Thursday, November 28, 2013

Show them the money: Canadian sports TV talent set to cash in


     It's impossible to overstate the enormity of the NHL's new Canadian television deal, and not just because of the dollar figure - although 5.2 billion is a pile of dough, even in the era of multi-trillion dollar government budgets (and - more ominously - public debts and deficits).
    The most staggering number in the new hockey TV contract is the term: 12 years.  Twelve years for exclusive rights holder Rogers/Sportsnet to shift and consolidate the balance of Canadian sports broadcasting power against Bell/TSN.
    When the new television deal expires, Sidney Crosby will be 39.  Connor McDavid, the heir apparent to Crosby as the next "best player in the world", will be pushing 30.  Chris Chelios will be 64 and considering a comeback.  But here's the clincher: the next time Canadian television broadcasting rights for the NHL are up for grabs, Bob McKenzie will be 70.  Canada's best and most influential hockey journalist and analyst will spend the rest of his career working the beat for a network with no substantial skin in the game - unless he crosses the street, and that's where things get interesting for the country's handful of prominent hockey broadcasters and the millions of people who hang on their every word, whether spoken or delivered via social media.
    TSN's talent pool is significantly deeper than Sportsnet's, which puts guys like McKenzie in the enviable position of being targets in a potential bidding war.  That's not to say Sportsnet is devoid of talent, but off the top of my head, the only guy I can think of in McKenzie's class as both a broadcaster and an analyst is Scott Morrison, whose star will definitely ascend to even greater heights if he's given the prominent role he deserves.  Sportsnet doesn't have studio hosts or play-by-play announcers on the level of James Duthie, Chris Cuthbert, Gord Miller or Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman, all of whom should benefit from the seismic shift in the hockey broadcasting universe, whether through offers from Rogers to join the in-crowd or equally (or more) lucrative counteroffers from their existing employers to keep them in the fold.  My spider senses, honed through 35 years in the broadcasting business, say Don Cherry's goose is cooked, because Rogers executives refused to give Cherry a vote of confidence when the deal was announced, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in full bobblehead mode whilst vomiting insincere platitudes about the iconic Coach's Corner carnival barker.  Ron MacLean's wagon is so firmly hitched to Cherry's that he's probably on the outs as well, although CBC will probably keep him around to carry the mail on the network's other sports broadcasts - especially if Friedman makes the jump to Sportsnet.  Cherry and MacLean had a tremendous run and made a nice chunk of change along the way, but with Sportsnet assuming full creative control over Hockey Night in Canada, they'll probably want to hang a new set of grapes, er, drapes.  There will be other job losses at HNIC as Rogers moves its own people into place, and at TSN, where hockey-specific production staff will become significantly less relevant, but premium talent on both sides of the camera should land on their feet and be compensated according to their worth. 
    At a time when the industry generally eschews experienced talent that commands a good salary in favor of cheap, disposable labour, it's enormously gratifying from an individual broadcaster's perspective to see talent get its due, and even more gratifying that it's happening because the corporate overlords who've been busy devaluing real broadcasters came out of the biggest deal in Canadian sports television history looking like the north end of a southbound horse.

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