Amateur sport has always been a sure way to lose money in Canadian broadcasting; chances are it always will be. Only one channel has provided continuous coverage of amateur sports for 60 years, CBC Televsion. Without the CBC, amateur sports would be nowhere in Canada, completely off the map. Nobody would know who Joannie Rochette was heading into the 2010 Olympics. Between 2007 and 2010 CBC aired countless hours of winter amateur sports in the lead-up to Vancouver 2010, from alpine skiing to bobsleigh, figure skating to snowboarding. Then they had to step aside, as millions tuned into CTV for the Olympics themselves. The fact that CTV, despite being Canada’s Official Olympic Broadcaster, can’t commit to amateur sports shows why the CBC necessary. Otherwise these athletes would fall into oblivion.
I first came upon the idea to write this article while reading a Gerry Nicholls (a self-proclaimed top 5 political mind in Canada) column from a few years back. In the column, Nicholls suggested that it is a “no-brainer” to privatize Canada’s public broadcaster, or as he put it the “state-owned” broadcaster. Before anything else, I need to differentiate a “crown corporation” and a “state-owned broadcaster”. As a crown corporation, taxpayer dollars (among other sources of revenue like advertising) fund the CBC, but the government has no direct control over its programming; a state-owned broadcaster only shows what the government wants it to, and usually censors information that would look poorly on the government. An example would be CCTV in China.
Since that myth is now out-of-the-way, I can move on to why you can’t take Nicholls seriously on this issue. He may be on of Canada’s top 5 political minds, but he is also one of Canada’s top 5 most biased political pundits. Nicholls was once the vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, a Conservative lobby group. Anyone want to guess who the President of the NCC was at the same time? If you came up with Prime Minister Harper, you are correct. So keep in mind, Nicholls is good buddies with the PM. You may also be able to guess what one of the NCC’s long-time campaigns is (the answer is the privatization of the CBC). I respect Nicholls’ opinion, but that doesn’t make it fact, which is how he makes it sound. He probably never watches the channel – after all only “elitists” do, his words, not mine – and had made up his opinion on the issue long ago.
Okay, now back on topic. Crappy dramas that nobody watches aside, the CBC is important in shining light on Canadian amateur sports. Whether it be Scott Russell presenting a piece on an alpine skier on Sports Weekend (by the way, follow him on Twitter if you aren’t already) or Rick Mercer showcasing skeleton on The Mercer Report, one of the Ceeb’s highest rated shows, the CBC puts a focus on amateur sport. The CBC broadcasts four hours of amateur sports every weekend, sometimes more (that’s 200+ hours a year). That’s also 200 more hours than CTV – to their credit, CTV is showing about 10 hours of figure skating this year – and many more than TSN (no, curling isn’t an amateur sport, neither is junior hockey). Sportsnet, buoyed by having five channels, is improving in the amateur sports department showing alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, cycling, canoe/kayak and rowing in 2011; however, it still can’t match CBC in terms of comprehensive coverage. Without the CBC, who would show the Pan American Games? Hell, without the CBC, would we even know the Pan American Games are taking place beginning tonight?
I’m not one who would pay $3 a month for an amateur sports channel, but if I’m looking for something to watch on a Saturday afternoon, I regularly turn to the CBC. It’s a subconscious thing sometimes. I think, “oh, I wonder how Jon Montgomery is doing this season”. Amateur athletes are easy to connect with because they are just like ordinary Canadians. They usually don’t have much money and many times are attending college knowing they will need a new career by the time they’re 30. That’s a lot easier to connect with than a hockey player who is making 8 million a year, becoming set for life if he doesn’t waste it away. I feel like other Canadians feel the same way. Figure skating, alpine skiing and athletics do reasonably well in the ratings, despite a lack of promotion.
Of course if the CBC becomes a private company, amateur sports would no longer be an option. As I said, it is a certain way to lose money. TSN and Sportsnet would rather show cheap filler, like poker or darts. So would a new, private, CBC. In fact, the same is true for Canadian content. The CBC employs (directly and indirectly) many Canadian actors, directors, producers and writers who work on Canadian productions, which while rampant on the Ceeb, are sparse on private nets like CTV, Citytv and Global. The point is, any private network is out to make money for shareholders, as they should. The CBC is out to serve the best interests of Canadians, and giving exposure to our amateur athletes falls into that category, in my opinion. And if you think the athletes don’t appreciate it, read this thank-you message from Canadian high jumper Nicole Forrester.
As for the reason this issue comes up now, Nicholls posted his 3 year-old article on Twitter last night because of the recent troubles at Hockey Night in Canada. Of course this is completely irrelevant to this discussion because Hockey Night makes money to fund Sports Weekend. Hockey Night can also provide advertising for amateur sports to millions of Canadians.
Without the CBC, amateur sports would be on TV 200 fewer hours a year. That would not be good for the future of all amateur sports because nobody would see Beckie Scott and want to be a cross-country skier or a kayaker like Adam van Koeverden. Where would our Olympic athletes 20 years down the road come from?
And no, I’m not an elitist, just a supporter of amateur sports.