Sports media people in this country like the idea of rivalries existing between networks. We want ESPN and Fox and NBC and CBS to not get along, but from having interacted with a lot of people at all four, the truth is they all have a pretty healthy respect for one another. It's sickeningly decent of all of them.
You know where the real rivalry in sports media is? It's in Canada. You heard me. Kind, lovable, harmless Canada. Where the "Soory's" flow sweeter than Nova Scotia maple syrup. That's where you'll find two networks that hate each other like Rob Ford hates not smoking crack.
I've written about the TSN/Sportsnet rivalry before, but that was in peacetime. In the year since, shots have been fired. Sportsnet won the rights to the entire National Hockey League broadcast contract, a deal many saw as TSN's to lose from the start (or at least not lose their share of the current contract). The Rogers-owned network acquired the most popular sport in the country, and then held onto Canada's prominent junior hockey leagues.
TSN fired back. They held on to all of their prominent hockey talent — James Duthie (who multiple sources told me was coveted by Sportsnet), Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Ray Ferraro and Aaron Ward, which many argue is as integral to their success as the games themselves. They acquired rights to almost all of the National Football League's packages in Canada, a regional deal with the Ottawa Senators and a larger share of Major League Baseball (though not the beloved Blue Jays, who are a Rogers property).
As one broadcaster joked to me, "… and they both own [the Toronto Maple Leafs]!"
This year, the networks return their all-encompassing, never-ending, constantly speculating but in most cases journalistically credible (but in some very not that) coverage of the NHL's trade deadline. It is equivalent to nothing in America. The MLB and NBA trade deadlines rarely have as much rampant speculation or this much coverage, NFL events are a lot more drawn out.
That Canada's (well, really hockey fans all over) voracious appetite for NHL trade rumors justifies the 20 hours and over 50 on-air personalities that will grace the two networks combined makes it even more intriguing. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians watch all the hours of this craziness, and Americans join in too, as they can grab the TSN feed via the American NHL Network.
An interesting note about that: multiple sources at Sportsnet told AA that the network had tried to push their coverage onto NHL Network this year, unsuccessfully. It would make sense if next year, they were able to grab onto the American market for deadline day, since they will be the league's sole television rightsholder in Canada. Ideally, NBC Sports Network would finally launch a deadline show of their own. That they don't try to cater to that market is one of the few remaining black holes in their hockey coverage.
So let's look at what both networks have available to viewers for the 2014 trade deadline, which certainly has enough NHL stars on the block (Ryan Callahan, Martin Brodeur, Ryan Kesler, Martin St. Louis) to make it worth your 10 hours. I'm kidding, nothing is worth 10 hours. But, you know, a few of them!
Canada's sports leader hits the airwaves at 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday, though the network will broadcast an hour-long Countdown to Tradecentre tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET. They also have the advantage of broadcasting live in the United States for at least one more year. This will mark the 13th time the network has broadcast the program.
James Duthie remains as good as it gets as far as studio hosts go, and he will anchor and probably poke fun at this whole process for much of the day. He'll be at a desk with Aaron Ward, Ray Ferraro and Mike Johnson. The immortal Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and Gord Miller will be specifically designated as "trade breakers."
Meanwhile, there's a separate analysis panel (hosted by Gino Reda and featuring Martin Biron, Jeff O'Neill and Jay Feaster), a "big board" segment with Craig Button and Jamie McLennan analyzing goaltenders, Pierre McGuire and Darren Pang contributing from NBCSN and TSN game sites. Oh, and a panel of journalists, hosted by Dave Hodge and starring the legendary Michael Farber, handsome gentleman Bruce Arthur, and also Steve Simmons.
No, I'm not done. Both an anchor (Jennifer Hedger) and a ton of reporters (10 in all) from the network's Sportscentre will be filing reports throughout the show, with one each likely located in the home bases of all seven Canadian franchises. In all, a total of 31 people on-air in 10 hours.
The Rogers-owned network is consistently number two ratings-wise, and therefore they have more of a license to try different things. But, more or less, it's the same bunch of Canadian dudes (and a couple Americans) talking about trades that may or may not happen, with probably someone throwing in how Alex Ovechkin doesn't backcheck enough somewhere along the line. There's a formula.
The main set features host Darren Millard breaking down trades with analysts Marty McSorley, Damien Cox and Billy Jaffe. In an apparent attempt to just have more people in hopes that they'll be able to piece together trades faster than McKenzie and Dreger, I guess, they have a panel of six insiders. Host Christine Simpson navigates between Nick Kypreos, John Shannon, Scott Morrison, Mark Spector, Chris Johnston and Brad May.
One of Sportsnet's experiments throughout their years of trade/free agent coverage is the strategy room, where former team execs and players discuss and debate trades and occasionally tell stories. Jeff Marek leads a crowded room featuring Brian Lawton, Doug MacLean, Theo Fleury, Marty Turco, Keith Primeau, Brad May, as well as PJ Stock and Kevin Weekes of CBC, in a sign of things to come. Kevin Dineen will be around to flash his gold medal from the Olympics as well.
Elsewhere, Kypreos and Turco head to — in a sentence that oozes Canada more than any I've ever read — Wendel Clark's private arena to break down the styles of goalies on the block. There's a panel devoted to the Canucks, the CHL, and to whatever Greg Wyshynski wants to do to the legacy of Mike Milbury throughout the day. In total, 27 names not including radio coverage and online stuff.
The Sportsnet website will also stream in the United States, so they'll have access to viewers not capable of getting to a television.
It's unlike anything on American television, with two major sports networks going head to head and all out to cover the NHL trade deadline like it's one of the most important days on the sporting calendar.