content they've had so far, though, and what they're planning to do in the future.

The CFL was a big part of the station's launch Wednesday, and that's particularly notable considering that we're not only in the middle of the offseason, but also that it was the first day of the NHL playoffs and that David Beckham was in town with the L.A. Galaxy to play Toronto FC (and make controversial comments about refs). All of those other subjects got plenty of attention on TSN Radio, but so did the CFL, which doesn't always receive high billing in Toronto sports circles, especially while it's the offseason. Argonauts' head coach/general manager Jim Barker was in studio with Mike Richards for an hour on the morning show, and league commissioner Mark Cohon dropped in to the afternoon show with Argonauts Rob Murphy and Ricky Foley (Murphy was as funny as usual, and mentioned to me that he's already been invited back). This morning saw Cohon, TSN's Brian Williams and former Argonaut/current NFL Network analyst Joe Theismann make appearances. The station's also going to be broadcasting every Argonauts game this year, and acting programming director Robert Gray told me via e-mail today that the CFL's going to be an important part of their lineup going forward:

"Much like TSN on the television side, the plan is to feature CFL content on all of our shows across the week, plus a 1 hour all-Argos show, and extensive training camp coverage for the Argos - taking a couple of our shows live on-location during camp for in depth coverage," Gray wrote. "[We'll have] coach & player segments, plus lots of content from TSN's roster of CFL & football experts."

Increased CFL coverage obviously isn't going to please everyone. This is Canada, after all, and plenty of people in Toronto in particular only care about the Leafs; of the group that do have wider interests, some of them are only into hockey generally, while others only care about the Jays, Raptors or Toronto FC. In fact, the CFL coverage served as one of the prime complaints in this Toronto Sports Media post on the TSN Radio launch:

I know that TSN is covering the Argos, but was Jim Barker for a whole hour really the way to go? I mean Mccown used to do all Argos all the time when his buddies owned them and it was as popular as Watters talking the Rock when sunny boy was running them. I am not bashing the Argos or the CFL, but really is that the best they could do on launch day? Personally, I would rather have heard the head hauncho of TSN on the radio.


As one of you pointed out, I think they need to lose the ‘voice of the Argos' as they're primary promo line. I'm not sure what their obligations to the CFL were in terms of getting the Argos on the radio but TSN has to have more clout then this. This isn't Saskatchewan. Too many people pinged me today asking why there was so much CFL coverage on their launch day. I assume it will ease off a bit.

As that piece alludes to, in one respect, it does serves TSN's interests to have CFL content on their platforms. They broadcast CFL games both on TV and the radio now, and more interest in the league as a whole and the Argonauts in particular is likely to translate into better ratings for them. Before crying foul, though, it's worth remembering that every sports media outlet tends to have conflicts of interest. Just in Toronto, for example, the FAN 590 broadcasts the Jays, Raptors and TFC (and they're part of Sportsnet, which also has a lot of Jays programming), and AM 640 broadcasts Leafs games. That doesn't mean you can jump to the conclusion that every talk programming decision revolves around what sports are carried by the station, as all of those stations tend to talk about sports that are carried on other networks as well (and their talk shows would likely lose listeners if they didn't).

Also, I don't see how the previous piece jumps to the conclusion that talking about the Argonauts is somehow irrelevant because "this isn't Saskatchewan". They are a Toronto team, and they've got a substantial fan following, so from this perspective it's perfectly legitimate for a Toronto sports station to be talking about them (and league-wide issues, such as player safety and concussions); perhaps the CFL coverage only stood out on TSN Radio because of other stations' programming decisions that didn't include it. There's a balancing act involved in any sports media outlet's programming decisions, and from this corner, TSN Radio's done that rather well so far. The CFL hasn't always received all that much attention in Toronto, so it's nice to see a new station making the league an important part of their coverage.

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