No Hockey Hurts CBC More Than Most Others

Chances are both professional hockey players and the NHL’s 30 owners will come out of the lockout just fine. As the argument goes, it’s a battle of millionaires against billionaires. Sure neither is making money now, but both will be (if a fair, sensible CBA is agreed upon), sometime within the next year. Looking past the players and owners, and even the fans who will have to find something else to do on cold evenings during Canadian winter, there are many who are truly hurt by this lockout. Those who work at NHL offices (which are affected by cuts already), undoubtably the teams themselves will make cuts too, those who work at the arenas that are now empty for weeks at a time in some cases. And I’m sure there are countless others.

But, considering the focus of this blog, it seems only right to focus on the members of the media. TSN and Sportsnet will have no problem keeping their hockey personalities busy between retro games with new studio shows (on TSN), AHL/CHL games (on Sportsnet) and countless segments on every second of Donald Fehr’s life on the highlight and talk shows. There’s little doubt that these jobs are in jeopardy. However, the freelancers who work behind the scenes are left scrambling. Sure some will find work on those AHL and CHL games (and other events too), but some won’t.

And then there’s the CBC. The public broadcaster relies on NHL hockey, which is consistently its top-rated weekly program, to generate revenue to help finance other CBC programs. The government recently cut funding to CBC, including CBC Sports. Now not only does CBC have to find replacement programming for four hours a week (taking out three hours for a classic game), but they also have to find other streams of revenue in the face of cuts and a loss of expected revenue from hockey.

Last time Gary Bettman announced the NHL would lose a full season, news soon followed that Chris Cuthbert had been cut by the CBC. Even though he expected to become Hockey Night in Canada‘s primary play-by-play commentator, CBC couldn’t commit to paying his salary with taxpayer dollars (among other things, I should point out) when there were no hockey games for him to call. I’m not saying that CBC will cut Jim Hughson, Mark Lee, or anyone else this time, but they ware in a better economic position eight years ago. If they had to cut HNIC spending then, it would be reasonable to assume they might now too.

CBC will need to find work for high-profile Hockey Night personalities during the lockout. Sports Weekend returns from its summer hiatus in two weeks. Sports featured this winter include figure skating, alpine skiing, speed skating, bobsleigh and curling. Mark Lee has experience calling figure skating. I’d recommend using Scott Oake on ski racing, where excelled during CBC’s 2002 and 2006 Olympic coverage. Of course using HNIC personalities on Sports Weekend could prevent CBC’a amateur sports regulars, like Brenda Irving and Steve Armitage, from getting assignments.

Ron MacLean will host CBC’s classic broadcasts on Saturday nights, a similar role to his hosting of Movie Night in Canada in 2004.

Quebec vs. Montreal… It’s a rivalry that hasn’t happened in the NHL in over 15 years. NHLPA players have organized a series of charity games between teams featuring NHL players from Quebec City and Montreal. The players will compete for their city. With the Canadiens opening game for Thursday cancelled, RDS has elected to show one of these games instead. It will air on RDS INFO, while RDS has baseball and RDS2 has NFL.

Sportsnet not showing A’s-Tigers… No doubt viewers across Canada were as confused as I was when a classic 1979 MLB game (clearly from MLB Network) showed up on TV screens nationwide Sunday afternoon. Sportsnet missed he first inning of the Athletics @ Tigers game before restoring the correct MLB Network feed. Word from Sportsnet is MLB Network initially set them the wrong feed. They then had to get in contact with MLB Network to get the other feed (that the game was on) approved.

Jamie Campbell initially laid the blame on MLB Network. Turns out that was a bit rash, but he was probably as confused as the viewers, to be fair.

Costas on MLB Network... Bob Costas will return to calling postseason baseball for the first time since the 2000 ALCS. Costas will call the Cardinals @ Nationals game with Jim Kaat tomorrow afternoon for MLB Network (1:00pm, Sportsnet). Costas has called regular season baseball on MLB Network for the past couple seasons; however, these games are usually not available on Canadian television.

Other baseball playoff games tomorrow are Giants @ Reds (4:00pm, Sportsnet; if necessary), Orioles @ Yankees (7:30pm, Sportsnet) and Tigers @ Athletics (9:30pm, SN1; if necessary). If the Reds and Tigers win tonight, the Orioles @ Yankees game will move to 8:30pm.

9.79*… ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back for a second season (or third, depending on how you count). The first of the new docs to air in Canada is “9.79*”, the story of Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the men’s 100m final at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Most are familiar with the story. Johnson, a Canadian, won the race. He was later banned because he tested positive for steroids. As a result Lewis, who is arguably the best Olympian ever, moved up from silver to gold.

The film recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. You can see the TIFF trailer here. It will air Thursday night at 8:30pm ET on TSN. The second season of 30 for 30 will continue on Thursdays over much of October, November and December.

Shaw Direct simsubs… I tend not to complain about simsubs. They support the Canadian broadcast industry. However, sometimes things go too far and consumers have the right to know more. Shaw Direct recently began carrying Citytv HD Toronto. That’s all fine; however, shows on that channel are now simsubbed over the American channels everywhere in Canada. Even here in Atlantic Canada, where the closest Citytv affiliate is in Toronto, we have to watch Citytv.

I never received any simsubs on Shaw Direct until they bought Global, at which point they started simsubbing Global HD nationwide. Personally, I didn’t really have a problem with this. At least when Shaw bought Global they also added Global Saint John to the Shaw Direct line-up and launched a New Brunswick specific newscast (the only one by a private broadcaster). It was easily visible how this simsubbing revenue was having a positive impact on local television here in New Brunswick. I’m not so okay with having to watch Citytv when Rogers has no local programming (let alone a channel) in the Maritimes and for that matter, they don’t have very much original programming whatsoever.

NCAA FB games… Usually when there is a major college football game on an American cable channel, Canadian fans get the shaft as it rarely airs here. That’s not the case this Saturday when #3 South Carolina travel to Death Valley to face #9 LSU on ESPN (airs at 8pm ET on TSN2 in Canada). Fans have two selections at 12:00pm as #6 Kansas States faces Iowa State on SN1 and Iowa travels to Michigan State on TSN2.

Check back later in the week for CFL weekend ratings (as well as baseball playoffs, maybe), this weekend’s NFL games on Canadian TV, some Engraved on a Nation news, and an update on the World Cup Qualifying games that will air this weekend.

5toWatch:

  • MLB: There is potential quadruple header postseason baseball both Wednesday and Thursday (as of writing this the Giants and Reds are tied 1-1 in the 9th). Games are tentatively scheduled for 1:00, 4:00, 7:30 and 9:30 both nights. All on Sportsnet or Sportsnet One. Get watching!
  • FIFA WC Qualifying: As an Ireland supported, I can’t even begin to express my excitement that Irish home matches aren’t on PPV now. Ireland’s new World Cup qualifying home campaign begins Friday against Germany at the Aviva (2:30pm, GolTV). Among other key games, next Tuesday (October 16) Canada will travel to Honduras to play our final game in the current stage of CONCACAF qualifying (4:00pm, Sportsnet). The Canadian team will likely need at least a point to advance to the next round.
  • College Football: There are plenty of big college football games this weekend, including four that pit two top-25 teams against each other. My best bets are #13 Oklahoma vs. #15 Texas at the Cotton Bowl (12:00pm, ABC), #17 Stanford @ #7 Notre Dame (3:30pm, NBC), and #3 South Carolina @ #9 LSU (8:00pm, TSN2).
  • Alouettes-Argonauts:  Who would have thought that Toronto would could overtake Montreal in the standings on a Sunday afternoon in October (1:00pm, TSN). Well, they do. A slightly mediocre (by their standards) Alouettes season and a surprisingly good campaign for the Argos have led to this.
  • NFL: There are only two games this week that match-up two teams with winning records, and they both air in the late timeslot Sunday afternoon. The Patriots and Seahawks are both 3-2 heading into their game at Qwest Field (4:05pm, CBS). Viewers who receive CBS from Seattle, Boston or Detroit will get this game. The 3-2 Giants also travel to the Bay Area to face the 4-1 49ers (4:25pm, FOX). This game will air on pretty much every FOX station available in Canada, except FOX Seattle.

CBC’s 10% Cuts Hit CBC Sports

Most of us figured it was only a matter of time before the government’s 10% cut in funding for CBC/Radio Canada  hit CBC Sports. After all, just about every other department at the public broadcast had already taken its share of the burden. Last week CBC’s documentaries, news, radio and original programming sectors all took cuts to reduce funding. Yesterday, CBC executive vice-president Kirstine Stewart announced CBC Sports will have to cut $4 million from its annual budget. All things considered, it could be worse. CBC News will have to cut $10 million annually.

Amateur sports will take a particularly hard hit. CBC will cut the amount of amateur sports programming on the weekend. The flagship program, CBC Sports Weekend, will only air in the winter now. Sports like alpine skiing and figure skating, which get respectable ratings and good sponsors, will likely stay. Others, especially those in the summer, are less certain. CBC has already lost rights to Skate Canada’s figure skating package and World Cup bobsleigh in the past year.

I think CBC should focus its sports broadcasting on hockey and high performance, amateur, Olympic level sports. For years CBC has televised the Rogers Cup. While it is great to give it a high-profile, it is now the only tennis event on free TV in Canada. With all four Grand Slams on cable, I don’t think it would be a major loss to put it on Sportsnet or TSN. There is no reason a private broadcaster can’t show this event. The same goes for the Calgary Stampede, Spruce Meadows show jumping, the Canadian Women’s Open and the Queen’s Plate. CBC does Olympic sports better than anyone else. These events could air anywhere and get good TV coverage (and yes I know show jumping and golf are Olympic sports).

That would leave CBC with its winter sports, as well as Diamond League athletics. I think CBC should keep the Diamond League. Use the international commentary feed (great way to save money, by the way). Air it in a 1 or 2 hour block on Saturday or Sunday afternoon during the summer. It wouldn’t need very much production on the CBC end. There are events almost every week. It would make for great, cheap, summer sports programming.

Hockey Night in Canada is unaffected by the cuts. It is self-sufficient and actually makes money to fund other CBC programming. Having said that, there are ways it could cut its budget to create a higher surplus. I’d start by eliminating Don Cherry. They don’t have to fire him, just don’t re-new his contract. Nobody tunes into hockey for the intermission show. There’s no reason to spend so much money on a guy who is on TV for 5 minutes a week.

CBC would have to replace Don Cherry, of course. They have hired Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau and Carolina coach Kirk Muller as guest studio analysts during the playoffs. Both probably have long coaching careers ahead of them, but who knows. My choice, however, would be Bobby Holik. He speaks his mind, and as a relative unknown to broadcasting, he wouldn’t require top dollar.

I’ve always liked CBC’s sports offerings. But if these cuts have to happen to CBC Sports, I’d like to see amateur sports coverage remain intact at the expense of other events.

TSN playoff commentators… For those wondering which games TSN’s commentators will call, here it is. Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro will do all of Flyers-Penguins (there are no NBC simulcasts this year). They will also do game 3 of Panthers-Devils, games 4 and 6 of Coyotes-Blackhawks and game 5 of Sharks-Blues.

Chris Cuthbert and Mike Johnson are based on the west coast and will call games 1, 2, 3 and 5 of Blackhawks-Coyotes and games 3, 4 and 6 of Blues-Sharks.

TSN will use simulcasts for the other games. Get used to FS Florida’s Steve Goldstein and Bill Lindsay. Canadians will hear them three times in the first round. We will also get to see two of NBC’s cable broadcasts (commentators still to-be-confirmed).

NBC playoff commentators… NBC has remained tight-lipped about their playoff commentators. Neither Fang’s Bites or Puck the Media has reported anything as of this morning. Dave Strader & Brian Engblom will call the entire Predators-Red Wings series. Pierre McGuire will do all of the Penguins-Flyers series (presumably with Mike Emrick) and some (or most) of Bruins-Capitals. John Forslund and Brian Heyward will call Canucks-Kings in the US.