Why the CBC is Vital to Sports in Canada

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.

10 thoughts on “Why the CBC is Vital to Sports in Canada

  1. From an American perspective, CBC is a treasure that U.S. cable systems should be required to carry. It is many parts PBS, but oh so much more.

    As for Canadians, perhaps CBC isn’t what it used to be, and maybe sometimes it isn’t the best run organization. But you have a rare gift that Americans would love to have its equivalent. PBS falls very short on news coverage.

    Having less pressure from the commercial world produces better programming, sometimes giving you shows you never thought you wanted, but appreciate afterwards.

    Americans along the border praised CBC’s Olympic coverage for years. As for amateur sports in the U.S., the U.S. treats them as a joke. Then when the Olympics come, we wonder who these people are, and in instead of learning the world’s best athletes, we are treated to jingoism about Americans that we are only supposed to care about for 3 weeks every 4 years.

    • NBC does a pretty good job with amateur sports. The only thing about their coverage is it is very American-centric and star-centric (ex. Usain Bolt). I think NBC airs about the same amount of amateur sports as the BBC.

      • As an amateur athlete training who trains in the US, it is my experience that NBC does an inferior job compared to CBC with amateur sports. I am close enough to the border that I can get both CBC and NBC and it is CBC I turn to for coverage of diving, swimming, athletics, figure skating, cycling, etc…. NBC does offer Universal Sports which provides amateur sports, but it is a private channel. With the current challenges amateur sports faces in Canada, CBC plays a necessary role and a last stand in promoting the value of sports in Canada and preserving it.

        Moreover, a standard of excellence for amateur sports coverage would be better served to that of Eurosports instead of BBC. CBC is akin to Eurosport in their consistent delivery of amateur sports over the years.

        • I suppose that since you’ve spent time competing and spending time in Europe you’d know better than most about the quality of CBC compared to others. Thanks for your insight (and for reading for that matter).

          I remember watching the World Swimming Championships on CBC and NBC back in the summer (both were on tape-delay at the same time). NBC would take a commercial break between every race, while CBC would show 2-3 races in between commercials (depending on the length of each race). NBC’s coverage was okay, but the number of commercials made it hard to watch.

          NBC does show more amateur sports in HD than CBC, which is about the only advantage they have IMO.

  2. Why i do think the cbc is needed i don’t agree that if we did not have the cbc there would be no amateur sports.Take sportsnet they do broadcast major jr hockey/sking/snowboarding etc tsn does air cis football etc while the score does air oua games but out of all of them the best of the best is the local community channels.

    • Those aren’t the kind of amateur sports I’m talking about though. Junior hockey and university football are sports that in themselves are popular, and that set up athletes for a profession career in some cases. I’m referring to high performance amateur sports like we see at the Olympics.

  3. Even high performance sports are setting people up for a career in pro sports such as horse jumping even track and field the diamond league really is the pro level of that sport.

  4. Pingback: Bringing Out The Sunday Links

  5. When I was living in Williamsville,NY the Time Warner Cable system carried CBC Channel 5 out of Toronto and I can tell you it was a joy to watch it (hockey,Blue Jays, and of course CBC News) Now that I am in Philly I do miss it even though I have the NHL hockey package where I can watch all the broadcasts

  6. I agree with everything that was said in the article, but I would like to see the CBC expand their reach and broadcast more Canadian university and college sports. Privitizaiton would be a disaster and if CBC loses the Hockey Night rights, that would pretty well signal the end of CBC Sports and its commitment to amateur athletics.

    There was once a time when CBC was going to get their own sports channel, CBC Sports Plus and would have incorporated the CIS and expanded the amateur reach. That idea was left on the drawing board and has not been resurrected since.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s