Pravda in Columbus

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Things have been getting a little odd in Blue Jackets country.

Just over a week after the Blue Jackets were eliminated from their first post-season appearance, word came down that management was seriously evaluating both the radio and the television broadcasters. With contracts for all of their broadcast personnell expiring, the decision whether to keep or cut loomed.Most fans were somewhat satisfied with the radio side, although some were disappointed that Bill Davidge and George Matthews focused more on creating nifty phrases than describing what was going on on the ice. However, the most ire was drawn towards FOX Sports Ohio’s on-air team of Jeff Rimer and Danny Gare.

Rimer, a hire from the Doug Maclean era, has a play-by-play style that is prone to cliches, malapropisms (several times in the past he has referred to Columbus as “Florida” and the Jackets as “the Panthers”), and generic rah-rah cheerleading despite the action on the ice. Danny Gare, the former Buffalo Sabre, was a likable if somewhat bamboozled color commentator with a penchant for nicknames like Jason “Choo-choo” Chimera or Christian “The Juice Is Loose” Huselius. Endurable, Rimer and Gare were, but definitely AHL-calibre talent.

But with no decisions being made, fans began to inundate CBJ management with phone calls in support of the radio broaodcasters and giving opinions on television. Then, some interesting news started to leak out.

Sources have told The Dispatch that at least some of the broadcasters have grown weary in recent seasons of what they saw as the front office’s [director of business operations Larry Hoepfner, director of broadcasting Russ Mollihan and director of marketing Marc Gregory] repeated meddling in the broadcast booths, to the point of minutiae. For instance, broadcasters were told this season to limit the number of times they use one another’s first names in broadcasts.

The situation hit a low point late this season, when the Blue Jackets pulled off an improbable come-from-behind shootout victory in Chicago on April 8, clinching the franchise’s first spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Each of the broadcasters was told in advance of the game that, as the final buzzer sounded, they should not mention late Blue Jackets majority owner John H. McConnell, nor should they put into the context the club’s eight-season struggle to make the playoffs.

Despite the front office noodling, many felt, and rightly so, that Rimer should be shown the door and that Gare, should the right play-by-play man come along, could develop nicely. Many felt that Rimer acted solely as a cheerleader, never criticizing the team when they were flat on the ice nor saying anything beyond a mushmouthed, “This team needs to recapture that sense of urgency”. Fans were tired of having sunshine blown up their ass for the last few years. Therefore, it came as a shock when news broke that Gare was to be let go and Jeff Rimer was given a three-year contract. Joining Rimer in the TV booth would be Davidge, which leave George Matthews by himself (for now) on radio.

This decision was followed by news yesterday that pre-game and off-ice reporter Jim Day had been let go by the Blue Jackets. Day, an employee of FS Ohio, will still do Cincinnati Reds pre-games as well as Cleveland Cavaliers (both of which garner more ratings than the Jackets’ broadcasts). And why was Day let go?

Sources said that Blue Jackets executives complained to Fox Sports Ohio regularly about Day’s choice of words, the questions he asked and, at times, his demeanor after losses.

For instance, he was chided this season for using “disappointment” in a question posed to Blue Jackets assistant coach Gord Murphy when the Jackets fell behind by two goals March 28 at St. Louis.

While it’s understandable that CBJ management prefers that their organization is represented well and respectfully, the significance of Day’s dismissal can not be lost on the team’s fans or the population at large. The signal being sent is, essentially, “You’re An Idiot”. By trying to whitewash a team’s struggles away by ignoring them completely is an insult to the viewer. “You’re An Idiot”. The CBJ management’s handling of their broadcast booth is akin to censorship if not for the fact that people know what they see with their own eyes. The expectation here is that Rimer et al, will sugarcoat a turd and expect the fans and viewers to think it’s a TimBit.

And it’s not just Columbus faithful who noticed. The word is getting out on how screwball the front office is, as the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports:

I spoke to lots of broadcasting types across North America today, trying to track down specifics and anything they might have heard. (Day did not want to talk on the record, saying he didn’t want to burn any bridges with the Blue Jackets.) I was left with two impressions, neither of them flattering for the Blue Jackets.

1. Nobody with any legitimacy whatsoever is going to feel comfortable taking a broadcasting job with the Blue Jackets if the word “disappointing” is deemed inappropriate. Word travels fast in the world of broadcasting, believe me. Faster than the speed of newspaper, certainly. Faster even than the blogosphere. The constant meddling in the booth is quickly making Columbus an organization that folks in the business whisper about, usually with a roll of the eyes. One big-time national broadcaster — not John Buccigross — told me a year ago that he’d love to work for the Blue Jackets, if only he could convince his wife to move to Columbus. When I talked him today and asked the same question, he chuckled: “Not a chance.”

The depressing point here is that, after all of those years of struggle, any positives that we might have gotten from this season has been done away by Hoepfner, Mollihan, and Gregory’s bungling of this situation. Indeed, their conceit at thinking fans will accept crap because they say so sets them amongst Dollar Bill Wirtz in terms of respect for their audience.

John H. McConnell is dead. The Blue Jackets are a hideously run franchise. No whitewash is going to cover what the eye has alreayd seen.

The truth will out.

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One Response to “Pravda in Columbus”

  1. Not So Fast, Fatty « Hockey Gone Wild Says:

    […] of the Red Wings knocked us back down to Earth. This was then followed by front office stupidity as the Jackets fired FOX Sports Ohio reporter and Blue Jackets pre-game host Jim Day because he *gasp* dared to use words like “disappointment” in describing Blue Jackets […]

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