Mixing media figures
Explosion of television, radio, Internet coverage has
produced a big demand for sports personalities with versatility
Thursday, December 28, 2000
Sport has never been as intensely covered, probed, analyzed and commented upon as it is today.
Cable television has made it into a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, billion-dollar industry. The Internet has spawned thousands of sports and sports-related Web sites. And since the launch of WFAN in New York 13 years ago, all-sports radio has spread to virtually every major market in the United States and Canada. Throw in traditional main network coverage, not to mention your daily newspaper, and you are looking into the maw of a ravenous media giant.
Feeding the monster has created a demand for journalists who are effective in more than one medium. Bob McKenzie reports and writes a column for TSN's Web page, tsn.ca, but is principally known as the sports channel's on-air hockey expert. Stephen Brunt is a Globe and Mail columnist, but also a regular commentator on national radio and television. Even the CBC's venerable Don Cherry, 65, was for a while a triple threat in TV, radio and print.
Not only are there more sports media personalities than ever before, but many have higher profiles than the athletes they cover. Who do you think is better known in Canada -- Montreal Expo star Vladimir Guerrero or Ron MacLean of Hockey Night in Canada ?
Sports media figures inform, infuriate, amuse, explain issues, confuse issues, present clarity and inflict upon us gobbledygook. The following is The Globe and Mail's top 10 list of the most influential:
1. Ron MacLean
MacLean is the host of Hockey Night in Canada,but that doesn't tell the whole story. He is also host of the Saturday night pregame show, teams with Cherry for the first-intermission Coach's Corner and then plays traffic cop for the second-intermission Satellite Hot Stove panel.
In the National Hockey League postseason, he is on the air virtually every night of the week, at least in the first round of the playoffs, informing TV audiences that often hit the two-million mark. At the conclusion of the playoffs, he is host of the NHL Awards show.
During an Olympic year, MacLean works as the CBC's No. 2 host behind Brian Williams. He regularly heads up the CBC's Calgary Stampede coverage.
The ubiquitous MacLean is quick and bright, but his performances have been diminished by cheerleading (during the Olympics), corny commentary and the occasional attack of bad taste. During the NHL Awards show this year, he referred to actress Carol Alt's attendance as "the last time Alexei Yashin scored," a remark that angered some viewers and several people at the CBC.
2. Brian Williams
No sports host in Canada applies as high a journalistic standard to his work as Williams. Problem is, Williams's performances as host are pretty much limited to the CBC's Olympic coverage every two years.
His work at the 2000 Sydney Games was strong on content and opinion. Who else, working for an Olympic rights holder, would say during the opening ceremony that International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch should have resigned over the bribery scandal? While many in the national media were sympathetic to equestrian Eric Lamaze, who was banned from the Games because of a positive cocaine test complicated by an earlier faulty test, Williams slammed him as a bad role model. He also anchored some strong panel discussions on the problems with Canada's amateur sports programs.
Williams also calls Toronto Blue Jay games for the CBC and is host of a long-time radio show with Cherry.
3. Rod Black
As the signature voice for CTV and CTV Sportsnet, Black announced National Basketball Association and Blue Jays games, figure skating and golf. After MacLean, he was probably the most visible sports media personality in Canada.
He was criticized early at CTV for being light on substance, but he has improved steadily. If there's a weakness, it's too much boosterism. His strength is versatility. He also has a strong, affable on-air presence. With the merger of CTV and TSN, Black now appears on some TSN broadcasts.
4. Don Cherry
Cherry is a phenomenon in sports broadcasting. He's been on the air for 20 years, and after Foster Hewitt, is probably Canada's most popular sports media figure ever.
In addition to Coach's Corner,Cherry has a daily radio show and lends his name (and voice, sometimes spoken by a bad mimic) to radio and TV commercials. Coach's Corner has lost a lot of its energy and is no longer the must-see it once was. Still, Cherry's conservative views speak to a large constituency.
5. Bob McKenzie
One of TSN's responses to competition from Sportsnet was to hire, full-time, McKenzie, who had been dividing his time between TSN and The Hockey News. He writes columns and reports on tsn.ca, and provides on-air analysis.
McKenzie's aggressiveness is a plus, and he's lost some, but not all, of his irritating aren't-I-great attitude. This hockey season he has been challenged as a news breaker by Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos.
6. Bertrand Raymond
The three leading sports commentators in Quebec all work for daily newspapers. They are Jack Todd of The Gazette, Réjean Tremblay of La Presse and Raymond of le Journal de Montreal.
Of the three, Raymond, whose column also appears in le Journal de Quebec, has the largest readership and is the most influential, especially now that Tremblay, the dean, spends a lot of his time writing scripts for Quebec television.
7. Stephen Brunt
As The Globe and Mail's lead sports columnist, Brunt is a respected writer and equally effective on radio, usually as a co-host on Telemedia's syndicated show Prime Time Sports. He's also a regular on TSN's Sunday Sportsdesk Extra. Brunt, among the writers, has the highest national profile.
8. Jim Van Horne
Van Horne does more than anchor TSN's SportsDesk nightly at 6:30 p.m. ET. He arrives early, sits in on meetings, makes telephone calls and helps write. Then he delivers the best sportscast in the business. Van Horne also performed effectively as CBC/TSN's tennis announcer, without an analyst, at the Olympics.
9. Jim Hughson
Sportsnet's decision to hire Vancouver-based Hughson to call its nationally televised National Hockey League games gave the show immediate credibility. Hughson is among hockey's best announcers, and is also well informed. He provides a weekly commentary for Sportscentral.
10. Dan Shulman
As TSN's voice of the Blue Jays, Shulman has developed into the leading baseball announcer in Canada. During the off-season he calls basketball for CTV and TSN. He also works for ESPN in the United States announcing baseball and basketball.
Canada's sports leaders
Saturday: The leaders and losers
Tuesday: The athletes
Yesterday: The unsung heroes
Today: The media stars
Tomorrow: Ten to watch in 2001
Follow the series at globeandmail.com/sports and make your pick for Canada's Sports Leader in 2000.