No one is saying yet that there's any connection between the resumption of negotiations last Friday in the NHL labour dispute and the conclave of the league's top Canadian sponsors in Toronto just two days before on Wednesday. But the NHL knows its approval ratings with sponsors, TV networks and fans are more vulnerable this lockout than in 2004-05.
Sources tell The Globe and Mail that the NHL did tracking on whom fans supported in the last lockout, and the result was 60 per cent for owners, 25 per cent for players and 15 for neither side. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly has suggested to ESPN that its support so far is about 50-50 this lockout, which is the first conducted into the headwinds of social media.
Safe to say, however, that the league has had greater problems selling its message on changing revenue models this time out. (The players remain as unpopular as ever in many quarters.)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told The Globe and Mail's Roy MacGregor that he's not moved by criticism of the NHL's hardline position. "If you're thin-skinned, you don't belong doing what I do for a living. …There are always going to be critics … and I have always had a rule: No matter how good the commentary is, or how bad the commentary is, it's more important that you do what you think is right."
So far the league has been given the time to get it "right," even if it means cancelling regular-season games. How much longer the market allows him that space is the most important wedge issue in how long we're without NHL hockey.
There was a time in Canada when the CFL could hold its own culturally against the NHL. While everyone had a favourite NHL club, there were only two Canadian cities that had NHL teams. In the West, the major-league franchise in town was the CFL. Since the Vancouver Canucks entered the league in 1970-71, however, football has steadily fallen behind hockey in cultural significance.
Taking a page from NFL Films, which made football into culture, the CFL had decided to reinforce its bonds within the nation through a TSN documentary series entitled Engraved On A Nation, which makes its debut Monday. As it heads into the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup game next month, the league and TSN have commissioned a group of respected filmmakers to remind the country of what the CFL once was – and could be again.
Usual Suspects has had the chance to view two of the coming films. The 13th Man is about the one place in Canada where the CFL still reigns supreme: Saskatchewan. The Roughriders are bred in the bone like potash and pickerel. As Larry Weinstein's wry film shows, the love has rarely been requited.
Nowhere was the love-hate better illustrated than in the penalty for too any men on the Riders that robbed them of the 2009 Grey Cup on the game's final play. Using the heartbroken reactions of fans and he rueful reminiscences of participants the classic goof, Weinstein paints a portrait of a team just good enough to break the heart of its loyal province.
More powerful is the Kid From La Puente, Shelley Saywell's bio on the unlikely rise of Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo from barrio kid to one of the top five players in CF history. Narrated by Calvillo's younger brother Mario, the film visits the slums of east Los Angeles, from which he emerged, and visits the familiar sign posts of his career: playing in Las Vegas, the Grey Cup frustration early, his wife's cancer and vindication in 2002 when the Als won for the first time in 25 years.
Also notable in the fine series (but not previewed by Usual Suspects) is The Crash of Flight 810 in which Edwin Harrison of the Calgary Stampeders traces his grandfather Calvin Jones, who was killed in the 1958 air crash that claimed five CFL all-stars returning from the all-star game. We're looking forward to seeing more in this triumphant series.
Sorta blacked out
Loyal correspondents in Vancouver inform us that the B.C. Lions-Calgary Stampeders game on TSN was blacked out locally last Saturday night. But on Shaw Cable, at least, you could have caught the game if you had high-definition channels, where the blackout did not apply for some reason. Our spy tells us that this is not the first time this has happened in Vancouver. But let's make it our little secret so Lions fans can see their heroes despite the ban.
Meanwhile, baseball fans were none too happy Sunday when they tuned into Sportsnet for Game 2 of the American League Division Series between the Detroit Tiger and Oakland Athletics only to see a taped classic game between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. Sportsnet at first said that the Tiger-A's game was unavailable. Needless to say, social media went berserk on Sportsnet.
Major League Baseball "authorized us for their secondary channel which had their pregame," says a Sportsnet spokeswoman. "Without any indication, that feed switched to Bob Costas. After waiting to see if this was part of their plan, we realized it was not the right feed and began trouble shooting and got the live Detroit-Oakland game on air as soon as possible." That didn't save the network from some choice tweets. "@dustinparkes I assume it's a mistake because not even @Sportsnet is incompetent to imagine this would be a more appealing option than the game."