The Calgary Herald’s Allen Cameron broke one of the most confusing sports broadcasting stories in recent memory last week. The CBC has ended its 5 year agreement with iSport Media to broadcast curling’s four Grand Slam events, effective immediately. The next event, The National, begins today in Dawson Creek, BC.
On the surface both the CBC and iSport appeared to benefit from the contract. The ratings were solid (usually in the 500, 000 range for finals), the events attract all the top teams in the world, and the sport was growing through initiatives such as the Capital One Million Dollar Button. However, behind closed doors the CBC and iSport weren’t getting along so well.
While the CBC gave no official reason for their decision, there are rumours that iSport owes the public broadcaster money. For their part, iSport says the amount of money owed is dependant on the CBC’s production quality, which isn’t very good (I wrote about this last April). CBC’s broadcasts aren’t even available in high definition. iSport chief executive officer Kevin Albrecht said this in a statement to The Globe & Mail:
We’ve been negotiating with [the CBC] for nine months now. We have a lot of issues about the quality of the broadcasts and we thought it was getting stale and not up to the standards we’d expect. We’ve talked to them about this for some time.
The four Grand Slam events rely on a television contract to help pay the $100, 000 in prize money at each event. They also rely on television to bring in sponsorship deals, such as the one with Capital One. These events are also vital for the exposure of curling outside of the Canadian and World Championships. Along with the Canada Cup, the Grand Slams are the only events that truly bring together all the best Canadian curling teams. Without a television contract for 2012-13 the series may be in dire straits, and without the Grand Slam curling’s upswing of support may die.
Just two weeks ago, the future of the Grand Slam looked bright. As I Tweeted, Sportsnet was going to supplement CBC’s coverage with their own coverage of the round robin. This news was first confirmed in The Curling News in early Januay. Just days after Sportsnet’s schedule indicated this, all signs of curling on Sportsnet disappeared. I figured it was some sort of mistake at first, but now it looks like once CBC’s deal fell through, so did Sportsnet’s plans of broadcasting the bonspiel.
Then late last week, Bob Weeks indicated that Sportsnet was about to take over as the exclusive broadcaster of the Grand Slam, showing the 3 weekend broadcasts that the CBC had in the past, plus 7 more broadcasts on Thursday and Friday. The deal between Sportsnet and iSport still hasn’t materialized. And now it is too late for any hope of TV coverage of this weekend’s slam. Sportsnet and iSport may take their time finalizing details before the next Grand Slam, the Players Championship in April.
It comes as no surprise to me that Sportsnet has interest in broadcasting the Grand Slam. Rogers Media president Keith Pelley was influential in growing curling on TSN’s Seasons of Champions broadcasts. He is known as a fan of the sport. Meanwhile, Scott Moore, who is the head of Rogers Broadcasting, was at the helm of CBC Sports when they began broadcasting the Grand Slam in 2007. Considering TSN has the Season of Champions locked up through 2020, the Grand Slam is Sportsnet’s best hope of making a foray into curling broadcasting. Sportsnet was the original broadcaster of the Grand Slam of Curling.
2012 marks the end of 50 continuous years of curling on Canada’s public broadcaster. CBC’s first curling broadcast was the 1962 Brier. They lost Season of Champions coverage to TSN in 2008.
As a curling fan, I hope Sportsnet can make the best out of a bad situation. I’ve loved watched the Grand Slam finals on CBC, but their coverage always lacked what TSN had. Coverage wasn’t in HD, Joan McCusker is among the most annoying sports analysts ever, and high-quality analysis were a rare sight. While CBC’s coverage of a quarterfinal and the final brought these events to the attention of the average curling fan, they need something new to push them to the next level. I hope that Sportsnet can provide this.
For more information about Sportsnet’s possible new contract with iSport, see this article by Allen Cameron.