Outgoing Sportsnet president Moore weighs in on his past, present and future

By The Canadian Press
October 19, 2018 - 3:45pm

TORONTO — It's hard not to be distracted when you walk into outgoing Sportsnet president Scott Moore's corner office.

A variety of sports highlight shows are playing on a dozen different television monitors on the wall and on a single big-screen TV that hangs near his desk. Sports paraphernalia is spread throughout the spacious quarters.

A line of goalie masks sits near a large meeting desk. Several vintage Olympic torches are nestled in the corner. Glass cases protect a collection of soccer balls, baseballs and tennis balls.

There is still some packing to do before Moore officially leaves the building at Rogers Communications headquarters at month's end. Whether his absence from the sports media business will be a long one remains up in the air.

"Being a former standup comic, I know you want to get off stage while they're still laughing," Moore said.

The recent announcement of Moore's departure caught many by surprise. The search is underway for his successor with Rogers Media president Rick Brace to handle the role on an interim basis.

"My history is to move on every four or five years. I've been here eight," Moore said this week in a one-hour sitdown interview. "The way I do this job — it's all-consuming."

When Moore graduated from Ryerson Polytechnic Institute in 1984, he wanted to be a foreign correspondent or a hockey broadcaster. His focus quickly turned from potential on-air work to production and eventually management.

His timing has often been fortuitous and he admits he's had plenty of luck along the way.

Before leaving for a European backpack trip after graduation, Moore left four resumes with his father to be sent to The Sports Network. Three of those envelopes were eventually mailed out with the fourth given to a friend of the family who worked for the upstart network's then-owner.

Moore suspects that resume was the one that made it on the right desk. A phone call was made while Moore was at lunch with a friend the day after he returned from his trip. 

"I'd had a couple of sangrias at a Mexican restaurant," Moore said. "I got back (home) and my answering machine said, 'Can you come up for an interview now?' I was half in the bag and I did the interview ... I probably appeared way more confident than I was, mostly because of the sangria, and I got the job and started the next week."

That first position was as an assignment editor in the TSN newsroom.

"I graduated from a program in Toronto where the network was going to originate and I was able to get my foot in the door," Moore said. "I moved up incredibly quickly because it was a small group. There was 72 of us on Day 1 when we launched TSN in 1984."

Moore took on a producer role at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary and it helped put his career in motion. He produced the Summer Games that year and a work colleague from Seoul later became an executive producer at CTV, and hired Moore — at age 28 — to handle executive producer duties for the 1992 Barcelona Games.

"People then all of the sudden think, 'Well he must be good.' So I've ridden that allusion for the rest of my career," Moore said with a laugh.

He helped launch OLN (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) and Sportsnet before moving west to tackle projects in B.C. Moore later came back to Toronto and enjoyed a 3 1/2-year run as head of CBC Sports before returning to Sportsnet in 2010.

He had a PowerPoint presentation ready for his first day back.

"The first slide said 'Sports is about one thing: winning,'" Moore recalled. "The second slide said, 'We will be the No. 1 sports media brand in Canada within five years.'"

He achieved the goal a year ahead of time.

Moore credits the staff for getting Sportsnet over the hump and then-Rogers Media president and longtime friend Keith Pelley for his vision. Moore said they gave the Sportsnet team what he calls, "permission to win."

"You unleash this great power of people going, 'OK, if you want us to win, we'll go out and win,' he said. "We got new rights, we improved the production, we did all sorts of things that led to being ready when the opportunity presented itself to be No. 1.

"Those two things that gave us that opportunity were the Blue Jays doing well in 2015 and 2016, and getting the NHL contract."

That NHL deal for national broadcast rights didn't come cheap. The 12-year agreement is worth $5.2 billion dollars.

"I can tell you right now that we both liked to dream," Pelley said from Surrey, England, where he works as CEO of golf's European Tour. "When we dreamed of the NHL concept it was something that we both laughed at at one point and at the end of the day, we made it happen. It was pretty exciting." 

The deal was consummated in 2013.

"Before we ever talked money, we knew we had (the NHL) on the hook because we were talking about it as a partnership," Moore said. "Unbeknownst to us, the other parties had said (to the NHL), 'If we're ever going to pay you this amount of money, this is what you need to do for us.'

"We took the position of, 'This is what we're going to do for you.'"

At the time, Moore explained, Sportsnet had about one-third to one-half of TSN's overall ratings. He reckons it would have been a grim future for the network without the NHL deal.

"You take the dominance that (TSN) enjoyed up until 2014 and add to it, we would have become a regional, inconsequential player," Moore said. "It wouldn't have killed us. We would have still existed but we would be irrelevant."

There have been some hiccups during his tenure. 

Perhaps the most notable was the decision to reassign longtime Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean and move George Stroumboulopoulos into the chair. That experiment lasted two years before MacLean returned to the post.

Canadian NHL teams struggled in the early years of the deal and Rogers cut jobs across the country. Sportsnet magazine was rolled out but did not last long.

Moore points out that in recent years Sportsnet has keyed in on more content verticals, expanded its radio stations and website, and unveiled Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet World.  

He wouldn't disclose financial specifics, but noted there has been double-digit growth annually since the first fiscal year after his return.

Moore added the NHL deal has paid for itself every year because Sportsnet can enjoy the financial returns of being the No. 1 sports brand in the country.

"If you're going to buy sports media in this country now, you're going to call us first," Moore said. "It used to be all the big deals went to TSN and we got what was left over."

Leaning back in his chair and adjusting the length of his shirt sleeve — complete with cufflink adorned with the classic stick-and-puck Hockey Night logo — Moore seems quite content. Some people have already reached out about potential opportunities but he has yet to decide what his work future might hold.

"I'm in a great spot in my life personally and professionally," he said. "I said I wanted to make this place No. 1. It's No. 1. It's more successful financially than it's ever been. I've got a great team in place and there's a good succession plan in place if they choose to do it.

"Rogers should go out and find the best person but I think we've got two or three really great people that we've been grooming for this job at some point."

As for the rest of the year, Moore is looking forward to a six-week vacation in Australia with his wife Becky.  

"My Dad retired at 58. I'm 56. My wife and I love to travel," he said. "This job gets in the way of that. I think whatever (my job future) is, it'll be definitely less corporate. It'll be definitely closer to the product and it probably will be something that I have more direct passion for.

"I have passion for sports media but my job has become less about sports media than it has been about the corporate responsibilities that go along with it."

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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