CBC’s Decision To Stop Showing Unprofitable Sports is Unfortunate

The big news revealed on Thursday by CBC President Hubert Lacroix was that the public broadcaster will no longer compete for the broadcast rights of professional sports leagues. However, I think this was a largely symbolic move by Lacroix. In reality CBC hasn’t been competitive for professional sports rights for years and has slowly dropped every pro sports they once broadcast. The Blue Jays first disappeared in 2003, before a few games returned to the CBC in 2007 and 2008. CBC also picked up Raptors broadcasts in 2007, but only kept them for two seasons. The CFL ended its 52 year run on the CBC in 2007. And while curling isn’t a fully professional sport (yet, at least), it has ratings most sports in Canada could only wish for. Curling’s signature events, branded the Season of Champions, left CBC for TSN in 2008. This summer the CBC will mark the last of the CBC showing the FIFA World Cup, which is headed to CTV in 2018. So, again, in reality the CBC has not truly competed for professional sports rights for a few years now. The exception was Hockey Night in Canada. Last November it became clear CBC would no longer compete for that either.

The more troubling aspect of Lacroix’s statement, which the media has mostly ignored, is that the CBC will only consider broadcasting sports where it can break even or turn a profit. I’ve always thought that the role of the CBC in Canadian sports broadcasting was to fill a void left by the private networks. Since presumably TSN and Sportsnet also don’t broadcast many sports that fail to break even, this could leave some sports completely off the Canadian airwaves. One recent example is the IAAF Diamond League, featuring Track & Field’s signature events. CBC dropped coverage two years ago following government funding cuts. No other network has picked up coverage of the events since. It seems like the sports that the CBC will most likely drop, are also the least likely to be picked up by a private network. And that’s sad for these amateur sports that rely on some TV coverage to generate interest among the youth, Canada’s potential future Olympians.

The most puzzling thing about the CBC’s statement is what constitutes “professional”, which the CBC will not compete for anymore, and what constitutes “national interest”? Obviously the NHL is professional and the Olympics are of national interest, but what about the Rogers Cup. Tennis is a professional sport, but the event is arguably of national interest. And it also makes no mention of sub-licensing, which CBC has touted as a key component to its long-term sports-broadcasting viability. Will the CBC continue to seek sub-licensing deals, as they have with Sportsnet for the World Curling Tour and NHL.

14 thoughts on “CBC’s Decision To Stop Showing Unprofitable Sports is Unfortunate

  1. I know that Sportsnet has gotten into CIS sports a little bit. But CBC could have really stepped up big time. Allow the universities to use their own production staff ( I am sure the arts departments would jump at the chance to have their students and staff get into the nuts and bolts producing television) and the CBC would carry the games. Who knows what this would lead to, but to turn away from true amateur sports is not what the CBC is all about.

    • Part of the issue with that is the Cbc would have to pay the schools and in return the schools would have to pay the play by play people etc.

      • No, you don’t pay the play-by-play people. They would be students gaining valuable work experience, like an unpaid internship.

        • A few years ago i would have said yes there would be no issue but now with the push to end unpaid internship there is no way the Cbc could get away with not paying them.

  2. I’ve often heard the argument that the CBC shouldn’t be competing against Rogers/Bell for sports, but it’s the little sports that are going to get the brunt of this decision: you mentioned track and field, but don’t forget about winter sports, too. I bet the profits from Hockey Night paid for the coverage of a lot of those sports. Now they’re going to air what, Battle of the Blades? It’s unfortunate and another example of the Harper government trying to turn the CBC into TVO

    • Battle of the Blades was cancelled actually. I only mention track because it has already disappeared entirely. I’m afraid that will happen to the winter sports too. Scott Russell says 3/4s of CBC’s amateur sports are profitable.

    • I don’t think its fair to blame Harper for this when you can’t make it work on a billion a year maybe there are other issues such as what are you spending the money on many do think there is far to much waste going on at Cbc now with that said if the Cbc went to any of the 3 partys and said we need $5 billion to win the Nhl rights all would have said no.

      • Exactly, Jay. The CBC has its priorities wrong, paying umpteen vice-presidents megabucks, paying the on-air talent megabucks, and so on. CBC should be focused on a PBS-style set-up, not on competing with for-profit broadcasters.

      • CBC is actually a lot lower funded than many public broadcasters in Europe. However, you guys are right. The CBC has its priorities wrong. That is, if it has any priorities at all. It doesn’t seem to have any clear direction on what it wants to be whatsoever.

  3. If Rogers doesn’t sublicense anymore NHL games to the CBC after 2018, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Stanley Cup Final end up on either the Sportsnet regionals or 360. Using City for said series could be dicey given that City hasn’t had a Maritimes outlet in 6 years thanks to the CHUM Limited/CTVgm merger’s terms. I worry about the CBC Sports employees who work behind the scenes. I hate seeing this happen to the CBC, but it’ll have to adjust.

    • There has been some talk for some time that Rogers and Shaw very well could merge by 2016 if that happens you would see City and Global become one mega channel.

    • They wouldn’t use 360 for sure. The games would certainly air on City, although probably on the regionals as well. But Scott Moore has been consistent in saying where the games air in 2018 is dependent on what the broadcast landscape looks like.

  4. I’m wondering if we’ll see Rogers/CBC bid together for future Olympics like they’ve done with the NHL. That would shut out Bell and provide a ton of channels to air the Games and have plenty of room to air regular programming.

    • They didn’t bid together on the NHL. Rogers won the contract and sub-licensed the rights to CBC. My guess is the CBC would prefer to go it alone on the Olympics so they have creative control, then sublicense rights to anyone and everyone.

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