By Adriel Smiley
The doors of the Drake Underground open at almost a quarter past 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2016 for Hoop Talks, a live speaker series about basketball produced by Homestand Sports.
The venue fills up quickly with about 60 people who paid $20 for a ticket. The music of Schoolboy Q fills the room and people begin to mingle by the bar. Conversations naturally drift to basketball and the Toronto Raptors. Shooting Guard DeMar DeRozan is playing well, the team is winning, and everyone is happy. People take their seats as the music dies down, and the show begins.
Ashley Docking of FNTSY Sports Network moderates between Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis, from Sportsnet discuss the Raptors’ season. Bennett and Bunkis tease each other about their opinions and respond to those in the audience that shout their opinions. A microphone is passed around and the audience asks questions. Afterwards, once the panel is over the mingling resumes.
This unique interaction between journalists, broadcasters, and fans is exclusive to Hoop Talks, one of three sports-themed event nights organized by Toronto-based company Homestand Sports.
Kevin Kennedy, founder of Homestand Sports, used to be a reporter for the Hockey News. The “real stories” he heard—unfiltered, unscripted, and authentic— inspired PitchTalks, a series of talks about baseball, in 2014.
“I reached out to Shi Davidi, (and) I said here’s this idea I have a baseball series,“ said Kennedy. “He said yes and the rest is history.”
Pitch Talk grew and Puck Talks, the hockey series, and Hoop Talks, the basketball series, were added shortly after.
These events create an environment where behind-the-scenes stories can be told. Fans come to rub shoulders with guests like Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro who spoke at an installment of Pitch Talks in April.
Kennedy keeps the circle small. He books the guests and produces the events while looking to Director of Marketing, Miles DePaul for strength in media and advertising. DePaul wants to take the conversation on sports to a higher level.
“We want to be producing live experiences and podcasts and video content that elevates the conversation around sports.” said DePaul
Homestand Sports has started producing shows more frequently. They had six shows in November. DePaul said that fans have been receptive of regularity—but that doesn’t always equal ticket sales.
“You’re only as good as your last show,” said DePaul. “Each show selling out tickets is tough.”
DePaul compares the development of Homestand Sports to an up-and-coming band. They are experimenting with providing more online content and with partnerships with other media companies
Media has been a field known for its lack of diversity and Homestand Sports has suffered as a result of the same issue. In the past, audience members and presenters have criticized the event for a lack of diversity. This is something Kennedy would like to address.
“I’m working on being not so reliant on currently employed sports media so that I can be working with a more diverse pool of candidates,” said Kennedy.
Next for Homestand Sports is making more content. The company is working with Paul Gardener, a producer at Bell Fibe TV1 to bring the events to the small screen.
Adriel Smiley is a journalism student at Ryerson Univesity, and a Broadcast Television graduate from Seneca College. In 2012, he hosted & produced #NowYouKnow a television show on Rogers TV. He is currently a contributor for the EyeOpener and RUtv News and has also been a contributor to ByBlacks.com and Artnalism.com. His favorite show is Mad Men.