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Rogers Finds Right Guy In Brace

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As Rick Brace takes over as president of Rogers Media, he will have the undivided attention of both those who work for him and those he works for.

The trepidation of the people who work for him was evident over the past week when everyone contacted declined to speak about him on the record. While new bosses often mean change among the employees, this is especially so at Rogers Communications Inc., where turnover is practically part of the culture.

And since Brace, who took up his new position on Monday, spent most of his 40-year career at TSN, the rival network to Rogers’s Sportsnet, more than a few staffers are worried about changes, especially since he has a reputation as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense boss.

While one person who spoke to Brace about his new job came away convinced that he does not plan any major changes, at least not right away, this could not be confirmed. Brace himself declined to be interviewed.

Any worries among the people like Rogers chief executive officer Guy Laurence, who hired Brace to replace Keith Pelley (who left to become commissioner and CEO of the European Tour, a professional golf circuit), are confined to the performance of Rogers Media’s holdings such as the Toronto Blue Jays and, in particular, Sportsnet.

Rogers placed a huge bet on the NHL with its $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast contract with the league. Despite Laurence’s claim of a 10-per-cent profit on the deal itself in its first year, poor ratings, because of the collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are expected to be in rebuilding mode for several years, do not bode well for the future.

While Brace is well versed in running sports properties, he is also considered an expert in advertising sales and the business side of television. The latter skills probably appealed to Laurence, as Rogers Media lost $32-million on revenue of $464-million in its last quarter, partly because of hockey-related expenses as well as the continuing trend of viewers moving away from television to other forms of media.

But this is the first time in his career that Brace will lead such a large and important business unit. While he has been the president of the TSN and CTV networks, much of his career was as the second-in-command to a division CEO.

The appointment was something of a surprise, as Brace faded from prominence in broadcasting after BCE Inc. became the majority owner of CTV and TSN in 2011. BCE brought in a new slate of executives and Brace wound up as head of specialty channels and CTV production for Bell Media before leaving the company in 2013.

“He’s the right guy at the right time for Rogers,” said Ivan Fecan, who was president and CEO of TSN’s former owner CTVglobemedia and appointed Brace president of TSN in 1998. “They made a big investment and now they need to make it work.”

First, though, industry watchers are curious to see how Brace’s relationship works with his most important department head, Scott Moore, Rogers’s president of Sportsnet and NHL. Canadian television sports broadcasting is a small world and while Moore and Brace were both at the CBC early in their careers, their last direct contact was seven years ago in a nasty fight over the rights to Hockey Night In Canada’s storied theme song.

The relationship between the CBC and the theme’s composer, Dolores Claman, was long strained and it fell apart when the rights to the song came up for negotiation in 2008. Moore, who was executive director of CBC Sports at the time, offered Claman $1-million to buy the theme outright. She demanded at least $2.5-million and talks stalled.

That is when Brace, who was president of CTV by then, entered the picture along with Fecan. They offered Claman the sort of money she wanted and the famous theme song went from the CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada to TSN in perpetuity. It was front-page news across Canada.

While Moore could not be blamed for the loss of the song, it was still his painful duty to explain to the media what happened. There were also harsh words between him and Brace. Moore accused Brace and Fecan of interfering in the CBC’s negotiations with Claman.

“Their move capitalized on a lot of publicity and had the added benefit of making a competitor look bad,” Moore wrote in a blog post on CBC.ca. “I hope it ends up being worth the money for them at the end of the day.”

Brace called Moore’s accusation “ludicrous” and insisted that CTV did not talk to Claman until the CBC said it was withdrawing from the negotiations. “They made a decision. They announced it to the world. And they walked away,” he told The Globe and Mail.

Fecan just laughed when he was asked how the contretemps would affect the working relationship between Brace and Moore.

“It’s all good sports,” he said. “It’s a small broadcasting community in the sports area. Everybody knows each other. You’re colleagues one day, competitors the next, and vice versa.

“I have no idea either [how they will get along], but I think they’re both grown-up people.”

Credit to The Globe and Mail who originally published this article

Sports TV News

NFL Considers Ending Pro Bowl Amidst Low Ratings

“Mark Maske of The Washington Post reports the future of the Pro Bowl was discussed on Tuesday during the owners’ meetings in Atlanta.”

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The NFL is obsessed with TV ratings. It isn’t a surprise that the league may not be willing to tolerate the Pro Bowl underperforming for much longer. 

In 2022, the NFL’s all-star game produced it’s lowest ratings in 16 years. Fewer that 7 million people tuned in to watch the game across ABC, ESPN and DisneyXD. 

“The (Pro Bowl) game doesn’t work,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday after the owners’ meeting in Atlanta. “We need to find another way to celebrate the players.”

There are two proposed alternatives that have been reported. The Washington Post says the league is considering launching a seven-on-seven competition. It would not include tackling or full clocks. The other report comes from Ian Rapport of the NFL Network. He says the league is considering hosting a series of skills competitions over the course of what would be branded an all-star week. The NFL has partnered with DirecTV in the past to present similar events during Super Bowl Week. 

No details have emerged or final decisions made. Mark Maske of The Washington Post reports the future of the Pro Bowl was discussed on Tuesday during the owners’ meetings in Atlanta.

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Sports TV News

Former Hulu Exec Michael Schneider Hired To Run Bally Sports+

“Schneider previously was VP of brand and content marketing at Hulu, where he had involvement in various marketing efforts for Hulu + Live TV.”

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Sinclair Broadcast Group and Diamond Sports Group have tapped Michael Schneider as the chief operating officer and general manager of Bally Sports+ when it launches this year.

Schneider will oversee the direct-to-consumer platform that will also be the hub for Bally Sports live programming.

Schneider previously was VP of brand and content marketing at Hulu, where he had involvement in various marketing efforts for Hulu + Live TV.

“Throughout his career, Michael has successfully launched and developed DTC streaming and service platforms and created immersive engagement experiences,” said Sinclair COO and president of broadcast Rob Weisbord. “He is a terrific addition to the team as we build out the Bally Sports+ offering, its exclusive content and passionate fan community.”

Even before Hulu, Schneider had a hand in streaming. He was a founding member of the PlayStation Vue launch team.

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Sports TV News

Marquee Sports Network Weighs Streaming Options Outside of Bally Sports+

“Marquee GM Mike McCarthy said to Sports Business Journal there’s no rush, but the network is hopeful they can have something in time for the 2023 season.”

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As Sinclair Broadcast Group prepares to launch Bally Sports+, its direct-to-consumer platform that will be home to Bally Sports live events, the Chicago Cubs are weighing their options for Marquee Sports Network, which the team co-owns with Sinclair.

Despite being under the Sinclair umbrella, Marquee is its own free-standing RSN from the rest of the Bally Sports networks across the country.

Marquee is readily available on a number of cable providers, but the only thing that’s really missing is its own standalone streaming platform for games. Marquee GM Mike McCarthy said to Sports Business Journal there’s no rush, but the network is hopeful they can have something in time for the 2023 season.

“We’re always interested in being on the cutting edge with the ultimate deliverable to our consumer,” McCarthy said. “But there isn’t any contractual clock ticking to make us feel that way. It’s how we’ve approached things from the beginning. Between our two ownership groups, there’s a lot of aggression to get it right. And I think you’ll see something along those lines shortly.”

The TV ratings will always be of top interest for MLB, especially regional ratings. But as the league has worked to embrace more streaming options for games, striking deals with Apple and Peacock for rights this season, it’s all about providing what the fans and viewers want.

“We now have the ability to do so much more, to properly tell the story of a 162-game season,” said Crane Kenney, Chicago Cubs president of business operations. Kenney was instrumental in the launch of Marquee. “We love baseball, we love the game, and we love the opportunity we have to share it with our fans in really deep ways.”

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