Saturday, April 18, 2009

(No.23) Lows and Highs

The local supper hour newscast on the Toronto station of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has deteriorated into an irritating imitation of the accident and crime focus of the "Eyewitness News" format long in use for local television news on many stations throughout the US. It is not what longtime viewers expect of the CBC, this country's national public broadcaster, even if it is one lately directed by senior management who choose to ignore the CBC's mandate in a mindless pursuit of viewers and ratings based on lowering its position on the television food chain.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, has long been a bastion of quality theatre for large numbers of Americans as well as Canadians. It ran a large budget deficit last season, something on the order of $2.6 million. The festival has announced the likely cancellation of 30 of the Sept. and Oct performances of several of this season's plays. Because of the downturn in the US and Canadian economies this year's ticket sales are slower than needed and cost cutting is required. Where, one wonders, is the 'stimulus' spending to help the arts? Oh yes -- I forgot. That spending is largely in the hands of the Harper government in Ottawa. Their affection for the arts is not just easily contained, it approaches non-existence.

The University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa where Pat and I spent time recently is both impressive and pleasant. Like something designed for a Hollywood movie of the 1950s, it is classic in its layout, appearance and buildings. It is the sort of thing many people think of when they visualize a long established university; U of A was founded in 1831 and today has 30,000 or so students.

Unfortunately there is one major visual clanger on the campus, something so prominent it literally overshadows the architecture of the university buildings: the football stadium. It is a cement monstrosity of huge size seating 93,000. It stands out like a boil on a baby's bum. 

The University of Alabama is perhaps the archetype of an American university where football reigns supreme. It is the home of the late, legendary football coach Bear Bryant about whom a movie was made and in whose honour there is now a museum. The team he coached to fame is universally referred to as 'the Crimson Tide'.

The next step in this saga is to be the expansion of this stadium by 1o,000+ seats. I am told that there are people eagerly lining up to spend $25,000 for a chance to buy stadium boxes. Unbelievable one may say -- and so it is on several levels, not the least of which is that this giant facility exists to host only a handful of football games each year. However the team, its games and associated revenue including television are apparently sufficient to generate $90 million a year for the university. Clearly football and the Crimson Tide are a hugely successful brand for the university and a vital source of revenue to support the university.

Too bad the Stratford Festival does not have a piece of the Toronto Maple Leafs to supplement their revenue.