Maple Leafs ban radio announcers from flights, will call games off TV

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Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, left, and Lou Lamoriello hold up a jersey at a news conference to announce Lamoriello has been named the new general manager of the Maple Leafs NHL hockey team in Toronto, Thursday, July 23, 2015. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, left, and Lou Lamoriello hold up a jersey at a news conference to announce Lamoriello has been named the new general manager of the Maple Leafs NHL hockey team in Toronto, Thursday, July 23, 2015. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press via AP)

When Lou Lamoriello took over as Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, there was immediate speculation about which of his idiosyncrasies would carry over from the New Jersey Devils. Facial hair ban? An immediate reduction of the team’s marketing budget? 

Here’s one: Maple Leafs announcers will no longer travel on the team’s charter to road games, a rule Lamoriello had in place for the Devils as well. 

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But the fallout in Toronto has been controversial: Joe Bowen, the voice of the Leafs, and Jim Ralph will not cover the Leafs on the road and will instead call games from a television studio back home.

The news was met with shock that the Leafs would be that petty. As Awful Announcing wrote in its coverage:

This is not a franchise that should be in the business of pinching pennies.  If their broadcasters can’t afford to go on the road, what does that say to the Florida Panthers or Columbus Blue Jackets announcers?  What if Bell and Rogers decided to do the same with the Toronto Raptors, who also are owned by MLSE?  These are respective giants in their industry literally worth billions… and they can’t find the money to send a radio crew to call road games?  That’s got to be unnerving to the entire industry.

(Or, perhaps, those small market teams will look like the Dallas Stars one day and have one broadcast team for both TV and radio.)

The cost for their travel was estimated at over $200,000 by Toronto Sports Media, which wrote:

Oddly enough the team is owned by Rogers and Bell who split the radio rights. So you can continue the blame chain at those outlet. I’d imagine neither station makes very much money off the radio games, especially when the team sucks as it has and will, so neither station wants to be saddled with the cost.

An insider suggested a compromise may be that the Leafs pick up the travel cost for the radio stations directly. That has yet to be offered up.

On its face, the move does seem like a trifling financial decision from the Leafs, who could probably find enough money to pay the announcers’ travel costs between the cushions of the Air Canada Centre suites’ couches.

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Of course, in the end, it diminishes the quality of the coverage Leafs fans are going to receive from their radio crew for road games. (The Leafs Nation spells it out here.)

But it seems more like a snapshot of where the broadcast media is in 2015. As Awful Announcing notes, international sporting events like the Olympics and soccer matches have used “off the monitor” play by play for years, and ESPN used it for college basketball games in January.

There’s a chance that, in one or two years, we’re going to see this decision as less insult and more moving with the times, as tough as those times are for fans who love their sports delivered through a speaker, feeding into their mind’s eye.

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