OPINION: Fans should be concerned, as the relationship between NHL teams and the media that covers them becomes stranger by the minute
Steve Simmons, like most journalists, has a long and complicated history with Twitter, so he was prepared for the reaction when he reported the Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I would say that it is 80 ( % ) at 20,” the Toronto Sun, the sports columnist said by phone from Toronto. “Eighty-four have been,” You’re an idiot.’ Twenty years have been, the ” Good story.'”
OK, nothing too surprising, especially for someone that fell into more than one of these meetings. But the reaction of other sectors of the media? Surprised Simmons. Hell, it should surprise no one in our company. They should also be afraid, even if it is part of a trend that now seems irreversible.
Auston Matthews testing positive for COVID-19 is a huge story for about 48 levels. He is the biggest star on one of the NHL’s most storied franchise. It is one of the best young players in the game. The news comes as the NHL tested 200 players, resulting in 11 positive points.
Matthews has also been skating with a group of players in Arizona, which included members of the Arizona Coyotes and the Leafs goalie Freddie Andersen. An undetermined number of the Coyotes ‘ players were tested positive. In Arizona, where many NHL players are skating during the lock, has experienced an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks.
In addition to all of this as the NHL prepares to open training camp on July 10. In Vancouver, the provincial government has thrown its support behind a Vancouver Canucks-driven plan to act as a nerve centre of the city when the game resumes at the end of the month of July. This will bring players from 12 different teams, as well as support staff, medical staff, security, TV crews, etc, etc, for our city.
True, this is not quite 48 levels. But it’s still a great story. At least, it is for the most part. But there is no mention of it on TSN or Sportsnet, at least there was no three days after Simmons’s story ran on the Toronto Sun web site. There is no group discussion. No hot takes from the insiders on what it could mean. Nothing. The crickets. A huge void.
Simmons was made to appear on the TSN radio station in Toronto, Friday, to discuss his history and the train station initially put the clip on its website.
But it was down an hour later. If you have performed a search on Google with the keywords: Auston Matthews, COVID and TSN on Monday, you have a link to an article under the title: Simmons on the latest news that Leafs star Auston Matthews tests positive for the COVID-19.
When you click on the link, it directs you to a page that says: “Oops! There is nothing to see.”
Couldn’t do it if you tried.
“I am angry with my industry,” Simmons said. “I expect more of them.”
All this, of course, raises a number of issues that are embarrassing for TSN and Sportsnet, who are in the NHL the rights-holders and also have an ownership stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Has the decision to spike the story come from the headquarters of the company? He comes to the Leafs?
Simmons, who is a longtime contributor on TSN, poked around for some answers, and some conflicting messages. It was suggested that Matthews tested positive was a question of health, that fact that it is outside the limits. But both TSN and Sportsnet reported on the positive COVID tests, among others, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.
Why is Matthews different?
Can’t tell you. But we can tell you that it is a part of a media landscape in which the lines between the teams and the people who report to have been blurred beyond recognition; a landscape where everything is done to manage the availability in order to create homogeneous plots; where access to information and sources is directly related to what is reported and when it is declared.
This, of course, serves the interests of the leagues and their teams. It just does not serve the needs of their audience, but, over time, it is also changed. The Fans seem to be willing to consume new served in a diluted form. It’s either that, or they have been conditioned to accept. Don’t know.
But know, unless you’re a rights holder or that you have been granted favored status, a different set of rules apply. You can ask the Canucks if their coach, Roger Takahashi, would be available for a story on the challenges of staying in shape during the lockout. Just don’t expect the answer to be yes. Or 1040, the sports talk-radio station in Vancouver, can book an interview with the Utica Comets head coach Trent Cull, to make advertising on the air, then be informed of the Reform is not available, presumably because the request did not go through the official channels.
Maybe you don’t find this scandalous. But this comes at a time when both the company and the soul of the traditional media is fighting to survive. We used to be an estimator without bias filter between the established order and the public. Sometimes, we still are. But we are losing our strong, independent voices. We are losing our place and the public is losing something in the deal.
You can understand why the teams and the leagues, to say nothing of political parties and their leaders, like this arrangement. But you should not.
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