It was a crazy year in sports media here in Canada. It seemed there was a new surprise every month. Here is a look back at the year, with links to the original story.
Hockey continues to sell. The memorable World Junior loss by Team Canada in January and Vancouver’s loss in the Stanley Cup Final in June both set ratings records. Almost 7 million watched the Word Junior final between Canada and Russia. 9.8 million Canadians watched game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, which puts that game 5th all time in terms of hockey ratings in Canada. It is only behind 3 men’s hockey games from the 2010 Olympics and the 2002 men’s Olympic hockey final. The Stanley Cup Finals averaged 6.15 million viewers on CBC. Hockey accounted for 7 of the top 10 most watched broadcasts in Canada in 2011.
TSN locks up major international soccer tournaments long-term. First in February TSN signed a deal to show EURO 2012 and EURO 2016. Then in October TSN’s parent company, Bell Media, locked up FIFA rights for CTV and TSN from 2015 through 2022. CTV and TSN will broadcast various FIFA events, including the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, as well as the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. TSN went 3 for 3 in gaining soccer rights in 2011, also picking up Major League Soccer. This comes after TSN struck out on Premier League and Champions League rights in previous seasons.
TSN Radio launches to a lukewarm response. The battle between Bell and Rogers was the biggest storyline in 2011. Bell converted AM 1050 to an all-sports station and gave it TSN branding to compete with Rogers newly re-branded Sportsnet Radio 590 the Fan. TSN Radio had its bumps, including a suspect interview with Prime Minister Harper on election day, but improved as the year went on.
Sportsnet signs enough people to form an army. Everytime we thought Sportsnet was done signing new on-air talent, they scooped up someone else. First up Gregg Zaun in February. Jeff Marek in July. Stephen Brunt and Scott Morrison in September. And finally, Hazel Mae in November. There were others too.
But it wasn’t enough to put up a serious fight to TSN. Gone are Setanta, Rogers Sportsnet and The Fan 590; they were replaced by Sportsnet World, Sportsnet and Sportsnet Radio 590 in 2011. Sportsnet launched a completely new on-air branding in October. For me, the whole thing was underwhelming. Sportsnet may have made up ground on TSN, but they still aren’t anywhere near the same level.
Pierre McGuire leaves TSN for NBC. NBC signed a new 10-year contract with the NHL for exclusive cable and over-the-air rights in the US. NBC signed 3 commentators for full-time, exclusive contracts as well. The most noticeable to Canadians was Pierre McGuire. Pierre is well-known in Canada for putting the “colour” in colour commentary on World Junior and NHL broadcasts on TSN. Mike Johnson and Ray Ferraro are good commentators, but neither has the on-air personality of Pierre.
Summer Ratings Battle. The Canadian Football League and the Blue Jays fight for viewers during the NHL off-season in the summer. Jays on Sportsnet ratings were up 17%, while CFL on TSN ratings were down from an average of 876, 000 last year to about 700, 000 this year. It was a turning point for these two sports, where the CFL has trended upward of late, while the Jays ratings were always stuck in the low hundred thousands. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend in 2012.
London 2012 is only 6 months away. CTV announced some of its London 2012 coverage plans. These included the commentators for the most popular sports. I’m really looking forward to the combo of James Duthie and Jennifer Hedger on CTV Daytime. Another highlight, Rod Smith calling swimming.
2016 and 2018 Olympics. Here is a story to pay close attention to in the early months of 2012. CBC and Bell Media announced that they will bid together for the 2016 and 2018 Olympic Games. I expect that they won’t have any serious competition. Meanwhile, NBC won American rights to these Olympics.
CBC losses. CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada took a few hard hits in 2011. First they lost Pierre Lebrun to TSN. Then Jeff Marek and Scott Morrison to Sportsnet. Tonight, Mike Milbury makes his final CBC appearance before joining NBC full-time.
Wimbledon to cable. This story was huge on both sides of the border. NBC lost rights to The Championships, Wimbledon, which resulted in the end of Breakfast at Wimbledon broadcasts. ESPN picked up exclusive American rights. TSN will take over from Global as the Canadian broadcaster of the finals in 2012.
Rogers/Bell buy MLSE. And finally, what would a sports media year in review be without a mention of Rogers and Bell buying Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment. This wasn’t only a major sports media story, but it was a major sports story.