With the threat of an NHL lockout looming in just ten days, Canadian sports broadcasters are taking the fifth on how their deals with the league will be affected by any work stoppage. TSN, Sportsnet and CBC have all said they do not discuss the specific terms of their deals with the league.
"Our agreement with the league has provisions that address a labour disruption but at this point, we're still hoping those triggers won't be needed," said CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson.
But Usual Suspects has learned that if the upcoming NHL season is shortened by another labour lockout, it will probably impact regional sports broadcasters in Canada more than national rights holders. Upon resumption of play, the league would likely first need to satisfy its national TV contracts first when it draws up a schedule. That would mean about 26 dates for CBC's Hockey Night In Canada and TSN national weeknight broadcasts would have to be honoured first in any truncated schedule.
Only then could the NHL seek to satisfy Sportsnet's and TSN's regional schedules with individual teams. Sportsnet has regional deals with Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. TSN has regional rights to Toronto, Winnipeg and the English language rights to Montreal.
If the entire season is lost (as it was in 2004-05) sources say all Canadian networks will still make their 2012- '13 payment to the NHL but get an additional year added to their current contracts. CBC currently pays approximately $100-million a year for its HNIC package which expires in 2014. In the U.S., NBC will pay its annual $200-million fee even if the season is cancelled but receive an additional year at the end of its current 10-year, $2-billion deal with NBC Universal.
Escrow Flies: Hockey fanatics looking for pressure points that might return them their televised hockey have pointed to early October when players would start losing pay cheques (players are only paid during regular season). The thinking goes that, based on 2004-'05, the more pay players lose, the less their resolve.
Maybe so, but that might take a while. As October rolls around, veteran players will be restored their estimated 8.5 percent escrow cheques from last year. In some cases that can run up to almost $ 750,000. Which could bolster courage around the NHL Players Association for a while longer.
Look for the next Board of Governors meeting on Sept. 13 to gauge the resolve of the 29 teams as they prepare to padlock the whirlpool and massage tables. Odds on a media photo op with the determined owners flanking commissioner Gary Bettman in a united front? 1:9.
MacLean Optimistic: When Ron MacLean applies himself, he's worth listening to. The HNIC host says there won't be a lockout, and here's why.
Makes as much sense as anyone.
The Fan 590 Celebrates: Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 celebrated its 20th anniversary Tuesday. Considering that Toronto has two all-sports radio formats now, it's hard to recall the novelty of a boutique 24-hour sports radio station coming on the scene in 1992. Naturally, people said it would never work. Despite the example of CNN and other single-focus broadcasters, critics asked, "Who listens to sports 24 hours a day?"
We have since discovered that people from every demographic would listen to sports 36 hours a day if the clock permitted. In its early days The Fan (then 1430) was propelled by the city's infatuation with the Blue Jays and their successive World Series in 1992-'93. As the radio voice of the team, The Fan gained instant credibility and listeners. Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth became legends via the Jays radio broadcasts on The Fan.
(Plus, it had a year of Usual Suspects hosting Double Play, a great asset. Or not.)
The launch of the format also corresponded with the Doug Gilmour-era Maple Leafs, the brightest ray of sunshine in 45 years of Leaf incompetence. In fact, the most interesting fact about The Fan is that it has survived - even prospered - despite continued ineptitude from all the Toronto sports teams. Bad news is still good news for The Fan.
Much of the credit for milking a lean cow goes to Bob McCown. In a Canadian culture that eschews criticizing folk who are downtrodden, McCown made his career by standing on the shoulders of abject failures, reminding them of their hopeless state. In many respects, today's Fan is a tribute to McCown's durability. While it seems McCown has been in his afternoon drive perch forever, he has also been the morning drive host, then fired, then resurrected when Dan Shulman found fame and fortune in the U.S.
The late TEAM Radio and now TSN Radio have yet to find a way to knock McCown from his perch. The Fan's ratings have never been healthier. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.
Pointed Video: We've talked before how this is the first NHL labour dispute taking place with the backdrop of social media. In previous lockouts the two sides had only the mainstream media to spin. This time it's very different, as seen by this 8:31 video "Together We Can" from @nolockout. Can such videos sway public sentiment? We're about to find out.
A Good Read: Two updates on prominent Canadian sports media figures. First, our Lorne Rubenstein has had second thoughts and, happily for us, has decided to continue writing golf for the Globe & Mail. In addition, the inestimable Michael Farber is pulling back from his full-time duties at Sports illustrated and will contribute now to SI and SI.com on an occasional basis. Good that we'll still be able to read both influential voices for a while longer.