2017 was quite a year for the media, coming under attack from the President of the United States, among others, for bias in favour of liberal viewpoints and propagating “fake news.” Members of the Canadian sports media, however, deserve criticism for reasons that have nothing to do with politics.
For those who aren’t familiar with Canadian sports culture, Canada has two major sports media outlets—Rogers Media’s Sportsnet and Bell Media’s The Sports Network (TSN). As the two industry giants, they are responsible for broadcasting and creating content for every Canadian team. Instead, since they are both headquartered in Toronto and their parent companies own stakes in the Toronto Maple Leafs, the networks tend to disproportionately focus their coverage on Toronto teams. This is acceptable when covering baseball and basketball, with Canada’s only MLB and NBA teams based in Toronto. However, the two companies’ hockey coverage highlights a conflict of interest, compromising their journalistic integrity.
Instead of giving the NHL’s seven Canadian teams equal air time, Sportsnet and TSN cover the Toronto Maple Leafs far more than any other team, at the expense of those who really deserve it. The Winnipeg Jets, currently the best Canadian team in the league, receive barebones gameplay coverage. Meanwhile, Leafs fans receive the equal-or-better depth of in-game coverage, accompanied by additional analysis and a slew of barely-newsworthy Leafs gossip, like Patrick Marleau’s hilariously over-covered second-intermission speech. If any team receives bonus exposure, it should be the one that earns it on the ice.
Additionally, these networks seem incapable of criticizing the Leafs, a key element of journalism. In 2016, a Sportsnet writer wrote about how the lowly Leafs were losing with dignity. Here’s the catch: Maple Leafs management was openly trading players to tank and get a better draft pick. In other circumstances, a team would be shamed for making a concerted effort to lose games. Instead, the Leafs got praised.
Ultimately, it’s easy to explain why TSN and Sportsnet disproportionately cover the Maple Leafs: Their parent companies, Rogers Media and Bell Media, each own 37.5 per cent stakes in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, which in turn owns the Maple Leafs, among other teams. When one branch of a company reports on another, its objective shifts from journalistic integrity to profit maximization. It should hardly be a shock to see a disproportionate number of Leafs articles: The more attention the team receives, the greater the value of its parent company.
For now, the excessive Toronto coverage just means more day-to-day articles for Leafs fans to digest. However the networks have already started losing the trust of hockey fans outside Toronto. Both the Sportsnet and TSN Facebook pages are littered with sarcastic, “But what does Auston Matthews think?” comments.
If the major networks are going to focus on Toronto, there need to be networks for all other major markets as well. TSN and Sportsnet have good reputations, but their obvious bias is overwhelming. It’s time for them to tone it down and more fairly distribute their coverage across Canada to maintain their dignity and national appeal.