Sportsnet breaks new ground

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

Rogers Sportsnet rolled out its new sports/entertainment news and information show -- Sportsnet Connected -- last night.

There's one thing we can say for sure: It's different than what we're used to, at least when measured up against the sports newscasts we all grew up watching. That's the point of the exercise -- gain ground on No. 1-ranked TSN in terms of ratings, in part by differentiating your broadcast from theirs. Attract those ad buyers seeking to slow dance with that sexy 25-34 demographic.

Sportsnet spokespeople said yesterday their marketing studies tell them what that demo is looking for is entertainment.

So away with the blowhards and long-winded grey beards, and bring in the cool music and graphics, lounge and roundtable areas, interactivity, faster pace, light banter between sportscasters/wannabe-comedians, and the occasional guest.

That's the plan, anyway.

And that's what Connected delivered in its debut. Hosts in jeans, jackets, dress shirts, but no ties. Within the first eight minutes of the broadcast last night the viewer was given an intro bit on the new studio, a Leafs injury story, analysis by Gord Stellick, Nick Kypreos, and Darren Millard, an Ottawa Senators story, then a quick OHL hit. Fast-paced it was.

A highlight was the "In Box" segment of online sports related tidbits, a nod to the YouTube generation. The intro was a little wooden, but we'll give them time to work out the kinks. We especially liked the reference to a website highlighting the antics of drunken pro athletes. That isn't going to make Sportsnet any new friends with the image-makers at the NBA, or the Raptors, for that matter, but it was edgy and entertaining for the viewer.

Any variety from the cliche-ridden sports stories from reporters increasingly restricted in what they can gather because of player and coach access issues, we're all in favour of.

What we didn't like was the forced banter between Leafs enforcer Wade Belak and Kypreos. Sportsnet should drop the attempt to make entertainers out of athletes. Having one former hockey enforcer talk to another about the state of fighting in the game, now that was more interesting. Lastly, was that last segment -- the obvious "Mayne Event" ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown ripoff -- the one featuring Buffalo Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters -- Sportsnet's idea of saving the best for last? We hope not. That one fell flatter than Arena Football.

There's a fine line in what they're trying to do. Is Sportsnet Connected sacrificing too much when it comes to hardcore news, breaking stories, and analysis? Do they risk not being taken seriously?

Depends on your definition of "serious." Spokespeople from the network -- with its regional broadcasts -- insist the presence of people like Kypreos on hockey and Ken Rosenthal on baseball gives the viewer the inside scoops. Viewers certainly got a dose of both those insiders last night.

KUDOS FOR TRYING

If, as those at Sportsnet have said in the past, the changes are not in response to shrinking audience numbers but to grow what's already there, then obviously it's a little soon to predict anything.

There's room for cynicism, but give them kudos for trying something new.


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