I hinted last night about a major announcement coming from Sportsnet this morning. I honestly had no clue they were about to buy the Grand Slam of Curling. That’s right, not just the broadcast rights, but the name and events themselves. Sportsnet promises to broadcast the four annual Grand Slam events like never before. And through a sub-license, CBC returns to broadcast curling events for a 51st season.
You may remember last January that CBC quietly sub-licensed weekday coverage of the Grand Slams to Sportsnet. Before the coverage even got to air CBC terminated their contract with the Grand Slam, then owned by iSport Media. The public broadcaster had not received payments from the company for broadcasting the Grand Slam bonspiels. As a result, Sportsnet’s sub-licenese was also terminated. One Grand Slam went completely untelevised. iSport was able to arrange a deal with Global Television to show the season-ending Players Championship.
Not paying the CBC was just the first sign of financial problems for the Slam. Due to “technical problems” many teams were not initially able to claim their prize money following the Players Championship. All teams were eventually payed, but there was no doubt iSport was in serious financial trouble and the integrity of the Grand Slam was in question heading into the 2012 season.
The new deals eliminates iSport, which brings the CBC back to the table as the over-the-air rights holder; restoring curling to the channel after a short 8 month hiatus. Sportsnet will supplement CBC’s coverage as the cable broadcaster. Sportsnet will also run the tournament, following TSN’s example of having an executive role in the TSN Curling Skins Game.
It is becoming more common for Canadian networks to control the events in which they broadcast every day. Bell and Rogers buying large pieces of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment is a prime example. Rogers also owns the Toronto Blue Jays. The curling is just more guaranteed programming for Sportsnet as long as they keep the series running. As part of their pending acquisition of theScore, Rogers also gains control of theScore Fighting Series in the coming months. Both events will likely fall under the new “Sportsnet Events” department.
Scott Moore was the head of CBC Sports when they bought World Curling Tour rights in 2007. He is now Rogers President of Broadcasting. Today Moore said, “Curling is an essential part of our Canadian sports fabric, and the Grand Slam of Curling is the cream of the crop in international curling events. We are proud to own and operate the Grand Slam of Curling, as it furthers Sportsnet’s commitment to producing world-class content, anyplace, anyhow and anywhere and allows us to integrate and engage the sports fan in innovative ways through our new events division. Sportsnet intends to grow the Grand Slam of Curling like never before.”
The World Competitive Curlers Association (curling’s version of the NHLPA) was vocally concerned about iSport’s financial troubles, including the lack of a television agreement for the Grand Slam. Their President Pierre Charette said today, “On behalf of the Grand Slam players, we are thrilled to welcome Sportsnet as the new owners of the Grand Slam of Curling. This is great news for the Canadian curling community as a whole. Sportsnet will operate events that are second-to-none, broadcast more games and take the Grand Slam of Curling to another level.”
The 2011-12 season of the Grand Slam of Curling begins November 14 with The Masters in Brantford, Ontario. I’ll post broadcast details as they become available closer to the start of the season.