On Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that it would be parting ways with long-time radio voice and Hall-of-Famer Chuck Kaiton.
If you wish to read my thoughts on today’s news in chronological order, I recommend scrolling to the bottom first where you can find my initial comments on Twitter and also a comment posted to yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe article shortly after the news was announced.
The business side of Chuck Kaiton and radio coverage
As I said briefly on Twitter, this transition was inevitable at some point. Years ago when the team only covered about 60 percent of the games on television, the market for radio broadcasts was significantly larger. In addition to 82-game television coverage, the arrival of DVRs and maybe more significantly smart phones decreases the need for radio coverage. Fans now have multiple ways to track the game in real time from any mobile device.
And sure enough, estimates from the News & Observer’s article on the event suggest that fewer than 2,000 people were tuning in for radio broadcasts.
And the costs are significant. In his article at WRALSportsFan.com, Adam Gold estimated the annual costs at $500,000 to produce the broadcasts. It is difficult to tell if that is the amount the loss or just a cost to be netted against advertising revenue. Regardless, the amount is enough to be significant for an NHL team, the team is losing money on it and the trend is negative looking into the future.
So from a simple profitability analysis angle, the move today is a no-brainer that makes perfect sense.
But there is a bigger picture with Chuck Kaiton
But there is a bigger picture for this situation. Chuck Kaiton’s 39-year career, Hall-of-Fame status and 20 years as a recognized voice and face in the Hurricanes hockey community is not something that should be taken lightly.
Copied from my other article today, here is context for Kaiton’s place in Hurricanes history:
When making an extremely short list of icons, some might argue that only players or possibly coaches belong in such a small group. I actually believe the opposite. When television or radio announcers span a long run of history as they can better than players whose careers are limited by physical ability, good ones have the potential to become part of the deepest layer or fabric of the team’s history and community. With both Chuck Kaiton and John Forslund having been part of the organization since its arrival in North Carolina (and significantly before that especially for Chuck Kaiton), they have been part of all it – the highest highs, the lowest lows…the optimism, the success and the glory…but also the crushing defeats, despair and times when fans needed something, anything, to hold on to. As such announcers like Kaiton and Forslund can become deeply ingrained in the totality of the fan experience and fan community.
In the case of Chuck Kaiton (and John Forslund), their place in Hurricanes history has been exactly that but even more. Both played integral roles as ambassadors for the team and NHL hockey in general when the team fell out of the sky into a non-traditional hockey market with no forewarning. Two things were significantly different about Hurricanes hockey in those pioneer days. First, the team televised only a little over half of the team’s games. That meant for those looking to take in many games, the only option was Chuck Kaiton on the radio. So whereas, there are so many options to track a Hurricanes game live with 82-game television coverage, DVRs and ever-present mobile devices, for the first wave of Canes fans back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Chuck Kaiton was a core part of Canes fandom. And for me personally (and verified regularly by others who picked the team up in this time frame), Kaiton’s unique style and delivery is something that became permanently intertwined with what Hurricanes hockey was. But in addition to being such an integral part of the Hurricanes experience from a that era, I think even more significant is Chuck Kaiton’s role (and again John Forslund too) as an ambassador for the team and more broadly the game. At this point in time, a huge swath of the team’s fan base were people like me who were giving it a try. Kaiton and Forslund were very much faces and voices of the team for the ‘considering’ fan base, and both were absolutely phenomenal in this role. Both were so incredibly sincere in their interaction with fans and ready to meet fans wherever they were ranging from brand new fans who asked what the blue line was for to transplants who grew up with the game and were 30 years deep into passionate NHL fandom. Because Kaiton and Forslund were so much front and center in the team’s relations with fans, they set the precedent for how the fan base connected with the hockey community. In the process, I think both men along with early players who similarly embraced an ambassador role were largely responsible for what to this day I consider to be a unique relationship between the team and the local hockey community. So in this role as ‘builders’ I stick to my initial statement that though they are not players both Chuck Kaiton and John Forslund should make the cut into an incredibly select group on a Carolina Hurricanes Mount Rushmore.
Put more succinctly, Chuck Kaiton is an icon in Carolina Hurricanes history. That deserves consideration in addition to a simple profit/loss math calculation.
And in that vein, sports fans love winning, but in being a fan there is also an element of being part of something that does things right.
The eruption on Twitter on Tuesday was sizable with many a fan despising the move. What is not clear is where specifically the two sides arrived in terms of negotiations though indications are not very close. But that leaves fans who who want to see Kaiton treated properly asking and speculating about possible alternatives to this sad day. Could the team just have written off the cost for an agreed to time frame to avoid such an abrupt exit? Might it have made sense to make Kaiton part of the television broadcast team? More generally, was there a better path forward for a longstanding member of the organization and Hurricanes hockey community?
Considering the goodwill effect during the honeymoon phase
Right or wrong, the word “cheap” has been used regularly regarding Tom Dundon and staff’s aggressive moves to reshape the organization. No doubt, this move to cut a 39-year employee and icon to save money will sound that same tone for many.
In addition, with the way Ron Francis was unceremoniously let go, there is growing concern about how Tom Dundon runs a business and treats people/employees. I think one could make a strong argument that Ron Francis and Bill Peters had to go to effect the culture and management change desired. But as someone removed from hockey operations who has always excelled at his job, this is not the case for Chuck Kaiton. Maybe it should be exactly that way, but the fact that his move was all about money will rub some people the wrong way.
In the end, I actually think the most significant thing about today’s move could well be the impression it makes on the core part of the fan base at a time when many are on the fence and in wait and see mode with the new ownership/management regime. Especially with the potential for trading more fan favorite type players still potentially on the docket, I cannot help but think that the timing was poor to further rankle the loyalists feathers.
Finally, as a fan…
As I said on Twitter, I am disappointed that a better path could not be made to the eventuality of cutting the separate radio broadcast. Per the “Mount Rushore” material above, I think the organization is forever indebted to Chuck Kaiton for his role in establishing NHL hockey in North Carolina. I personally think he deserved better because of that, and the fact that he did not get it raises concern for me that the new ownership/management is out of touch with the history, culture and community around Hurricanes hockey.
Finally, thought it is doubtful that he would ever see it, I would like to express my sincerest thank you to Chuck Kaiton for being a tremendous part of my early days as a Hurricanes fan.
Initial commentary during the day on Tuesday
My initial reaction on Twitter was as follows:
1/3 Ultimately, this transition was inevitable. With 82-game TV, DVRs and multiple ways to track games live even if away from TV, radio broadcasts are on path to extinction. https://t.co/ejpdHLeHxK
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) July 24, 2018
2/3 But as a long-time fan of @NHLCanes hockey, I am extremely disappointed that team could not carve a path to have this transition happen when Chuck Kaitin was ready to retire.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) July 24, 2018
3/3 Transition continues to be ruthless and painful. Minus Eric Staal from couple years back, Cam Ward, Ron Francis and Chuck Kaiton, is it fair to say that only Rod Brind'Amour and John Forslund really bridge from past to new generation of @NHLCanes hockey?
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) July 24, 2018
My slightly longer thoughts from the heart of the fan part of me in the comments of Tuesday’s Daily Cup of Joe article were:
I am not in the boat where I will find something else to do with my time, but I too am filled with negativity in thinking about this.
In simple business terms, going this direction for radio is inevitable. Many teams already have, and I think the rest will ultimately do the same. In an age with 82-game TV coverage, DVRs and the ability to track a game live on a phone, I do not think the business is tough for radio sports coverage. Luke DeCock’s article mentions 2,000 listeners which is utterly shocking and paints the picture pretty starkly on the business side.
But a huge part of business is also goodwill, and that is where I think the team completely missed the boat. I am not privy to the detailed math, but what is the cost of doing the right thing for a person who has been part of the organization for 39 years and has played a huge role in this market since its inception?
Again, not knowing the exact math or how the negotiations went, I have to believe there was a way to keep Chuck Kaiton in the mix maybe as a third on the TV team and doing other special segments with an agreement/schedule for a better parting.
Shorter version: As a long-time fan of the team, even in understanding the obvious business sense of it, I am not happy with today’s announcement and am disappointed that the team did not do better with this matter.
I am curious to hear what everyone things about this controversial move by the team today.
My more detailed thoughts should be up after hours on Tuesday night.