Thursday, 30 October 2014

Canadian media loves easy NHL money

An NHL exhibition game held in Saskatoon in September.
            When it comes to sports media in Canada, it is all about the NHL.
            The only place that might not be true is Saskatchewan, where the CFL’s Roughriders are number one. In the consolidated media world that marks the landscape in Canada, the NHL is where it is at as far as sports coverage goes. As a result, coverage for all other sports ultimately suffers.
            As the media in Canada continues to consolidate, the various outlets end up looking to gain the biggest bang for the buck. The industry for all intensive purposes has been in a negative economy cycle for two decades going back to before the Internet became big, which has created the need to get the biggest bang for the buck.
When it comes to covering sports, the NHL has a huge captive audience in Canada that isn’t going anywhere. If you produce anything on that league, you can be sure someone will read it, listen to it, or watch it.
            If media outlets in Canada really wanted to, they could likely get away with just running sports stories on the NHL. In Western Canada, you would still have to acknowledge the CFL, but the NHL rules the roost.
            I remember a conversation I had with an elite level goalie coach in summer. He said there seemed to be more media than ever circling around Canada’s NHL teams. That is likely true.
            Besides having the regular print, radio and television media following the team, you have personnel from NHL clubs themselves putting together stories and videos for websites. You also have people there from the league itself putting together items for various NHL run media platforms.
            Due to the overwhelming attention the NHL gets in Canada, regular media companies are hesitant to cut back coverage in that area. It is giving you the biggest bang for your buck. If you take away coverage in this area, you will lose a big amount of followers and the advertising bottom line gets hurt.
            When cuts do come down, it is usually at the expense of all other local sports. That is seen in various mid-market centres like Kelowna, Red Deer or Lethbridge where papers that once had sports staffs of three or four are shrunk to one or two. As most know, advertising dollars are usually sucked out of those communities to the head office of the consolidated media company.
            Red Deer actually once had a Global station, but that is gone. In Kamloops, you don’t even have a daily newspaper there anymore.
            The reason it is easy to cut sports coverage on the local level is because it takes a lot of resources to go out there and keep followers. Covering things like sports at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level or sports at the high school level takes a lot of effort to get followers and keep them. In all reality, you are catering to a niche audience that doesn’t have a whole lot of room for expansion.
            In a ratio sense, a set amount of resources that would be used to cover the NHL will yield a much greater return than the same set amount of resources used to cover sports at the local level.
             With Postmedia Network Canada Corporation’s $316-million deal announced earlier this month to buy 175 newspapers and digital publications where the bulk of the deal included former Quebecor Media Inc. assets, local sports coverage will ultimately take another hit.
            Despite the cuts, almost all those that are actually on the front lines covering the local sports scenes in their various communities work very hard at what they do. In a lot of cases, they push themselves too hard to bring those stories to light and suffer burnout.
            In Saskatoon, the work that the sports media does in the city has to be rated as outstanding. The numbers in the sports media in town have shrunk, which seems strange for centre that has witnessed a population increase of about 50,000 people in the last eight years.
            It would be nice if media companies would increase the number of front line reporters in order to bring more local sports stories to the readers, or at least get numbers up to what they used to be a decade ago. There are a lot of good athletes with great stories working hard at what they do, and people don’t realize they are there.
            Unfortunately, it costs money to bring in more reporters and add resources to cover these stories. No consolidated media company would want to do that, when you can turn to the cash cow that is the NHL to make some easy coin.

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