This week, it was announced that the two biggest stars in the Bell Media universe were leaving to join a network south of the border. The network, Fox Sports 1, is expected to be the biggest sports channel launch in American history and pose the greatest challenge to ESPN. With this recent hire, Fox now have key anchors for their sports highlight program. It is an interesting development for TSN, Fox Sports 1, and for other Canadian talent looking to move stateside.
Beginning with TSN, it has not been a great string of weeks for Canada’s Sports Leader. First, The Score is now able to become Rogers Sportsnet News, or whatever they will change it into. Increasingly, the long dormant Rogers Sportsnets are posing a real challenge to TSN. With a successful magazine, great radio properties, two national channels, one really niche sports channel and four regional stations, suddenly Rogers has quite the sports empire. Now, the biggest stars on TSN are leaving to go stateside. Not what they need right now, as they appear to be in the most competitive landscape they have ever been in.
For Fox Sports 1, this is exactly what they need. They need signature stars for their highlights show. All highlight shows are created equal. They’re fast paced, show as many highlights as they can within 22 minutes, mix in some expert analysis, rinse and repeat. Where you gain viewers and build ratings is by having personalities that viewers gravitate towards. With Jay and Dan, now Fox Sports 1 presumably have that. One can also safely assume that Jay and Dan are cheaper than taking talent from other sports stations in America. Additionally, Fox Sports 1 has to differentiate itself from ESPN and NBC Sports Network. Building a stable of former ESPN and NBC talent is not exactly creating the biggest difference. Thus, explaining why they’re taking talent from another formidable sports giant in its own right, TSN. However, it is somewhat shocking that TSN would let these guys walk away.
TSN is currently in the biggest ratings war it has ever been involved with. As mentioned above, Rogers Sportsnet has never looked stronger. Therefore, TSN really needs all hands on deck to maintain its ratings stranglehold. To let Jay and Dan leave is a surprising move. These guys were the anchor of the Pacific prime time SportsCentre spot, which was then re-broadcasted for the morning time slot. This was important for ratings, and kept Sportsnet Connected a non-factor. TSN spends a reasonable amount of money on sports properties, and then based on subscriber fees and ad revenue, hopes to make money back by providing this exclusive programming. However, where they can make serious money is on their studio shows, and original content like SportsCentre, where the costs to produce the shows are minimal but sports fans will watch religiously to keep up to date with their teams. This loss definitely hurts the bottom line for TSN.
I had two questions I kept thinking when I discovered that TSN had lost their two biggest stars. First, what did they offer to keep them? Bell could have offered Jay another crack at a pop culture show on Much Music. They could have offered Dan more serious roles within the CTV news space. The pair could have had a larger impact on TSN radio. There was no shortage of extra reach the two could have been given by Bell, based on all their properties. Additionally, money was probably not the deciding factor here as it is assumed that Bell could have reasonably matched any offer that Fox Sports 1 would make. That’s assuming that Fox Sports 1 didn’t throw the bank at these two, however that seems unlikely. If they were going to throw the bank at anyone, I would expect that to be Tim and Sid.
That leads me to my second question: did they approach Tim and Sid? Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro seem like they would transfer to an American audience better than Jay and Dan would. Jay and Dan are much louder, and do play on their Canadian personas a bit more than Tim and Sid do. Additionally, both have been involved in building a sports station from the ground up before, and that experience would be valuable at Fox Sports 1. Nevertheless, Jay and Dan are now the biggest names in Canadian sports broadcasting. But if you had asked me if Jay and Dan would ever leave TSN for another network, I would have said that was unlikely. Instead, I would have believed that they would move to Canada AM, or some other Canadian show. However, if they can leave, who else may be targeted?
James Duthie is the most likely to be targeted. He is clearly the most talented studio host in Canada right now, and his work on the NHL on TSN is of note. Elliotte Friedman is another reporter that I could see moving. Unfortunately for Friedman, his bread and butter is hockey and those jobs are few and far between. He may have his career gig already at Hockey Night in Canada. Another talented Canadian that could go to Fox Sports 1 or another network could be James Cybulski. He recently left TSN, and should be reappearing on Sportsnet West. Speculation aside, a key takeaway here is that with a glut of new sports networks starting up over the past few months in America, this may be the start of a talent drain in Canada. Some experienced talent has to come from somewhere and Canada appears poised to stock these channels.
Alas, the buzz on Twitter when the news was announced was sad with everyone from the Prime Minister to other journalists congratulating and wishing the pair the best of luck. This type of move is a huge career move. It lets us behind the curtain on what type of network Fox is building, and also says a lot about the state of TSN right now. Needless to say, TSN will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks. Is this the beginning of the end? Or do they have two new anchors ready to start the next decade of dominance?
Jeffrey Lush is a weekly blog contributor to Sports Business Canada.