It goes beyond TV networks trying to cut costs. Sports channels, and the internet and social media have made sports on local TV virtually worthless.
Black and White TV
I was born and raised in Edmonton and in the 1960’s and early 70’s we had three local TV stations – CTV and CBC English and French. CTV had by far the biggest audience, except on Saturday night, which was ruled by CBC. CBC French only had a handful of viewers.
My parents faithfully watched the 6pm local news on the CTV channel, which was CRFN in those days. We rarely watched CBC, because, as my Dad put it at the time, “CBC is just a mouthpiece for the Liberals.”
Not much has changed in 55 years.
The highlight of each CFRN newscast for me was the sports. Al McCann came on late in the half-hour show and ran through several minutes of highlights from the Eskimos and the CFL, the Oil Kings and junior hockey, or some NHL games. Almost everything he had on the air was from the night before, but it really didn’t matter. In those days, far fewer games were on TV, so in most cases we were seeing the highlights for the first time. Remember, we only had Wednesday and Saturday night NHL games and this was long before the Oilers showed up.
It was magic. We got to see the key plays from football, hockey and baseball games, all in a matter of moments. I loved those highlight packages, some in black and white.
I would also try to watch the CBC Sports with Ernie Afaganis. He always did a solid job. Ernie had a real air of class to everything he did and I remember CBC produced a weekly golf show for many years called Par 27, which was hosted by Ernie.
In those days, seeing sports highlights almost 24-hours after a game had been played wasn’t a concern, because in most cases, it was new to us, which is what news is all about. That’s why it’s called “news”. It is something new to you.
Demise of the Sportscast
Fast forward to today and look at what sports programming we’re getting on local TV newscasts. Not much.
Several years ago, most CTV stations across Canada removed sports from their supper-hour and late-night local newscasts. Sports personalities were shown the door. There was no need for them anymore.
The same has happened a couple of times to Global TV stations across Canada, the most recently earlier this year. Once again sports was cut out of local TV newscasts, unless there’s a big event such as the Oilers or Flames in the playoffs, or a big local sporting event, like an international competition in town. On those occasions, the coverage mainly consisted of happy talk and it was done by news personalities.
Back in the 60's, I remember how cool it was to see game highlights on the late-night newscast from games had been played earlier that night. It couldn’t get done faster than that right?
We found out it could.
What’s behind the changes?
Two things really. The emergence of 24-hour sports cable channels in Canada and the internet and social media.
I have two sons and I remember explaining to them many years ago how people used to call constantly at night when I worked in radio asking for sports scores. My sons asked me why they just didn’t get the scores off TSN or Sportsnet. I explained they didn’t exist then. They then asked, well what about the ticker? Didn’t they get the scores from the bottom of the screen? I had to explain there was no ticker because we didn’t have sports channels.
The problem is, scores and game highlights are only news for a very limited time now and certainly not 24-hours later. Almost any game people care about can now be found live on TV. Sports highlight shows come on every evening and run through the night and into the morning. If sports fans haven’t seen something important by 7am, chances are they don’t care.
Of course, the internet, social media and phones have changed time frames drastically. Key scoring plays and highlight-reel goals and catches are now all over social media in a matter of minutes.
If they’re trotted out by the local sports guy 24-hours later it looks really lame.
The fact of the matter is, there is nothing you can put on a local sportscast that is different than what people have been able to get from TV, cable sports channels and social media much earlier. The exception is local sports coverage, which despite its good intentions, doesn’t move the needle for most sports fans.
As a result, local sports has more or less disappeared, which is terrible news for young people in the business. Unless you can get to TSN or Sportsnet at an early age, there’s rarely a road to take a young sports anchor or reporter from local TV to a national network. Local stations used to be training grounds for young broadcasters. Without that training ground, how do they get good enough to make it nationally?
I’m glad I was in the media business when I was. It's a really tough business for young people today.
Image credit: CTV and CBC