Hunter just wants homers

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

It's a question that's facing not only sports fans but sports broadcasts.

Do you want sports broadcasts weighted in support of the home team?

Or do you want the play-by-play to go where the story goes, without any home cooking?

Mark Hunter, general manager and co-owner of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, wants two members of the local Rogers Television hockey broadcast team to be removed from the broadcast.

Hunter believes host Brent Lale and play-by-play man Leigh Cunningham don't show enough support for the home team and aren't positive enough about Knights players.

Hunter says he isn't trying to control the media, saying if he did, Cunningham and Lale would be gone already.

Mike Patterson, station manager of the local Rogers Television station, says no changes will be made. He stood up to the pressure and for what he thought was right. Good for him.

"At the end of the day, it's a London Knights product. To me it's a partnership with Rogers," Hunter said. "I want positive things said. Why wouldn't you want positive things said about your organization? What I worry about is next year when we aren't as good. They had positive things to say for the last three years, what happens when we aren't as good?"

Hunter may not believe he controls the media but as the co-owner of a team that draws 9,090 for every game, there's a lot of money to be made by anyone involved with the franchise and, as a result, he wields a lot of power.

Hunter doesn't get paid for the broadcast rights, but having his product on the air means local radio makes big money when it sells spots.

So when Hunter says he expects a positive spin on things, anyone within breathing distance of a microphone had better be part of the team.

But what happens when the cheerleading drowns out everything else?

"I don't have a problem with truth. I want to see both sides. There's always two sides to a story," Hunter said.

"He shoots, he scores. Go Knights go" is not to everyone's taste.

Many broadcast teams are homers. Joe Bowen, who handles Toronto Maple Leafs broadcasts, is a prime example of cheerleading in broadcasting.

"Love Joe Bowen. I think he's the best. Love him. Totally," Hunter said. "He just oozes Leafs. He loves the Leafs. Why not? He doesn't go rip other players on other teams. He's just positive about his team. What's wrong with that?"

Most broadcasters who do the job for professional sports teams are tied to those teams either financially or because the team approves their hiring.

Before Steve Riolo sold the Windsor Spitfires, he removed Cogeco intermission host and analyst Dominic Papa. Papa was being paid by the Spitfires.

Oshawa Generals play-by-play man Bob Benham and analyst Shawn Lackie were fired by Rogers TV-Durham this year for comments made about the hockey team.

"I want what's best for our players and the London Knights organization," Hunter said. "I want them reviewed in a positive manner. They are only young kids. They aren't pros."

As a businessperson who provides a product, Hunter has every right to advocate for his team and players -- just as fans have every right to take what's said by a team's approved broadcasters with a grain of salt.


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