Bob McCown signs new deal with Rogers

 

It was announced yesterday that Bob McCown has signed a new, three year contract with Rogers to continue hosting Prime Time Sports on radio and television. McCown told me this contract took no time at all. You’ll find that surprising if you read the piece I wrote about McCown in this space two weeks ago. You’ll recall how he said he usually takes his sweet old time negotiating his contracts. “(This was) the quickest negotiation I’ve ever done,” McCown said about his new deal. “By miles. Same principles, but I knew that the money wasn’t going to be an issue. I had one thing that I wanted. I basically asked for what I wanted, but I asked for a lot more than what I wanted. And they said no, and then came back with an alternative amount, and I re-worked it and wound up getting essentially what I wanted and what I needed in the deal. It was one meeting of about twenty minutes and one phone call of about five minutes. Deal done. All time record. By miles the quickest and easiest deal I ever did.”

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I conducted an extensive interview with McCown in November for my piece two weeks ago. We talked at length about his contract negotiation philosophies. He shared so much with me, and because he rarely does press, I thought I would post some more of what he had to say on negotiating his contracts. I found a lot of what he said very interesting, and at times hilarious. Below is a brief back and forth between he and I.


Bob McCown on WALKING AWAY: You have to go into a negotiation with the willingness to walk away, but it isn’t just arbitrary. You have to be willing to walk away at a certain point. But then again, you have to understand who you are, what your strengths are, what the guy at the other side of the table what his strengths are. Truthfully, probably 999 out of 1000 people should never take the approach of, ‘I’m willing to walk away,’ because it’s not a question about how good they are at their job, but what kind of job do they have? What you really want to ask yourself is, ‘Am I replaceable? Is there one other person that can do my job as well as I can do it? Are there a hundred other people or are there ten thousand other people who can do the job as well as I can do it?’ You have to be honest. So it starts with that premise. And most people fall into the ten thousand category. A few people may fall into the, ‘There’s a hundred other people.’ There are very few who fall into the, ‘I don’t know of anybody else who can do it.’ It’s not a question of ego, you gotta be honest in assessing where you are.

If you get misled by the ego, then you’re gonna get called and then you’re gonna end up out of a job and not able to get another one.

I always felt as though, ‘If I lose this job over a negotiation, I can get another job. And part of that is because of the offers that you get. And part of it is what you perceive your skill set is. And how important are you to this company, if at all. So you weigh all those things very carefully.

I go through a process in every negotiation where I’m constantly making notes that I keep private, but notes on – What I think my status is…Who I think could replace me…What would they be able to bring to the table that I wouldn’t? Read the people you’re opposite to you (at the table). Do you think they really give a shit whether they re-sign you or not? All those things. It’s like reading tea leaves. And it changes with the people, because I’ve negotiated essentially with the same, well not with the same company over and over again, but more or less. I did twenty years of one year contracts. The first multi year contract I did was at most, fifteen years ago.

I’ve been in the business for over forty years, so I signed a lot of contracts. And I signed one year deals. I think they got tired of going through the process with me over and over and over again. I think the first multi year deal I got was three years, and the last contract I signed was for six. I’ve done a lot of them. I’ve done a fair bit of research and homework and read a bunch of stuff about the skill of negotiating. I sort of came up with a formula that I’ve used over and over and over again. Obviously it’s changed an evolved over the years. You get smarter at things. You realize some stuff doesn’t work and some stuff does work. You learn from each process. You read the person who’s across the table from you.

You always want to negotiate with somebody who’s got the authority to do the deal. And very often people don’t negotiate with people that have the authority. For example, I negotiated numerous contracts with my friend Nelson Millman, one of my closest friends, but I also knew Nelson didn’t have the power of the pencil, as I call it. He didn’t have the singular authority to sign me to whatever deal he wanted to, that he was going to have to take it to somebody above him. So you have to take that into consideration. In truth, only the last two negotiations have I done them with people that had the ultimate authority.

Todd T. Hayes: What’s the difference between the two?

Bob McCown: I’m not sure there’s a huge difference. It’s just understanding that the essence of the negotiation is two-fold – number one, ‘Are you prepared to walkaway?’ And number two, ‘Are you prepared to be more patient then they are?’ We all want to do the deal quickly. That’s the easiest thing. “Here’s the offer, sign, don’t sign. You’re either here or you’re not here. This is all we have to offer.” That’s what 99% of all deals are. They decide what they want to give you and they want you to say yes or no. What I’ve always done is deferred the process. For example, I never begin a negotiation. I never make the first phone call. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever. My contract’s coming up, I’ll wait. Make them make the first move. When they make the first move, you can talk in generalities, but as soon as they start getting specific about details, not just the amount, but details, never respond. You just listen. Don’t say yes to anything. Don’t say no to anything, just listen. What they’ll do is they’ll give you a blue print of what they want. Then you take it back. You think about it and you analyze what you want and what you think you can get. That’s based on a whole variety of factors obviously, and a lot of it is experience. And in the course of the discussion, what you want to do is essentially prolong the negotiation as long as you can. I always had a theory, that I’m going to put a hundred things on the table, and out of those hundred things, I maybe want two of those hundred. I’m not going to put all the hundred things on the table at once. I maybe put ten things on the table, and they’ll say no to this, no to this, no to this. Then I’d come back and put ten different things on the table, and I’ll keep doing that over and over and over again. In essence all you’re trying to do is wear them out, ‘I’ve got more time than you do. I’m prepared to be more patient than you are.’ The longer it goes on, the more frustrated they become. Eventually you get to the point where they don’t really remember what they said no to or what they said yes to. It’s complicated but ultimately you wind up getting what you want, as long as you keep focused on those two things. “What are those two things I want?” Many times they’ll say no to those two things. Well you may take them away but you re-introduce them later on. And sometimes they remember they said no to them, and sometimes they forget that they said no to them. But in essence, I’ll keep coming back and saying, “Well look, I keep giving you ideas and options and things and this and that and the other thing.” None of which I want. None of which I expect to get, but they don’t know that. Ultimately, I almost invariably get them to accede to whatever it is I want. I get those two things. So, that’s part of it.

The money becomes the other part of the equation. It’s a lot of talking. A lot of back and forth. In essence, you just gotta be unbelievably patient. And it’s hard. It’s really difficult to do, because at the end of the day, both parties want the same thing. They want to get it done. But, if you are prepared. You gotta out last them. You can’t look at it as a battle, you have to look at it as a war. And a war is a series of battles. It could be five battles. It could be fifty battles. You don’t know. You don’t know how long the war is gonna last. Some wars last a couple of days and they’re over. Some wars, as you know, last years…decades, before they’re over. So you never know when you start, how long you’re going to last, but you gotta be prepared to be there till the end. So there’s a whole process that you go through. At the end of it, you just wear them out. They’re so tired of negotiating with you. So tired of, “Well, if you don’t get me that, then you gotta give me this.” You get them to the point, it’s hard to describe, you try and get them to the point where you’re conveying to them that, “I’ve given you all these options, and you keep saying no, no, no, no, at some point there’s gotta be something that you’ll say yes to.” Ultimately what you want is those two things. Whatever those two things are. I honestly can tell you, I don’t think I have failed at a single negotiation to get what I wanted or what I thought I could get, that’s more accurate. You don’t get what you want, because what you want is a billion dollars. You start the process. You evaluate where you’re at. You evaluate what you think they’re thinking. You get them to make the first offer. That becomes the benchmark. Once they’ve put the first number on the table. You never put the first number on the table. Ever ever. And in fact, I almost invariably don’t negotiate money until the very end.


Toronto Blue Jays Broadcast Rights

One of the biggest sports stories of the week had to be the news that Rogers is contemplating selling the Blue Jays. When I first read about it, and after it sunk in that there could actually be a new owner at some point soon, I immediately thought about the teams broadcast rights. What would happen to them if the team was sold? Would Rogers make a deal with the new owner and keep the rights for Sportsnet? Or would the new owner want to auction off the rights to the highest bidder? Hello, Bell Media. I asked around to get some sort of idea on what could potentially happen here. One interesting thought was Rogers could hang on to half the games, and allow the new owner to sell the other half to places like TSN or CBC. Part of the thinking here would be that it costs Rogers a lot of money to produce the games. It would be a big savings if they only had to produce eighty one, and the new owner would be able to make a tidy profit selling the other half of the schedule. One person even told me not to be surprised if Rogers actually packaged the Blue Jays AND Sportsnet in the same deal. Hello, MLSE. Wouldn’t that be wild?


Free Agent Frenzy: Dave Hodge Edition

I found Dave Hodge’s Twitter bio this week to be rather interesting. It simply reads: HNIC 1971-1987; TSN 1992-2017; available for work 2017-???. I took it to mean that he is officially out at TSN, not too long after his stepping down as host of The Reporters. I asked Hodge for a comment on his future plans. He declined to talk, other than to say he is “open for business”.

Behind The Scenes with TSN at Grey Cup

So much happened last Sunday at the Grey Cup in Ottawa. Snow fell, creating a beautiful winter wonderland of images for tv viewers, but made the playing field a virtual slip and slide for the players. Shania Twain arrived via dog sled at half time wearing a shimmering red outfit to sing her heart out for Ottawa and the nation. And, as a result of late game heroics, including a unexpected fumble return for a touchdown, the Argos pulled off a giant upset victory.

I spoke to seven people to gain a behind the scenes understanding of what the day was like who for those who prepped and executed the television and radio broadcasts of the game for TSN and TSN Radio.

Below is a list of the people I spoke to for this piece.

James Duthie hosted the TSN television pregame, halftime and post game shows from the TD Place Stadium. Duthie grew up in Ottawa.

Chris Cuthbert provided the television play by play call for TSN on Sunday. Cuthbert has called twenty Grey Cups, nineteen on television and one on radio.

Giulio Caravatta was the colour analyst for TSN Radio’s Grey Cup game call. Caravatta worked along side play by play broadcaster Rod Black.

Kate Pettersen worked the Calgary Stampeders sidelines for the TSN Radio broadcast. Pettersen is the Toronto Argonauts sideline reporter during the regular season on TSN Radio. Pettersen’s father, the late Leif Pettersen, was a terrific CFL wide receiver and long time TV game analyst.

Jon Hynes produced the television game broadcast for TSN. Hynes has produced all ten of TSN’s Grey Cup game broadcasts.

Patrick Roberge produced the Shania Twain halftime show. Roberge is a producer for the production agency PRP.

Alise Wilson was the product manager for TSN’s Grey Cup broadcasts, looking after the over 125 members of TSN’s production crew.


Grey Cup Sunday

James Duthie: I wanted to go to this RNation (Ottawa REDBLACKS) party the night before. I never go out on the Saturday night before Grey Cup, but we went early, just for a half hour. I wanted to see it because it’s my hometown. It was crazy. I couldn’t believe how at 10:30pm the place was insane. I had a hard time pulling myself out of there but I did. I slept about 12-7am.

Chris Cuthbert: The one thing about Grey Cup is it’s the whole week. My week was a little bit different. I wasn’t feeling very well, so you’re completely geared to making sure that somehow and some way you’re ready to go on Sunday. I wasn’t hitting all the parties. I laid lower than I usually would.

Jon Hynes: I wake up about 6 in the morning on game day because I can’t sleep.

Giulio Caravatta: I got up around 8 o’clock because I had to go to the (Football Reporters of Canada) breakfast. I wanted to be there for that. I got back to my hotel right around 11 o’clock and did some fine tuning. Went through the news of the day. I spent the morning reviewing my notes, knowing who the players were.

Chris Cuthbert: Game day there’s a media breakfast in the morning that if I slept well enough I go to, and I did. I went because they were honouring Jeff Avery, a guy I hold in great regard, the longtime colour (analyst) in radio in Ottawa.

Patrick Roberge: I got (to the stadium) at 8am. We needed to get ready, because unlike other Grey Cups, we were doing a lot of extra rehearsals on game day in the morning for the pregame show. Usually we do those rehearsals in a normal Grey Cup week on the Thursday or Friday night. Because we did extra rehearsals for Shania’s half time show, we moved all of our pregame rehearsals to the Sunday morning.

Alise Wilson: I was up about 7:30-8 o’clock. Was at the stadium for 9:30. From there running around making the (production) truck is good, making sure the (broadcast) booth is set up, making sure people have food, they’re fed and watered. I always have a big brunch on Grey Cup Sunday. I book a big brunch for the whole crew. I had a catered breakfast with bacon and eggs, sausages, home fries for one hundred and fifty people.

Kate Pettersen: I set my alarm for nine. I had made notes on all of the (Stampeders) players because it was a brand new team for me. I follow the league all year, but there’s a big difference between your depth of knowledge of the team you’re around all the time and the team that’s out in the west.

Chris Cuthbert: I got (to my hotel room) and spent two hours condensing the best notes that I had on the game onto one sheet. Probably from 10:30am to 1pm I did that.

Patrick Roberge: It’s very interesting early in the morning (at the stadium) on Grey Cup day. I’m usually there early. I’m one of the first guys there and you can start to see the place come to life. It’s a neat time because you get to see all the different groups – the TSN team, the football operations team, the stadium staff, a lot of the police and security. That time between 8 o’clock to game time is when you see the place start to come to life. For me, that’s a really fun thing to watch because you see all these different groups and they all have their job to do, and they’ve got their blinders on because they are focused on what their job is.

Alise Wilson: Grey Cup Sunday is usually anywhere from an eighteen to a twenty one hour day for me because I’m running around dealing with lots of stuff behind the scenes – coordinating our drivers, the runners, making sure everyone is taken care of.

Kate Pettersen: I had written a few points about every single player on (Calgary’s) depth chart. So I wrote how many Grey Cups they’ve been in. How many years they’ve been in the league and how many years with Calgary, so that in the chaos of postgame had Calgary won, I could just flip my sheet. So I was going through all of that and making sure I had all the notes I needed and all the little tidbits for when the whistle blows and things just start to go really quickly.

James Duthie: For me it’s different. It’s not the heavy lifting that (Chris Cuthbert) or Glen Suitor would have to do where they have to know details on every single player. When I’m hosting the three hour pre game show and throwing to a lot of features, certainly the work load isn’t nearly as heavy as those guys.

Kate Pettersen: I was looking over any last minute stories that the beat reporters had put out because they’re the guys that are always the team. And I plan out my first two hits (for the broadcast) which were pregame and first quarter.

James Duthie: I was trying to think up in my head how I wanted to introduce this feature and how I wanted to introduce that feature. I spent a couple of hours doing that.

Kate Pettersen: At noon I ordered room service, breakfast goes till (1pm), so I had a late breakfast. I took about twenty minutes to just had a time out because for me this was my first Grey Cup, covering a team I don’t know as well. It was a combination of being a little anxious, nervous energy, which I think is good, and excitement and also exhaustion at that point in the week. Also for me, with my dad and not having my dad there was a lot of emotion thinking it was a really cool moment that I’d like to share with him. And the added part to that was that Rod Black was my dad’s (broadcast) partner in the booth. And Rod Black called the game (for radio) and threw down to me for my first hit on the sidelines. So I had a long shower and then just kind of lay in bed and was like, “OK, here we go. It’s game day.”

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Kate Pettersen with the TSN Radio broadcast crew. Giulio Caravatta (left) and Rod Black. (photo courtesy of Kate Pettersen)

Patrick Roberge: We got through rehearsals and my vantage point is in a tent and I was positioned right next to the TSN panel tent. The whole week the temperature was not too bad. Some days were plus eight or nine, but on game day morning it got really cold. It got to minus three or four. In contrast, it felt a lot colder. The heaters in our tent were still working keeping our equipment from freezing. And I couldn’t complain about the cold because the rest of my team was all outside, out in the cold. But when you’re sitting at a control position, you’re not moving around so you actually feel colder. Our rehearsals finished about two o’clock and I actually went out of my tent to Winners and bought blankets because I was so damn cold. It was the best purchase I ever made ever at a Grey Cup.

 


STADIUM ARRIVAL

James Duthie: I went over to the park around noon. I just like to get there early to check out the set and check out our situation, be able to walk around, get something to eat, and enjoy the park.

Jon Hynes: We didn’t go to the stadium until noon and that’s six hours and forty minutes till kickoff. Once there you’re just really finalizing everything.

Patrick Roberge: We started working with Shania’s team several months out. We all agreed, her creative team, Shania was very hands on, that we wanted to do something that was fun, that was unique, and something that was going to celebrate the Canadian aspect of what we were doing. We collectively came together and said, “Lets do a dogsled.”

James Duthie: It was a crazy beautiful day. It was sunny and perfect but I knew what was coming because I checked the weather app on my phone. That was the strangest thing. There was not a cloud in the sky at 1pm. It was cool. I think it was three degrees.

Patrick Roberge: There’s this kind of lull period which is the part I hate the most as you kind of sit around and wait for the action to start happening. But during that time we started dialling into the weather. And that’s what changed our day considerably.

Jon Hynes: First thing I do is a walk through because the panel guys are on both panel sets. You’ve got Duthie on (analyst) Henry Burris on one and you’ve got our regular studio panel which is Rod Smith and the boys. I do a walk and talk to those guys for ten minutes, wish them good luck and get a gist of what their day is going to be like.

Patrick Roberge: The forecast was flurries, maybe one centimetre, no big deal. But as we started looking at the radar and started to hone in on what was really coming, we realized that we better start talking about the, “What if” scenarios of snow. And that changes the equation considerably, especially for us. That’s where things got quite interesting.

Kate Pettersen: I left for the stadium at (2pm) and got there and set up my desk underneath the stadium and walked around on the field a little bit. Walking around on the field I was checking out the logos because we knew that the logos use water based paint so when the sun went down and the frost set it, we knew (the logos) were going to get slick. I wasn’t supposed to but I put my toe on it. There was a sign that said no but I needed to know how they felt.

Patrick Roberge: The big changes were, we had to ground the planes, we grounded the helicopter for TSN. We started reacting to small things that were starting to happen, little things like microphones working and musical instruments working with half an inch of snow on them.

Chris Cuthbert: We left at 3 (to go to the stadium) because of the traffic. (TSN) wanted us there a little earlier than we had to. I would have preferred to have stayed a little longer because I missed our pregame show and I like watching it.

Jon Hynes: I walk around and remind myself of where the different camera positions are, because of the forty cameras we use, as opposed to fifteen the week before. The Grey Cup game is drastically different. We’re using facilities like they’ll use on a major NFL broadcast. We only do it once a year. Sunday Night Football does it every week. That’s one of the biggest challenges of doing the game is you have so many extra things that you’re not used to having.

Giulio Caravatta: I headed to stadium at 3:30. It took twenty minutes, half hour to get there via cab. It was actually a little bit of an adventure getting into the stadium because of all the people. There were a ton of people walking around doing their thing. It was cool going through all the people and seeing how excited they were, everyone’s getting ready for the game. It was a really good vibe.

Chris Cuthbert: We got to the park at 3:30 and get make up and then I headed up into the booth by 4ish. I always disappear for a half hour. I go sit in an empty box if I can find one. I think I sat in John Hufnagel’s box, (the general manager of the Stampeders). I just went over my notes. I’ve highlighted the night before all my key notes, but I like to go over and re-read everything one more time. It’s just like prepping for an exam. It’s an open book exam really.

Giulio Caravatta: I got up to the booth around 4:15. They were already doing the (radio) pregame show. I dropped my bags off and walked around the press box chatting with some of the other guys.

Chris Cuthbert: We got up to the booth and in about ten minutes it started to snow. I immediately had flashbacks to my first Grey Cup, which was ’96 which was in the snow in Hamilton. That day when I left (my) house in Brampton, (Ontario), it was not a bad day. It wasn’t till we got to Ivor Wynne (Stadium) that the snow had just closed in on the area of Hamilton. I don’t think any of us were really ready for a snow game. That wasn’t really in the forecast for the one in ’96 nor (this) one.

Chris Cuthbert: Our first live on camera (segment) was at 5:45. We’re usually not able to rehearse because the (production) truck is being used for the pregame show. For whatever reason, and I didn’t understand it, or I was caught off guard, we were getting ready to do the hit, and I didn’t get the message that we were actually going to rehearse. Our producer Jon Hynes counted me down, and I could hear the (live) show in my ear and I could hear they were in the middle of a discussion, and all of a sudden (Jon) went, “Three, two, one, cue,” and I panicked a little bit and thought, “How the heck are they throwing to us live without really any warning like this?” But I did the whole rehearsal as if we’re on the air and the old adrenalin started to pump because I thought for two seconds I was stammering on the air and caught off guard. We got through it and I thought it wasn’t a bad hit after all and I threw to where we were to supposed to go and when we were done the producer said, “Oh, good rehearsal.” And I went, “What? That wasn’t live?” It was kind of perfect because it got a little shot of adrenaline into the system before the game started.

John Hynes: When I started working in television trucks in the early ’90s, there was constant yelling. It was going on all the time. I’m talking on a regular season game that doesn’t have nearly the magnitude like four and half million people watching like the Grey Cup does. There’s not a lot of yelling (now). There’s urgency. You can hear it in everyone’s voices. You can hear it in mine. But there’s not question everyone is heightened urgency. You don’t do a lot of games where your president of your company and your senior vice president are standing over your shoulder for the entire game. That’s the way it is in Grey Cup.

Kate Pettersen: I went and met with both (teams) equipment guys to find out if there were any discussions about changing their cleats and also get their opinions on what the guys were going to wear.

Jon Hynes: From 6 to 6:40 is when our truck takes over and the pre game truck is clear. We do anthems, coin toss, coach interviews, coach speeches, team intros, all that stuff leading up to the 6:40 mark for kickoff.

James Duthie: It was a special day for me. I grew up in Ottawa and my parents were big (Ottawa) Rough Riders fans. When I was eight years old and moved to Ottawa, they bought seasons tickets. They lived there before. That was the one thing I did with my mom and dad every week or every two weeks whenever there was a home game for twenty two years. I moved from Ottawa when I was thirty. That was the one thing, even as an adult, that I would do with them. They’re still alive, still go to the games, still die hard fans, but they’re getting up there. My dad is eighty six, my mom is eighty four. So to have a Grey Cup back in my town after football died there twice, I never thought it would come back. My dad is about the biggest Ottawa football fan ever. Next to family, that was his life. Seventy percent of conversations you’d have with my dad after he retired were about football. So, I went up and brought them down to (our) set, which is cool in itself. They sat on the set for a while, they got to meet (2016 Grey Cup MVP) Henry Burris. There’s actually a crew from Ottawa doing a little documentary on them. That was really cool. So from 6 to 6:30, I just spent some time with my folks. That was the favourite part of the day for me.


SNOW

Kate Pettersen: It was chaos when the pregame show started when (hip hop artist) SonReal was on the field. It was hilarious because you’ve got these guys that work in the league office in suits and dress shoes expecting to pitch in, but not expecting to be shovelling the field. Glen Johnson, Vice President of Football, Chairman of the Board Jim Lawson, all the PR staff. It was mass chaos. It was kind of comical.

Giulio Caravatta: It reminded me of back when I played, back in 1994, we played in the Western Final against Calgary. We played in the snow in the second half. The first half was cold but no snow. I remember the same kind of feeling. The snow was falling in a mystical kind of way. It was all kind of coming down soft. It reminded me what it was like back in ’94. I was thinking to myself how cool it was that it was the Grey Cup and we were getting this snow. At the time it wasn’t something that was sticking to the ground, it was just coming down, and the 15-20 minutes later you’re saying, “Oh god, it’s starting to stick.” At the time when it first started, I thought this was kind of cool. If it stays like this it would be really neat to play a game where it’s just kind of snow and flurries. But it ended up being more than that.

Kate Pettersen: I knew it was going to get cold because you could feel the temperature dropping before kickoff. I learned that the temperature really fluctuates in Ottawa. Each day was completely different.

Jon Hynes: We’ve had cold, we’ve just never had constant snow like we had. Two things happened. One, the CF-18 fly over after the anthem and right before kick off got cancelled because of the weather. We always have a helicopter cam at Grey Cup that flies over the stadium. It gets you a great shot going to commercial. It gets you a great shot coming back from commercial. The helicopter couldn’t fly until the fourth quarter.

Kate Pettersen: I froze during the East Final because I didn’t wear my snow pants because I was trying to be fashionable. So I came into Ottawa thinking, “I’m all in. I’m going to be a snowman.” I actually couldn’t get my snow pants done up because I had so many layers underneath them. I was in tights, sweat pants and snow pants with layers on top, mittens, and my hand warmers and toe warmers. I also wore socks that (Argos equipment manager) Danny Webb gave me in Calgary last year. I never actually put the toe warmers on and I was fine the entire game.

 


Grey Cup First Half

Patrick Roberge: The first quarter of the game went incredibly quickly. I’ve never seen a Grey Cup quarter go by so fast. I don’t know why, but it did. Normally we have two full quarters and the second quarter usually drags out but this one was whipping by so fast. It was like, “We gotta move quickly here now.” Looking back on it, if the first quarter didn’t go by so fast, it wouldn’t have been snowing during the half time show. And frankly, I think the snow in the halftime show was epic.

Giulio Caravatta: They had the booth closed for the pregame show but we insisted on opening it. We had windows that slid up so the lower half of our booth was open. I had a big heavy jacket on and hat and gloves, (and) half way through the first quarter taking my jacket off and gloves off. I thought it was going to be colder in the booth but it was quite comfortable even with the windows open.

Chris Cuthbert: It was kind of a running joke because I ran a poll earlier in the week. I had sent out a tweet criticizing the commissioner for wanting to move the season up by a few weeks. I got a lot of response pro and cons. I think over twelve-hundred people responded. A lot of people thought, “Yeah, but you just sit in a warm, heated booth.” So that was more tongue in cheek for those folks, “Yeah, the windows are open.” As it turns out, we didn’t have heaters. We have heaters in some of the stadiums but there weren’t any heaters (on Sunday). It wasn’t painfully cold.

Kate Pettersen: It was a wet snow and it was blowing. I kind of wanted to ask someone in the stands for their (ski) goggles. It wouldn’t have been a good look but you kind of needed ski goggles because of the way it was swirling. It was getting in your eyes. The way they pushed the snow off the field, right by the net where the kickers warm up at the end of the bench, there was a big pile of snow and I just climbed on top and I could see over all of the guys.

 

Chris Cuthbert: I noticed a mistake on our bug on our the first series or two. (The bug) said it was on the forty-three and I knew it was the forty-eight and I kind of smiled at myself thinking I’m seeing it better than they are and then about five minutes later I was out by five yards on a call, and I thought I just better keep focused here because in the first half it wasn’t always easy to see.

Giulio Caravatta: We had the advantage of having (tv) monitors in our booth so we had live feeds of what television was giving. There was a little bit of an issue to the far side of the field. You had to really pay attention especially when the ball was thrown and guys were going to the football. The difference between (jersey numbers) 20 and 26 was getting a little bit harder.

Kate Pettersen: My first quarter hit ended up being about two things – one, the iPads because they had them in plastic bags and they had a guy assigned to wiping the iPads off because the snow was so wet you couldn’t see them. That was the first part of my hit. The second part was (Stampeders punter) Rob Maver told me (he) got a little to close to the (sideline) heater. I went on the air and said it’s a new style of fishnet (stockings) because he had literally burnt holes in both of his tights.

James Duthie: For the most part I like to hear the play by play, so I stayed on the set, plus (I was) a little bit sick. I walked for maybe five minutes of the second quarter. I walked up and down with the guys that hold the first down markers. But I was getting so much damn snow on me that I was going to be completely soaked. Typical TV boy. I wanted to stay warm and dry so I went under the tent. I find sometimes if I unplug (from the play by play feed) then at half time I may repeat something that Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor might have said ten times, and then you look like a bit of an idiot.

Kate Pettersen: I had DaVaris Daniels at halftime for my walk off (interview). Grey Cup we only get one question instead of two (we get for regular season games). I always get second (choice) to TV, so (TSN TV sideline reporter) Sara Orlesky told me fairly early that she was taking Jerome (Messam).

Patrick Roberge: We didn’t bring the dogs on scene until well into the first quarter. Dogs like to run. And as soon as they’re there, they don’t like to sit around and wait. They want to run. So, we kept them off site. It was also easier to bring them once the game started. That was a tight moment too, getting the dogs all hooked up and ready to go and getting Shania into place for the entrance. It all came down to the last few minutes for sure.


The Shania Twain Half Time Show

Patrick Roberge: When we push out the half time show, we push out about seventeen pieces of staging and equipment with about two hundred people. And we’ve never done it snow before. All week we’d been practicing on nice, clean turf. So we were concerned.

James Duthie: They had to bring Shania’s set out right behind us, so we went to commercial break for three minutes. Henry (Burris) and I come up for two and half to three minutes and then we go to (commercial break). The producers coordinate with (Rod Smith and the panel) because obviously we don’t want to repeat everything Dunigan and Stegall and those guys are going to say. As soon as I went to break I knew I was clear for the whole Shania segment so I unplugged and went right up to the stage like a geeky fool.

Kate Pettersen: I ran (inside) and tried to dry off a little bit. I ate a banana. That’s my thing. Either at halftime or third quarter because I fade. So I had my banana and then I ran out there and watched the first song. I’m front row fan-girling like a champ.

Patrick Roberge: We worked for quite a long time. We did some tests with the dog team. There were lots of concerns because Shania had never done a show on a dog sled before. Is she going to fall out? How’s she going to get out of it? All of these kinds of things. It took a lot of work to make that happen and we did keep it quite quiet because we wanted to make it a big surprise and it certainly was that.

 

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Shania Twain pulls into TD Place Stadium on a dog sled. (photo courtesy of PRP)

 

Kate Pettersen: It was right in front of me. They keep a lot of that stuff under lock and key. They did release prior to halftime, the song list. She came flying around the corner. I thought it was great. When you have America talking about it the way they were on Twitter and social media. That’s great. It’s funny because Americans think of us as, not all, I’m saying this in a general sense, a stereotype of Canadians is we all live in igloos with our dogs and it’s freezing. So how perfect if Shania Twain shows up on a dog sled in the middle of the snow bowl.

Chris Cuthbert: I was mad at myself because I missed Shania coming out on the dog sled because I would have referenced that in the second half for sure. I went out with all the other media slugs and we were lining up for pizza.

Alise Wilson: Halftime we kind of step back because (Patrick Roberge) steps in. I went and watched Shania. I usually try to because it’s part of the event and I miss so much of the game and what’s happening in the broadcast because I usually am running around, I’m not just sitting there watching the show.

Patrick Roberge: She was prepared for the snow. She was prepared for the weather. There was not one second was there any fear that Shania was not going to do her show no matter what the weather was. I really applauded that, because not all artists are that courageous.

Kate Pettersen: I knew she was going to do one of her new tracks as the second song. So I literally sprinted back across the field, went (to the washroom), got myself organized as I went back out on the field for Man, I Feel Like A Woman.

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Shania Twain performing live at Grey Cup. (photo courtesy of PRP)

 

Patrick Roberge: The good news is we anticipated some precipitation. The staging we prepared was very anti-slip. (Shania) was being careful, but you know what I loved about it? She gave it a go no matter what.

Giulio Caravatta: I was kind of hungry and I needed something to eat because I didn’t have much to eat for breakfast. I (got) a piece of pizza. I was concerned (when) I went back to the booth. Matt Sekeres and Lee Versage were (on air doing the radio halftime show), we had a couple of producers, stats guys were in there. I had my binoculars and I was getting ready for Shania. I thought to myself, I won’t be able to see her because these guys are all in (the broadcast booth).

Kate Pettersen: Everyone was excited about Shania.

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Shania Twain performs during the half time show at Grey Cup in Ottawa. (photo courtesy of PRP)

Kate Pettersen: She wore her power suit. She wasn’t messing around with that.

Patrick Roberge: I was worried about her shoes. She had some pretty epic boots on. They were very high heeled. I don’t think she ever wore those boots before, so there was a little bit of concern when she got up on that stage.

Giulio Caravatta: I started up opening up a couple of doors they had where stats guys were for the league but they didn’t go anywhere. So there was no room anywhere. So I walked to the end of the press box and opened up the door and I put my jacket on and I went outside and was basically at the top of the stands. I watched the halftime show from up there with my binoculars.

Chris Cuthbert: You shut off a little bit. I did come back in the booth to see Shania. And then you want to dial back in before you’re back on the air because sometimes when you get away from it for a little too long, you have trouble starting again.

Jon Hynes: First thing I do when we get to half is go through what video packs we need for the second half. Player X had a great first half, lets have a pack on him. (But) basically that’s a time to clear your head a bit because there’s a lot going on. I’ll take at least ten, fifteen minutes where I’ll just go outside the truck and clear my head. You can hear the halftime show blaring away.

Patrick Roberge: There was one moment of nervousness. We used a lift for her big exit. And she wasn’t standing on the lift when we were supposed to take the lift out. It was like, “You gotta back up.” She finally realized she wasn’t on the lift and then she backed up. I don’t know if she couldn’t see the lift clearly because of the snow up there. She eventually figured it out. There was a little moment of, “We’re not going to cue that lift without her clearly standing on it properly.” That would have been the ten second memory right there.

James Duthie: I do the Super Bowl every year now and the Grey Cups, and I always find that you always find the show is better live, then I’ll go on Twitter and everybody hates it at home. I thought this one was pretty good.

Giulio Caravatta: It was perfect. It was snowing, she was out there, everybody was really into it. It was really cool.

Patrick Roberge: Our goal was to try to make it a Canadian celebration, and the Grey Cup is that by default, but we were on the end of a Canada hundred and fiftieth year. We’re in the nation’s capital. We’ve gotta at least make an effort to celebrate this as Canadiana as we can. Sometimes that can go too far and people think it’s too forced. It was just enough for everyone to go, “Yeah, that’s what we were looking for.”

Kate Pettersen: We did have 5-10 minutes after (Shania), as they were clearing the field. At that point I switched socks for the second half. Added some hand warmers, Switched all my batteries for my mic and my IFB.


A Wild Finish

James Duthie: I spend most of the fourth quarter thinking in my head, who’s going to win these awards? Who’s going to win the game? So I can ask intelligent questions. I think I spent most of the fourth quarter thinking the Stamps were going to win. Bo Levi was going to be the MVP and Jerome Messam was going to be the top Canadian. Then obviously things went hairy.

Chris Cuthbert: I know subconsciously, as Calgary was driving, before the fumble, that I was thinking this game is ending here, it’s over. I was caught off guard and maybe more astounded by that fumble return touchdown than maybe any play I called in Grey Cups. It came out of nowhere. It was like a thunderbolt that nobody saw coming and completely turned the game around. I remember when (Cassius) Vaughn was spiking the ball, thinking everything is now different than it was ten seconds ago.

Giulio Caravatta: I thought in the end we were going to go to overtime. (Calgary is) going to tie this game up. And they should have. The interception was huge.

Kate Pettersen: The most intense moment was standing on the sidelines in that final minute and I’m standing next to (Argos sideline reporter for the radio broadcast Mike Hogan). One of us is going to be dealing with mass chaos and one of us is going to have nothing to do because that’s the way it works. The winning team, you’re on the field getting as many guys (for interviews) as fast as you can. We were standing there (wondering) which one of us is going to be spinning in a one minute.


 

Grey Cup Post Game

Giulio Caravatta: I won’t soon forget the look on all of our faces after the game and thinking, “What just happened?” I remember Rod saying it on the broadcast, when they were getting down to the goal line, I don’t remember if it was on the air or off the air, “This is over. If they score here, it’s done.” The last four-five minutes were crazy. From a game stand point it was exciting.

Chris Cuthbert: I thought it was one of our better broadcasts ever because I just felt we were both on it for the whole game.

Kate Pettersen: The whistle blew (to end the game) and I jumped on the mic and I said, “Do you need me to help with the post game?”

James Duthie: I do the trophy presentation, that incorporates an interview with the top Canadian and the MVP and then introduce the commissioner to present the Grey Cup and interview somebody there.

Kate Pettersen: Hogie and I literally went back and forth. He had Cassius Vaughn. I’m standing there with Devier Posey. In the end, I got Ricky Ray and that was so cool.

James Duthie: It got a little hairy in the Grey Cup presentation and I think it was my fault. How it worked last year, there was a big stage in Toronto, they call up the Most Outstanding Canadian. He gets the trophy, I interview him, he walks away. MVP comes up, it was Burris, interview him. So all the players are down below. This year because of Shania and the configuration of the stadium, they only had time to put up that small stage. I announce Devier Posey as the MVP. While Posey is talking, I’m asking him a couple of questions, I’m looking for (Argos head coach Marc) Trestman out of the corner of my eye to invite him up. All the Argos were out there and I kinda saw Trestman in the middle of it. I gave one of those hand signals like, “Come on, get up here.” The whole team saw that as me inviting all of them. In twenty seconds there were thirty Argos on the stage and I just got destroyed, almost lost in this mosh pit.

Chris Cuthbert: We walked across the field after the game and I noted two things. How kind of frozen and bad the field was compared to what you think it is upstairs. The other is this, I saw at least twenty people kind of frolicking on the field wearing (Argos Offensive Tackle) Chris Van Zeyl jerseys. It was the whole Van Zeyl clan, and all I could think of was how cool it was for that family and all those people to share in such a spectacular moment. It was pretty cool. I was actually so struck by it, I went over talked to one of them just to offer congratulations. I had never seen that many people connected to one player celebrating on the field like that before.

The Art of The Deal: Negotiating With Bob McCown

The room is on the fifth floor of a building in a bustling office complex. The buildings rise high above a traffic choked, pedestrian soaked neighbourhood in downtown Toronto. These buildings are referred to by their daily inhabitants as The Campus. A man, wearing tire black coloured sunglasses, sits in the fifth floor room and talks. He talks so eloquently, and with such hardihood and verve that the owners of these buildings pay him to talk. They pay him to talk in this room, known to all as “The Studio,” for three straight hours, five days a week. He’s been paid to do this for more than forty years. They pay him to talk into a silver mesh and wire microphone. His words shoot instantaneously through bundles of black and grey cords and copper wires that snake under the studio’s blue carpet, through the building’s floors, walls and ceilings and then are propelled with electromagnetic magic throughout the city of Toronto, to the east and west coasts of Canada and pockets in between. The Campus owners love it when he talks. They’re practically get giddy when he does. His baritone voice and peacocky word selection makes their media operation a lot of money. They need him talk. Badly. There’s only one problem: the man in the black sunglasses knows it, and the timing is good to posses such knowledge because it’s contract negotiation time.

Bob McCown, the host of Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 in Toronto, wears his black Serengeti sunglasses everywhere apparently, bucking the widely accepted societal rule about never wearing sunglasses indoors. He wears them while on the air, he wears them during wedding receptions, and yes, he even wears them when he negotiates his work contracts.

McCown’s latest contract ends at the end of December, but by all accounts, he’s about to sign a three-year extension with Rogers, the powerful Canadian media and mobile corporation. McCown’s future was the source of much speculation this year. The way McCown talked on the air, and to close friends, you never truly knew exactly how this would all play out. He suggested at times that he’s done with the show, and radio in general. Perhaps the talk was all just another negotiating ploy. When you ask around, industry people rave about McCown as the master negotiator, poker faced until ink kisses paper. His negotiation skills, like the man himself though, are a cocktail mix of myth, legend and actuality. I’ve attempted to sift through the brume and fog to find out what makes him such a skilled negotiator.


Always Negotiating

“Everything (with Bob) is a negotiation,” said Don Kollins, one of four former Fan 590 program directors. “From what time are you showing up to your shift, to who are the producers, to who is the co-host, to, ‘When am I going to be on TV? How long am I going to be on TV? How long am I going to be on radio?’ He is sly,” Kollins said. “He is smart. He has a face like a stone when you’re negotiating with him. You never see him smile. And, of course, he has the glasses on all the time. So, you never get a chance to look at him in the eyes.”

The Fan’s very first program director, Allan Davis, said he and McCown were constantly negotiating. “It was everyday,” Davis said. “(Bob) loves the exercise. He loves the process of negotiating agreements. It’s what he’s all about. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always said he’s so good at what he does because he has a business perspective on everything. He wasn’t up for, ‘Here’s the boiler plates, here’s whatever the terms are, sign it and away we go.’ He was about getting creative and trying to find ways to leverage things.”

The 65 year old McCown has done so many deals over the years that he feels supremely confident in the process. “I’ve done a fair bit of research and homework and read a bunch of stuff about the skill of negotiating,”McCown told me. “I came up with a formula that I’ve used over and over and over again. Obviously it changed and evolved over the years. You get smarter at things. You realize some stuff doesn’t work and some stuff does work. You learn from each process.”

It’s widely understood that McCown is constantly in negotiation mode. “Everyone knows this, it’s publicly known, he’s always negotiating,” said former Prime Time Sports producer Mike Gentile. “That narrative is always alive. Bob and his contract, it’s constantly a topic of discussion.”

According to McCown, negotiating his contracts are generally long drawn out affairs. “I have often said, it probably takes on average about six months to negotiate a contract,” McCown said. “If you talk to (President of Sportsnet) Scott Moore or (former Fan 590 program director) Nelson Millman, I’ve heard them say this when I was in their presence, that negotiating with me is like an experience they don’t ever want to go through again. It’s not because I’m an asshole, it’s because I’m persistent.”


Philosophy

I spent the first four and half years of my sports media career patrolling the halls and the carpeted, air sealed radio studios at 40 Holly Street in midtown Toronto, the original home of the Fan 590. I produced Fan talkshows at all hours of the day and night during my time there. There were late nights with Stormin’ Norman Rumack, mid mornings with Mike Hogan, and Steve Simmons, and afternoons with Gord Stellick. I spent one miserable week working the morning show with Mike Hogan and John Gallagher, while John Derringer and his producers were away on the vacation. It wasn’t a miserable week because of the guys I had to work with. Mike and John were a lot of fun. It was just that the hours sucked. I even got to spend a couple weeks producing Prime Time Sports with McCown. This was the pre-sunglasses era.

If you spent any time at the Fan, especially back in the early days, you heard the stories. Bob McCown’s contract negotiation stories. I always heard about a detailed list of demands or “wants” that he would send to management at negotiation time. I wanted find out if this list actually existed, and if it did, how he used it in negotiations and other strategies he used to to get what he wanted. And I really wanted to find out what it was like to sit across the table from him. That’s where this story was hatched.

As McCown grinds through the negotiation process, he tells me he constantly writes notes to himself. The notes consist of his own evaluation of himself, his status within the company, and candidates that Rogers could possibly replace him with. And he’s always trying to read the people he’s sitting opposite from at the table.

“Do you think they really give a shit whether they re-sign you or not?” McCown said. “It’s like reading tea leaves.”

One thing McCown stresses is patience, and having even more patience than those sitting across the table.

“We all want to do the deal quickly,” McCown said. “That’s the easiest thing. What I’ve always done is deferred the process. I never begin the negotiation. I never make the first phone call. Never ever ever ever. My contract is coming up? I’ll wait. Let them make the first move.”

When the company reaches out for the first time with specific details, McCown never responds.

“You just listen,” McCown said. “Don’t say yes to anything. Don’t say no to anything. Just listen. What they’ll do then is give you a blue print of what they want. You take it back. You think about it. And you analyze what you want and what you think you can get.”

McCown then attempts to prolong the negotiations for as long as he can. And yes, there is a “wants” list.

“I always had a theory that I’m going to put a hundred things on the table,” McCown said. “Out of those hundred things, I maybe want two.”

He doesn’t put all hundred things on the table at once. He’ll present the company with a list of ten things to start. They may reply telling him he can’t have any of them. He’ll then send a list of ten more things, and then ten more after that. He essentially tries to confuse them and wear them out.

“The longer it goes on, the more frustrated they become,” McCown said. “You can’t look at it as a battle, you have to look at it as a war, and a war is a series of battles. It could be five battles, it could be fifty battles. You don’t know how long the war is going to last. You have to be prepared to be there at the end.”

And all the while McCown says he keeps laser focused on those two particular things he really wants. He always gets them in the end. Davis said McCown cared about every aspect of the agreements.

“He took great time to consider every part of an agreement and what that meant,” Davis said. “He is also smart and astute and understood both ends of it. The front end and the back end. The back end being the other language that provides outs for people. He understood both. He was also astute, even early on, in terms of what his value was and the leverage that he could bring to a negotiation because of that value.”

Bob Mackowycz, Sr. took over for Davis as the Fan’s Program Director in 1994. “A lot of people think (McCown) has a certain kind of personality. I never found anything like that,” Mackowycz, Sr. said. “There was no vanity shit. He wasn’t a primadonna. He was very, very confident in his abilities and he was very confident in his ability to deliver the mail. He didn’t need velvet mic socks. I think he kind of knew he was in the driver’s seat.”

McCown says he doesn’t negotiate the actual money portion of the contract until the very end of all the discussions, and he always makes management play their cards first.

“Ultimately, the test is to get them to the point where they’ve gone through this so often, have had so many meetings, and so many back and forths,” McCown said. “They say ‘fuck it, whatever it takes.’ And when you get to that point, you always know when you do get that point, you know you got them. And that’s when you put your foot on the gas. And you say, ‘Alright, I want this, I want this, and I want this much.'”


Myths & Legends

One of the myths about Bob McCown is that he’s often prickly and crabby. He certainly plays that character on radio. He projects this image to great effect. It’s probably one of the reasons why he’s been so successful over the years. Whether he’s lamenting about a slow commute into the office on a snow-blasted Toronto day, or telling the Mayor of Hamilton, Ontario to shove it, the audience laps it up. His railing on station management has been a big part of his on-air shtick for years. Ranting on air about the “Suits” walking into his studio mid-show and interrupting things, or opining about how he’s going to clean their clocks come contract negotiation time, observers suggest it has endeared him to his listeners. Kollins couldn’t believe his ears the first time McCown brought up his contract on the air.

“I was scared as hell,” Kollins said. “I didn’t know what to do next because it’s Bob McCown. Sure I’m the Program Director. Sure I’m managing the station. Nobody manages Bob. Bob manages himself. Some negotiations did play out on air.”

“It’s all tongue-in-cheek,” McCown confessed, “but there’s truism in it. I don’t do it without an agenda. I just try and be honest. I don’t have much of a filter.”

The on air barbs didn’t seem to faze Millman.

“It used to make me laugh,” Millman said. “It didn’t matter. So what? So he’s talking about his contract on the air. That’s Bob. All the names and everything else and all the things he said…I always just laughed. Unless it was something confidential which I don’t ever recall him doing. So if he wanted to go on the air as part of his act and as part of the radio show, talk about the idiot program director. I was cool with it. It didn’t matter once you were in the boardroom. Howard Stern did the same thing. Was management scared by what he was saying on the air? Fuck no.”


Breakfast Flakes

Not long after the Fan switched formats to 24-hour sports, McCown was asked by management to move from his afternoon time slot and host the station’s morning show. The morning time slot was struggling so management thought it would be a great idea to move the station’s most popular host, McCown, to mornings.

“They asked me to do the morning show,” McCown said. “I said no. And I said no, not because I was negotiating. I said no because I didn’t want to do the morning show.”

Management pressed the issue. “They kept coming back to me, over and over and over again. I kept saying no no no.” According to McCown, a station executive asked him to go for dinner one night. The two met at a local Italian restaurant.

“(The executive) pulled out a paper and a pen,” McCown said. “(He) slid it across the table and said, ‘Write down what it would take for you to do the morning show.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to do that.'”

With the pen and paper now on the table in front of McCown, the two went back and forth, all while McCown explained he simply did not want to take over the morning slot.

“So, I thought about it for a second,” McCown said. “And then wrote down a number that I absolutely believed he would balk at. (The executive) looked at it for a second, and he looked me in the eye, and looked back down at the number, and he said, ‘Ok, done.’ My first thought was, ‘Oh fuck, too low!'” McCown spent two years hosting the morning show before being replaced by John Derringer.


Back To Prime Time

Dan Shulman took over as the host of Prime Time Sports when McCown moved to mornings. Shortly after McCown was bounced from mornings, it was announced that Shulman was leaving the station to call Blue Jays games on TV for TSN. Immediately, those of us at the station started speculating as to who would take over for Shulman.

According to McCown, the wheels were already in motion for him to move back to his afternoon time slot. The week after hosting his final morning show the station threw McCown a going away lunch. He found it odd that they would do that but he went anyways. When he arrived he quickly realized there were only station executives at the lunch, there was no regular staff there at all. McCown told me that as they were about to sit down to eat, one of the station’s top executives walked up to him and whispered in his ear, “This was a mistake, it shall be corrected.”

McCown quickly understood that to mean the executive did not agree with McCown’s firing from the morning show. McCown also quickly realized that all of sudden he now had all sorts of bargaining power to negotiate his new Prime Time Sports contract. They offered him the job and immediately started negotiations.

“I decided that every meeting would be at my house,” McCown said. “I would not go into the station. They would have to meet on my turf. I’ll bet you we had five, six, seven meetings and I just kept saying, ‘Nope nope nope nope.’ And eventually got what I wanted.”

Mackowycz, Sr. understood how important McCown was to the station.”(McCown) had a number in mind and we were in the business of keeping him happy,” Mackowycz, Sr. said. “We didn’t want to lose him.”

Knowing that he had the station over a barrel, McCown was going to attempt to play one more card in the negotiations. “I said, ‘If I’m going to come back, I’m going to come back on a Friday,'” McCown recalled telling the bosses. “I will work one day and then I will go on vacation for three weeks of paid vacation. And they had to agree.”


Vegas Baby!

Let it be known that Bob McCown was in Las Vegas before the big leagues were there. Long before the NHL’s Golden Knights, and well before sinister Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis put a shovel into the desert soil. After settling back into his afternoon time slot, McCown actually hosted the show from Vegas during the winter months for five years in the mid-90s.

How the heck did the Fan allow that to happen? “For Bob (McCown) there was one thing that was important to him back then and it was important to me too,” said Mackowycz, Sr. “McCown and I always got a long as individuals. We both had a similar kind of attitude. There was a little swagger to the both of us. If you go beyond the dollars and cents, the thing (McCown) really wanted to do — he wanted to swing in the big leagues, and that would be the States. As good as he is, you kind of want to play on the big field. I like to play at that level as well.”

Mackowycz, Sr. wanted to show McCown that the company valued his aspirations beyond just the afternoon radio show. So, Mackowycz, Sr. devised a plan to pitch Sports Illustrated magazine on the idea of a daily one-hour syndicated radio show with McCown as the host. The last hour of Prime Time Sports would be dedicated to American sports. The two Bobs flew down to New York City to meet with the SI executives.

“It’s one of those moments,” Mackowycz, Sr. recalled with great excitement. “You’re in the SI boardroom and you’re pitching.”

It was McCown’s suggestion that they do the show from Las Vegas with the thinking that it would be an ideal place to land interviews with top US athletes. The thinking was that everybody likes to go to Vegas. The SI pitch went well, and they thought they had a deal. McCown headed to Vegas and bought a house. Ooops! The deal with SI fell through. McCown now had a house in Vegas but no American syndicated radio show to host.

“So we cut a deal whereby I would go down and do (Prime Time Sports) from Vegas for the winter,” McCown said. “So I would go down for four or five months and do the show from Vegas.”

Mackowycz, Sr. understood the technical nightmare of the host being in Vegas, while the show producers were back in Toronto dealing with a three-hour time difference. Remember, this was all pre-internet and cell phones.

“It is about your franchise player,” Mackowycz, Sr. said. “People used to say to me, ‘how the hell could you let him do that? How’s he going to watch the Leafs every night?’ I said, ‘He doesn’t watch the Leafs now. What’s the difference?’ I thought it was really important to keep him happy.”

Producer Chris Clarke figured McCown just wanted to avoid Canadian winters. “He said he was done or he was going to get his way and do the show in Vegas half the year,” Clarke said. “He was sick and tired of the weather. He didn’t like the cold. It was another negotiating ploy. His contract was up and this was a way that he re-signed a contract. So, he said, ‘I’m going to work in Vegas for six months,’ and they said, ‘Ok, no problem.’ This was before the internet. It (was) insane to think that could happen, but it did. We were faxing him articles from the newspaper everyday. I was asked my opinion on it. I thought it was going to be a very difficult way to produce a show and host a show on his part. He had a little studio at his house, which was basically a mixer, an ISDN line and a microphone. That’s the way he did the show.”


Walking Away

One of the most important aspects of being successful in contract negotiations is to simply have leverage over the people across the table from you. If you’re willing to walk away from the table, and from a potential contract, then you’re way ahead of the game. According to some, McCown has played the ‘I’m walking away’ card numerous times over the years.

“When you talk about negotiating power, he lets on like, ‘If it’s over, it’s over,'” Clarke said. “I think there’s no way, but then he’s done it before. Maybe not walking away from contracts, but he’s definitely been let go out of a contract, and it didn’t really seem to faze him. He’s also the first one to tell you, ‘I’m done. Yeah, this is the last contract. There’s no way they’re going to get me back.’ It’s negotiating through just talking to people, but people talk to other people, and people hear that he says these things and it gets back to management and management thinks, ‘Oh man, is this guy willing to walk away?’ And it gets him a better deal.”

Clarke recalls McCown using this tactic back in the 90’s. “I’ve heard this many times,” Clarke said. “Every time a contract is over, or coming up, he will tell anyone who will listen to him that he’s done. I’ve heard it many times over the years. I don’t know how many contracts he had in the 14 years I was there, but I guarantee you, I heard it every time that he’s done.”

McCown says you can’t just arbitrarily go into a negotiation with a willingness to walk away.You have to be willing to walk away at a certain point, McCown said. “But then again, you have to understand who you are, what your strengths are, the guy at the other side of the table what his strengths are. Truthfully, probably 999 out of 1,000 people should never take the approach of, ‘I’m willing to walk away,’ because it’s not a question about how good they are at their job, but what kind of job do they have? What you really want to ask yourself is, ‘Am I replaceable? Is there one other person that can do my job as well as I can do it? Are there a hundred other people or are there ten thousand other people who can do the job as well as I can do it?’ You have to be honest. So it starts with that premise. And most people fall into the ten thousand category. A few people may fall into the, ‘There’s a hundred other people.’ There are very few who fall into the, ‘I don’t know of anybody else who can do it.’ It’s not a question of ego, you gotta be honest with assessing where you are. If you get misled by the ego, then you’re gonna get called and then you’re gonna end up out of job and not able to get another one. I always felt as though, ‘If I lose this job over a negotiation, I can get another job.’ And part of that is because of the offers that you get.”


The Competition on Line One

Being willing to walk away because you have somewhere else to go, you have another job waiting for you, is true contract negotiation leverage.

“Look, I’m not telling you somebody called me every week,” McCown said. “That didn’t happen. But with some regularity, I got calls. I got network calls from the U.S., I got calls from major markets. I got calls from New York, Boston, Chicago, LA.”

Millman heard this frequently from McCown during negotiations.

“Yeah, sure. Absolutely,” Millman said. “If there was leverage there to use, he’d use leverage in the negotiations. Did it always make a difference in where we wound up? No. Did he always say it? Yes. Why not? Why wouldn’t you? In fairness, I have no idea if he was talking to them or not. So I would take it in as part of the conversation, as part of the information that you used to make your business decisions.”

Millman made a point to clarify that McCown didn’t actually use this tactic each and every time.

“When I say every time, I don’t really mean every time,” Millman stated. “It was part of the fun we have. ‘Oh these guys love me. Ok, great, well go.'”

Phil King was the President of CTV when Bell Media started putting together plans to start a Toronto-based all sports radio station.

“When TSN Radio was starting up (in 2010-11), I tried to steal (McCown) from the Fan,” King said. “I went to his house quite a few times. I didn’t know him that well, but I got to know him a little bit and remember going over there and trying to negotiate a deal. The problem was he really wasn’t free and clear from Rogers. So nothing happened to it, and (Keith) Pelley (President of Rogers Media) matched it.”

I asked McCown what he remembers about the TSN Radio meetings. “We actually had an agreement,” McCown told me. “We had a verbal agreement for me to go there. (My agent) Gord (Kirke) and I believed that I could get out of my (Rogers) contract and TSN didn’t. Their lawyers didn’t. Phil and (former Bell Media executive, and current Rogers executive) Rick Brace came to my house. It was in general terms in the beginning and then it got a little more specific and then it got down to negotiation. They wanted to launch sports radio and Phil said he didn’t want to launch it without me. And he said he wouldn’t launch it without me. So, we went through the whole process and we basically came to terms in the general sense on an agreement. Then they wanted to see a copy of my contract so we gave them a copy of the contract and they gave it to their lawyers. Ultimately it failed because of my contract situation.”

King felt it was well worth his time to meet and pitch McCown on joining the TSN family.

“Bob’s one of the most famous, and I would argue, high profile and profitable radio hosts,” King said. “You can probably count on one hand radio hosts that can literally generate advertising revenue on his show, his name. There’s very few in this country. He’s definitely one of them.”

Some people I talked to for this story suggest McCown would never leave the Fan because he knows he has it good there. Was meeting with TSN another negotiating ploy for McCown with the aim to land a big deal from Rogers?

“Bob’s astute enough to know, whatever deal he got from, I guess it was Keith (Pelley) at the time, I suspect (McCown) either let it out or people knew that I was talking to him, which tends to increase your value,” King said. “So, another really smart negotiator is (to) make sure you have a Plan B. I don’t know if I (and TSN Radio) was Plan B or Plan A and it ended up not happening. I didn’t ask. I didn’t know. But good for him.


New Deal

It could be announced as soon as this week that Bob McCown has re-upped with Rogers. The word is that it’s a three-year deal to continue hosting Prime Time Sports from 4-7p.m., Monday to Friday on the Fan 590 in Toronto and on Sportsnet. The questions I want answers to are, how soon after the ink is dry on the new deal does he begin posturing and leveraging for the next deal? Or will there be another deal? Stay tuned.