Global News gets creative as Sportsnet, TSN ride Raptors ratings wave

Global News has found itself getting creative and focusing on telling the story of the Toronto Raptors fans as one of the only major private broadcasters in Canada that's not a rights holder.

While the Toronto Raptors’ NBA Finals run has seen Sportsnet and TSN riding all-time NBA ratings highs, Global News has found itself getting creative as one of the only major private broadcasters in Canada that’s not a rights holder.

Sportsnet and TSN parent companies Rogers and Bell Media, respectively, have a co-majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Raptors. Sportsnet and TSN split the NBA Finals broadcast schedule with Game 5 of the NBA Finals reaching 13.4 million Canadians and averaging 6.4 million viewers on Sportsnet and Citytv – the most-watched program ever for Rogers Media and the largest audience ever for an NBA game in Canada. Game 4 of the series reached an average 4.631 million viewers on TSN, CTV2 and RDS.

Global Toronto news director Mackay Taggart says without unlimited game footage to lean on like its competitors, Global set out to tell the story of the fan.

“Whenever we look at investing in sports coverage, we do it from a fan perspective and appreciate that a lot of sports fans in Canada are people who don’t necessarily pay attention to every game in a season, or every trade, or every headline related to a sports team, but are really more engaged and more motivated by how the success of a sports team impacts their city or their community overall and that’s what has been our driving narrative through this coverage,” Taggart told Broadcast Dialogue. “When you have game assets and you have unlimited access to clips and highlights that’s probably what you lean on, whereas by virtue of not being a rights holder, we have to find, I’d argue, more creative and more community-focused ways of telling the story of a team’s success.”

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That’s included tasking Global’s graphics department with creating memes the audience can engage with and share, sending a crew to Oakland, CA to gather fan reaction there, and creating offbeat segments like TO in Slo-Mo: Jurassic Park.”

Taggart says in some ways, the Raptors’ NBA playoffs run is uncharted territory from a digital and social media perspective with the audience responding in ways they hadn’t forecast.

“From a social and a digital perspective, we’ve seen a real traction and engagement from our audience in regards to Raptors-related stories and not even just about stories that are sort of sparked by the games themselves, but fan reaction around the series and around the playoffs has been huge,” said Taggart.

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Taggart says Global’s Raptors’ recap on Monday, for example, was the most read story on Apple News Canada, while some of its YouTube content has garnered over 350,000 views in a 24-hour period, fueled in part by aggregators like the Reddit NBA sub feed picking up the network’s content and introducing it to a new audience.

“In large part, we’re seeing audiences come from not just Toronto and the GTA, but from across Canada and around the world who are engaging with this content,” said Taggart. “There’s been a real lift on [globalnews.ca] corresponding with game day.”

Of the coverage they’ve produced during the NBA Finals, Taggart’s personal favourite saw reporter Caryn Lieberman interview a young fan undergoing dialysis at SickKids Hospital.

“We just so happened to be at practice and Caryn was able to get a message to our camera crew and Danny Green, who is this fan’s all-time favourite player, recorded a message for him which we were able to play him that same day and get his reaction…and that type of story that just shows that connection between fans – especially young fans – and the players is really special,” said Taggart.

“We’ve done some great stories on the fans who line up to watch the game in Jurassic Park. They’ve been so enthusiastic and fun to watch. There’s been some stories we’ve done about different things popping up around the city…murals, a tattoo parlour offering free tattoos to anyone willing to get a Raptors tattoo somewhere, those stories just show the intensity of the fan base and the community coming together.”

Taggart says in a polarized news climate, the Raptors’ finals run has been the most unifying story the Toronto newsroom has told in recent memory.

“It’s really refreshing to tell a story that finds our audience on the same page. It brings a real sense of community, both internally in our newsroom and externally to the audience, that we can all get behind these stories,” said Taggart.

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