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THE MOJ: Leaving the broadcasters at home a sad and baffling decision

Radio crew not joining the team on the road leads to an inferior product without much of a saving
Toronto Blue Jays announcer Ben Wagner sits in the broadcast booth in Toronto, Sunday, April 10, 2022. Sportsnet, the Blue Jays’ radio rightsholder, will not resume on-site radio broadcasts for the 2023 regular season and will instead use remote coverage from its downtown Toronto studio for road games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

It’s not the type of sports story that would grab most fans’ attention but it certainly did with the sports media.

Rogers Sportsnet recently announced that Ben Wagner, the radio play-by-play voice of the Toronto Blue Jays, will not travel with the team this season and will be calling road games off a monitor at the network’s studios in Toronto.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing how Sportsnet initiated the same practice with all of their NHL radio broadcast teams at the start of this season – including the Vancouver Canucks tandem of play-by-play man Brendan Batchelor and colour analyst Randip Janda.

These decisions weren’t made by people with any vested interest in the end product but rather by those whose priority is to save money and increase profits.

If there is one thing that the COVID pandemic taught executives in most businesses, it’s that the internet is great when it comes to the bottom line.

“Hey, if we broadcast road games from a studio during COVID, why can’t we do it again and save some money?”

The savings of not sending your radio crews on the road is a drop in the bucket when you consider that Rogers Sportsnet paid $5.2 billion dollars over 12 years for the rights to broadcast NHL games.

There’s no cost for air travel as the radio team usually flies on the team charter and ground transportation to and from the airport or rink is usually on the team bus. The cost of hotel rooms is almost always discounted due to the sheer volume of rooms booked by an NHL team and/or corporate discounts. Yes, there is a daily per diem but when you add it all up, it’s certainly doable for a national network.

Never mind the actual dynamics of a broadcast and being able to see the entire playing surface, what the decision makers are missing is that the depth of the broadcast suffers when a radio team can’t be around the players, coaches and staff on the road.

Being able to pick up some nuggets at practice, chatting with a coach in the hotel lobby, obtaining some ‘intel’ from fellow media members at a game – it all adds up to providing you with information that allows for significantly richer broadcast.

By stranding your play-by-play team at home, you are reducing in half the one major advantage they have over your average fan and that’s the ability to get information from people in the know in an informal manner.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in the sports media game over the course of the last two decades, it’s that today’s fan is much more educated than his counterpart was twenty years ago.

The internet provides today’s fans with the pretty much the same information that the media uses.

The biggest advantage – and perhaps the only advantage – is the media’s ability to garner information from players, coaches, executives and other members of the media on an informal basis.

You are always trying to gain knowledge by talking to people who can give you information. The information gathered is then utilized sometimes by actually quoting the source or on other occasions as part of your educated opinion.

You lose that advantage when you don’t travel.

Unfortunately, not travelling on the road with the team is now a trend that is starting to surface in other areas of the sports media world as well.

The Province and The Vancouver Sun no longer have beat writers that travel with the Vancouver Canucks on the road as both newspapers now rely on zoom sessions to get information from players and coaches.

It’s actually very sad to see how these two former giants have fallen. The former standard for both at a Canucks home game was to have two beat writers – with one doing each dressing room – and a columnist attending. Both papers would have beat writers travel for every game with columnists going on several road trips.

At least in this case, it’s understandable when it comes to cost-cutting as the writers for those two newspapers don’t have the same aforementioned travel privileges afforded to them as the radio broadcast team would but it still hurts the end product.

Despite the difficulties facing many sports media outlets such as The Province and The Sun, Rogers Sportsnet’s policy of not having their radio broadcast teams travel is still a baffling one.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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