Local hockey fans likely know the name Howard Berger. He covered the Leafs on The Fan 590 for over twenty years until being let go in 2011. Love him or hate him, you knew his voice.
Upon being fired, Howard Berger started blogging, first at blogspot.com and then at bergerbytes.ca. He did not stop following the Leafs on the road, however. He essentially kept that going so he could blog about it.
I know this because it's all here in Berger v. The Queen. You see, since Howard Berger incurred about $60,000 in expenses over two years, he wrote that off as a business expense. His trips to New York to see the Rangers take on the Leafs were so he could better blog about the game and post-game conferences. This would make the blog better which would cause traffic to increase which would have sponsors knocking on his door.
On the one hand, I'm sitting here shaking my head at Howard Berger. I've been blogging for 13 years, and even though I didn't appear on a Toronto radio station for twenty years prior, I know a little bit about monetizing a blog. I can tell you Berger's blog was never going to support $30 in expenses every year, much less leave him with an actual income. It's as if he never did any homework or even any basic math.
And he didn't. Howard Berger never had a business case for his blog. Section 31 says it best:
Mr. Berger fails in this regard to have provided me with any projections, comparisons, readership numbers, anything at all frankly to allow me to accurately assess the venture’s capability to make a profit. It is all conjecture. No solid data, just a suggestion his readership numbers were trending upwards. This factor works against Mr. Berger’s position that this was not a hobby but a business. Businesses are out to make money and generally have an idea of how much and how feasible the money-making venture is. Mr. Berger does not seem to have a handle on this. It leaves me to guess whether a steady readership in the few thousands is sufficient to attract sponsors to cover expenses of $30,000‑$40,000 a year.
But, I actually feel sorry for him. After over two decades following his favourite team for a living, he was fired and reacted as if in complete denial. He kept doing what he had always done, and that meant joining the team on the road and blogging about what he observed. He didn't actively seek sponsorship or consider how he was going to monetize the venture and support this expensive activity, he just plowed ahead as if nothing had changed. It's incredibly sad.
As it stands, Howard Berger is still blogging, but without income. He's still welcome on my podcast anytime as I'd love to talk with him about all of this. This case, as curious as it is, will be great fodder for legal classes to debate. When is a hobby a business and vice versa?
What do you think? Was this a legitimate business that justifies $30,000 in yearly expenses? Was Howard Berger personally benefiting from trips to New York to see his favourite team play in the Big Apple? Can you call a blog a business if there is no business plan?