Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Battle of the network deadline shows

While we tried during the day to provide some of the "atmosphere" of the deadline battles, The Globe and Mail's William Houston does a most effective bit of reviewing the eight hours of madness that took over the nation's sports networks on Tuesday.

Houston: Pizza, pizzazz not enough to save Sportsnet party
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Rogers Sportsnet took a risk, tried something new and, wow, did it fail.
The network, by presenting its National Hockey League trade deadline coverage yesterday as one big studio party, deserves praise for thinking outside the box.

Unfortunately, there wasn't anything outside the box, except perhaps a few pieces of stale pizza.
Eight hours of balloons, girls and pizza delivery might have been fun for the on-air people. But for the hockey fans, we're guessing it didn't quite measure up.

TSN's TradeCentre 07 was quicker at delivering the news. It provided interviews when Sportsnet did not. Its analysis was superior and its commentary more interesting.

Sportsnet? The Hockey Central Trade Deadline Bash gave us the "Deal Or No Deal Girls," models dressed in tight T-shirts and jeans and with plenty of midriff showing. The Hansons, the myopic dumdums from the movie Slap Shot, made an appearance.
Journalism? Well, Gene Principe, in an interview with Edmonton Oiler Shawn Horcoff, served up this poser while the guys back at the Toronto studio were munching their lunch: "What's your favourite pizza?"

And to be fair, Principe had a good interview with Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Curtis Joseph a few minutes later. And we liked the work of Sportsnet's guest analyst Keith Primeau. Nick Kypreos, of course, is a solid reporter and analyst.

And, yes, Sportsnet succeeded in creating the mood of a studio party. Problem was, it didn't deliver the fundamentals needed for an effective telecast. The information was thin and the reporting even slimmer.

True, TSN had more resources, but it also tried harder. The reporting desk of Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger and Gord Miller scooped Sportsnet on most of the big stories, including the Bill Guerin, Martin Biron and Todd Bertuzzi trades.

Analysts Glenn Healy, Mike Keenan and Pierre McGuire provided context, some insight and also entertainment.

The combination of Healy and Keenan had the potential for fireworks. Healy played for Keenan in New York when Keenan coached the Rangers and didn't like him much.

At one point, Healy gave Keenan a shot for punishing the Rangers after a loss to Washington Capitals. "Attila, here, makes us take the bus back to New York," Healy said.

Keenan took it well, but seemed irritated when anchor James Duthie asked him why he moved goaltender Roberto Luongo to the Vancouver Canucks for Bertuzzi. It was one of Keenan's worst deals, but he defended it by saying the club couldn't afford to pay Luongo the money he wanted in a new deal.

Late in the afternoon, the Yanic Perreault trade to Toronto Maple Leafs from the Coyotes broke. Sportsnet had it ahead of TSN.

But more important, the coverage illustrated the differences between each network's telecast.
Sportsnet's set, by then, could have been mistaken for a private party in a bar at last call. Balloons hung in the air. Pizza boxes littered the anchor desk. The commentators, jeans and no ties, had their feet up as they talked casually about the trade.

Over at TSN, some reporting was going on. By telephone, Duthie was talking to Perreault, who discussed his reaction to the trade. That was followed by another telephone interview, this time with Bertuzzi. And then another, with Coyotes coach and part owner Wayne Gretzky talking about the Oilers' decision to trade Ryan Smyth.

We clicked back to Sportsnet. The guys were still at the desk and so were the pizza boxes. Not only were interviews slow in coming, but there was no hurry to clean up, either.

Sportsnet, in the past, has done fine work at the trade deadline. In some years, its coverage was as good as TSN's, perhaps even better. But the network should be embarrassed by yesterday's effort.

The hockey blogger, Eklund, reported for Sportsnet yesterday, the results of which were mixed. Eklund disputed, incorrectly, McKenzie's overnight report on Gary Roberts waiving his no-trade clause to allow the Florida Panthers to trade him to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yesterday afternoon, Eklund reported that Smyth had signed a new contract with Edmonton. That was wrong, too. Later, Eklund and then TSN reported that Smyth had been traded to the New York Islanders. That turned out to be correct.

Tie Domi was not part of the TSN's trade deadline coverage. Not a surprise. His development as a studio analyst has been slow to static.

TSN drew its second largest NHL audience of the season for the Leafs-Montreal Canadiens game on Monday: 956,000 viewers.

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