North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Fading to red: The Score 1994-2012

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Last summer, on a bright and hot weekday, I got up early and took the GO Train down from Barrie down to Union Station, got outside and walked a few blocks over to Blue Jay Way, to the headquarters of The Score for a job interview. I had asked which building was the right one to walk into, I was told I should be able tell by looking. It was the one with a giant sports ticket on the outside.

That interview never amounted to anything, but it was nice to visit the place I’d watched so much of over the years; if there was one sports network that deserved a title like “different,” it was The Score.

Years ago, The Score was called Headline Sports and showed mostly news and scores and maybe highlights, although I don’t really remember watching those back in the day. I remember it as a text-based experience, more the kind of thing you’d see on a corner TV at a bar or an airport. It wasn’t something designed to be sat and watched for any length of time. This changed around 2000, when it became The Score and started showing live events: baseball, basketball, college football. The stuff the other two wouldn’t touch.

The Score always did things different than the mainstream channels. It didn’t have a ticker, it was one that was two levels tall and always on screen. It didn’t just show basketball, it had Court Surfing, which cut back and forth between games for hours every night. The NFL does that now: it’s called Red Zone, a channel you have to get Sunday Ticket to even think about watching and it gets props from The Wall Street Journal, who called it cutting edge. The Score was doing it a decade ago.

It’s a throwaway cliche to call something in media a trendsetter since there aren’t really many original ideas anymore: television hasn’t really changed that much since cable came out in the 80s, really. But The Score did things different, in a way nobody else in Canada really did. Not only did it run a simulcast with it’s Satellite Radio network in the afternoon, but it showed tweets and comments from viewers off on one side of the screen. Bob McCowan may take callers once in a while, but good luck seeing too many open lines on Sportsnet.

It was a network that oozed irreverence, in a way that only Jay Onrait does for the other two networks. It let Cabbie joke around with athletes and show a more interesting (and usually funny) side to sports. It found away to sneak standup comedian Gerry Dee and a microphone into locker rooms. Tim and Sid used to goof off on weekday evenings and after them came The Spin, the most intelligent hockey show on any of the three networks.

What’s more, they actually tried things. They had a live-t0-air highlights show in the morning, studio audiences and aired stuff nobody else would. They were the first network I watched English Premier League on and for years, the only place I could find College GameDay. And their Internet wing – full disclosure: A site I write for was once part of The Score’s Federation or whatever, a revenue sharing program – was by a mile the best of anyone’s in Canada: Score Mobile beats the pants off of anything TSN or Sportsnet have and I’ve got NBA broadcasts from the 2006 playoffs that have ads for it. As I remember, TSN only launched a mobile app in the last couple years.

And the moments from The Score: Kobe Bryant dropped 81 on the Raptors on a Sunday night in 2006 and the Marlins upset New York in the 2003 World Series. My favorite is a dark horse: a twisting, turning NBA playoff series between Washington and Cleveland, the first time LeBron James shouldered his way through a team: 41 points in game three, 32 in a series-clinching game six and three games decided by one point each. I remember watching all those on The Score back in the day.

In recent times, the network had fallen on hard times, bleeding away talent: Cabbie left for CTV, Tim and Sid left for Sportsnet Radio, Steve Kouleas for TSN, Elliotte Friedman to the CBC and Adrian Verk to ESPN. They’d struggled to find programming, too: baseball is a distant memory at the station, and they’d recently lost rights to March Madness, the EPL, the NBA Playoffs and Toronto Raptor broadcasts. Their Hardcore Sports Radio network was shut down last year. While they still had talent – their fostering of The Basketball Jones is the smartest thing anyone in Canadian sports media has done in years – one wondered how they were going to compete. And maybe they weren’t: turn on The Score even now and you’re likely to see one of three things: poker, UFC or Woodbine. The Score will be missed, but then, I missed it already.


Written by M.

August 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm

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