North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Canada’s team, Canada’s sport, Canada’s national migrane

with one comment

It was 35 degrees here the other day. A hot, sticky, humid trainwreck of a day. Summer has arrived and it’s too late in the year for hockey, but here it comes, stealing headlines and keeping itself at the forefront of the Canadian sports media scene. The sport has led MacLean’s for the previous two weeks, leads TSN’s SportsCentre pretty much every day and has provided story after story after story. It hasn’t, isn’t and will not let up – not yet, not with the Finals just starting.

But the biggest story is Winnipeg’s coup of the Atlanta Thrashers. True North Sports and Entertainment’s purchase and subsequent move of the team to Manitoba’s capital – and the amazingly rapid sellout of season tickets – has moved the media like a, er, Jet. MacLean’s cover featured their old logo; the Toronto Sun ran picture of a pin-up girl in hockey paraphernalia above the fold. Each of the op-eds and columns reads like a gushing tribute to a national pastime, but nobody really wants to spoil the party by noting all the problems with the relocation.

The easy one is how tiny Winnipeg is: with a local population just under 700 thousand, it’s the smallest market in the NHL, behind even Edmonton. Another is how it’s not known as any kind of corporate showcase. If wikipedia can be believed, it’s home to companies like Boeing Canada, Old Dutch foods and The Great-West Life Assurance Company; one hopes there’s enough of a corporate presence to keep luxury boxes and expensive, lower-bowl seats full.

Let’s not forget about the logistics which need to be ironed out. How will their schedule look? Will teams from the Southeast have to fly in for every game? And who’s going to broadcast their games? It’s easy to assume the CBC will pick up a few weekend games (and probably the home opener) and TSN will pick up a few during the week, but what of all the rest? Rogers Sportsnet looks like a likely source, but their West channel is already home to the Oilers and Flames; is there enough room for a third team?

While we’re not forgetting, let’s remember a column written by the Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt, who tipped the nation off to the move with a column on May 19th. Wrote Brunt:

“Sources confirmed Thursday night that preparations are being made for an announcement Tuesday, confirming the sale and transfer of the Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment.

… some months back, the NHL board of governors quietly approved the sale and transfer of the team, pending the negotiation of a purchase agreement between Atlanta Spirit LLC, the Thrashers’ owners, and True North.”

Brunt’s column was correct in the most broad sense; the Thrashers are likely to move to Winnipeg. And the announcement was even on a Tuesday! Just, as it happened, on a different Tuesday.

There’s a difference between being right and being almost right. As I learned back in my J-School days, the only thing you have in this business is your credibility and you get that by being right, if not by being first. Herein lies the problem with Brunt’s column: he was wrong. There was no announcement that Tuesday, May 24. The Jets press conference was a week later. And every report, from the AP to the Toronto Sun is saying the board still hasn’t approved the sale.

It’s cool he was able to jump the gun on the announcement (one wonders if he burnt some source in running the story so early) and it’s nice to see the team actually come, but it shouldn’t rectify his column which was, essentially, wrong. He suggested that the move was finished, had been “quietly approved”, would be annouced on a set day. It isn’t, hasn’t been and wasn’t. He deserves to be held to that.

The Jets moving has also inspired talk from some rather odd angles. The other night, Toronto radio host Jeff Sammut had an hour of open lines asking if Toronto should get a second team, which is an issue nobody in their right mind talks about. Callers spouted nonsense like how Toronto can support up to five different teams, but they never will thanks to Big America. One I especially liked was the suggestion Toronto doesn’t win because of American business interests.

Canada likes to think of itself as an independent nation. It is, but it so often seems to be defined in the oddest way possible, which is that we play up how different we are than the US. It’s an oddly insecure kind of way to defend yourself: we’re better because we’re not. It lies through so much of our collective conscience (at least here). From the Avro Arrow, a jet scrapped for a missile defence system (but really because of UA big business) to the NHL (who are willing to throw the game to the wolves to sell it in the US), so much of our collective conscience seems to be about trying to play up how we’re not them.

It goes to the Stanley Cup finals this year. For instance, TSN is billing it not as the 2011 Finals, but as Vancouver’s quest to bring the Cup to Canada. Never mind that only 16 of their players are Canadian or that Boston has more Canadians on it’s roster, this is somehow Canada’s team. Never mind that in the past six Finals – from 2004 to 2010, minus the lockout year – there was three Canadian teams. This isn’t a case of Canada making a stand against

It’s silly. It doesn’t feel like rooting for anything so much as it does feel like rooting against something. It’s quickly become another political battle: us versus the US. It comes off from benign things like Boston Pizza crossing the Boston out it’s name to nonsensical things like the above call-in talk shows. And TSN sure isn’t helping when they bill the Finals in such a one-sided way.


Written by M.

June 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I agree on most of your points, especially on Brunt. I was going to write pretty much the same thing, I just never got around to it. If you check out Bruce Dowbiggin-Brunt’s co-worker at The Globe-‘s piece from earlier this weeek, then he’d have you believe that Brunt was in fact right. Brunt was right on one thing, an NHL team was coming to Winnipeg. I think we all knew that was going to happen.

    Frankly both CBC and TSN (and Sportsnet etc.) have been very Vancouver biased. I watched game 1 (and 2 tonight) on NBC. I don’t find them Boston-biased at all.

    I don’t really mind hockey in June. I love it when the first week of June comes around and the Stanley Cup Final or NBA Finals are on 6 of 7 days a week.


    June 4, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: