‘The Saskatchewan Network’ Revisited

TSN Sask

Last August I wrote a piece entitled “The Saskatchewan Network” following the completion of the Labour Day Classic. The article took aim at TSN for the pro-Saskatchewan bias they display every year in late August when the Blue Bombers visit their western neighbors for their annual prairie football showdown.

The piece, which I’ve re-posted below, received over 7,500 hits (a shocking number at the time, as my original Blue Bomber Talk blog, hosted on an aesthetically-appalling free blogging service, rarely received more than 250 views per post) and was shared nation-wide on a variety of social media platforms. As the piece was shared largely through a series of screenshots posted as JPGs on Facebook, it’s impossible to determine exactly how many people “The Saskatchewan Network” reached in total. It’s safe to say, though, that it reached quite a few.

As I’m sure you can imagine, the public response to my post was very mixed. Many ‘Rider fans, I was happy to see, responded to the article with grace. These people encouraged me to make my inaugural trek to the Labour Day Classic in Regina next season (ie. 2015), promising nothing but friendly competition and high-quality tailgating. Many even acknowledged, at least in part, that TSN (and the CFL itself, for that matter) can be a little too ‘pro-Saskatchewan’ from time-to-time.

Another large contingency of Rider Nation responded to my piece with obscenities, suggesting to me a plethora of oblong objects and the corresponding places in which I should stick them. While the insults and cursing didn’t bother me — as mentioned above, I fully expected the piece to garner negative feedback upon its release — I was bothered by some of the truly outrageous statements that were made in defense of TSN’s favoritism. To provide one such example, a ‘Rider fan told me in reference to TSN’s CFL broadcasting deal that “without us (Rider Nation), TSN gives the league maybe 5 million a year, not 40. That, son, is a fact.”

Uh, pardon?

Even if the province of Saskatchewan did somehow account for virtually the entirety of TSN’s CFL television audience — which it doesn’t — that still wouldn’t entitle Rider Nation to biased coverage. I understand that TSN and its affiliated partners/corporations are for-profit entities with bills to pay like any other business, but this is the media we’re talking about. Money shouldn’t be able to buy media. The media must, above all, remain impartial. Media that is coerced to embrace a particular viewpoint through financial compensation is no longer media, but a commercial. An advertisement. Mere propaganda.

I understand that we all have biases, myself included. But, like most people, I do my best to recognize and eliminate my biases as they become evident. A primary example of this is the way in which I go about writing this blog. Though I am a Bomber fan, I do my best to remain impartial in my analysis of the league’s nine teams, Winnipeg included. Though I enjoy seeing the Bombers succeed, I monitor the club’s operations from a perspective of objectivity. I am, after all, the person who created the @FireJoeMack twitter account while the majority of my Bomber brethren loudly rebutted, “but Joe Mack finds good imports!”

Looking back at “The Saskatchewan Network” ten months after its initial release, there are elements of my original argument with which I no longer fully agree. On the whole, however, I think the piece is a source of fair criticism. Come game time on Saturday, I’m curous to see if TSN has decided to heed it.

John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk

Twitter: @BlueBomberTalk

Email: [email protected]





originally published on August 31, 2014

The Bombers lost their tenth straight Labour Day Classic on Sunday afternoon by a score of 35-30. At this point of my weekly blog post I usually divulge my thoughts on the game. Today is different. Today, I write about something of greater importance.

I am an extraordinarily passionate Blue Bomber fan. I love my team. I make the 500-kilometer round-trip from Brandon to attend the club’s home games. I almost never miss one. And if I do, you can bet I’m watching on television.

Earlier this year I attended my first Blue Bomber away game in Montreal. Many people were surprised to learn that I’d never attended the Labour Day Classic in Saskatchewan. Hundreds, if not thousands of Bomber fans make the trip annually and for me, a Brandonite, Mosaic Stadium is barely a four-hour drive away. It seems like a no-brainer that I’d take advantage of my proximity to attend an extra Bomber game every year, right? Wrong.

I hate the Labour Day Classic.

I really, really hate the Labour Day Classic.

I always have. It’s possible I always will.

To me, the Labour Day Classic isn’t about celebrating football on the prairies. It’s not about inviting fans across the country to witness the passion the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan have for their respective football teams. If that was the original intention of the Labour Day Classic – and many older fans I’ve spoken to seem to uniformly confirm this notion – it has been usurped by a new purpose. Sadly, the Labour Day Classic has predominantly become an opportunity for TSN to suck up to the green-and-white-clad members of Rider Nation.

TSN, the supposedly unbiased television broadcaster of the CFL, loves to shower the province of Saskatchewan in glory. Last year’s Grey Cup – the first championship game that featured the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in fourteen years – was a celebration of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I watched all five-and-a-half hours of pregame coverage TSN had to offer for the 2013 Grey Cup, most of which was about Saskatchewan. The segments of the pregame show that did cover the Tiger-Cats (as few and far between as they were) were almost purely limited to Henry Burris and Andy Fantuz – the angle, of course, being that both all-stars began their CFL careers in Saskatchewan. I expected the pregame show to feature the Roughriders heavily – it was, after all, the first time in 83 years the ‘Riders played a Grey Cup game at home – but the coverage was far more one-sided than expected. A truly national event, one that I consider to be among the most important, meaningful days on the Canadian calendar, had been totally and completely usurped by TSN’s infatuation with Rider Nation.

The 2013 Grey Cup pregame marathon was hardly anything new for Bomber fans, though. Every year in late August TSN does their best to avoid mentioning the words “Winnipeg,” “Blue,” and “Bombers” before the opening kick-off of the Labour Day Classic. The thirty-minute pregame show and subsequent game telecast is a celebration not of the CFL or the prairies. It’s a celebration of Rider Nation.

Now, before I continue, allow me to explain that I respect Rider Nation. I respect the *hell* out of the Roughriders as a franchise. Their fans are passionate. Their team is talented. If every team in the CFL had fans as passionate as the fans in Saskatchewan – here’s looking at you, Toronto – the CFL would be a cultural and economic juggernaut. My anger is not directed at Saskatchewan, but the one-sided circus TSN presents under the false name of “Labour Day Classic” every year.

I understand that Winnipeg’s poor play over the years has contributed to TSN’s one-sided presentation of the game. I understand that Saskatchewan boosts TSN’s ratings. But isn’t the media’s primary responsibility to remain impartial?

Every team in the CFL has passionate fans. The Eskimos, Bombers, RedBlacks, and Stampeders sell virtually the same number of tickets as they do in Saskatchewan, while the Lions and Tiger-Cats aren’t terrible far behind. And while Saskatchewan’s merchandising dollar travels farther than any other CFL team, the Roughriders reap the benefit of being the CFL’s lone team without provincial competition for the all-important sports entertainment dollar. How much Eskimo merchandise would be sold in northern Alberta without the existence of the Oilers? How much Alouette gear could be sold without the Canadiens owning the Quebec market? And for that matter, how much Argonaut merchandise would be sold without competition from the Raptors, Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Toronto FC, and more?

This article is not intended to subjugate Rider Nation, but to speak to the importance of celebrating all nine of the CFL’s franchises. It’s TSN’s job to do just this. They routinely fail.

The worst example of TSN’s bias was the fact that they didn’t have a reporter on the Bomber sidelines to update the status of Drew Willy. Lee Jones did, however, report on the new Dairy Queen blizzard® that was created in honor of Weston Dressler’s return to Saskatchewan. When TSN values a creamy, green dessert over the health of an opposing quarterback, we have a major issue.

And for all the aggrandization of Weston Dressler and John Chick in Sunday’s pregame coverage – a pregame show I refused to watch, but the contents of which I gathered from my twitter feed – neither player contributed anything of significance to the game itself. John Chick has registered one tackle and zero sacks in his past eight quarters of work. In that same time frame, Blue Bomber linebacker Ian Wild has recorded twenty-one tackles. That’s an unbelievable total. As for Weston Dressler, he provided the ’Riders with just three short receptions and a drop.

I’m not livid the Bombers lost, as much as a tenth straight labour day loss is disappointing. I’m livid all nine franchises in the CFL can’t be given a fair shake from the CFL’s lone television broadcasting partner.

And for those who suggest TSN could make up for their one-sided coverage of today’s Labour Day Classic with equally one-sided coverage of next week’s Banjo Bowl, you clearly don’t understand the point of this article. The bottom line is TSN shouldn’t take sides. Ever. Instead, TSN should present the Labour Day Classic and Banjo Bowl for what they are supposed to be: a celebration of passionate prairie football. Do that, TSN, and maybe my hatred for the Labour Day Classic will one day vanish.

Just maybe.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.