Vancouver Sports Radio is Going to Change

Cam Davie
February 21 2011 12:19PM

Sports radio in Canada is changing. Quickly.

Rogers Sportsnet and TSN have both added branded radio stations to their media conglomerates in Toronto. The landscape of Toronto sports radio has changed, and if you're a sports fans, then those changes are all for the good. More reliable, trusted content bridged across a variety of different forms of media.

So the question for Vancouver sports fans - when is Vancouver next on the docket?

It is almost inevitable that the state of Vancouver sports radio, as we now know it, will change. Media giants Rogers and CTV Globemeda have finally added their brands to Canadian sports radio. Both companies owned and operated sports radio stations, but in both cases, they left their brands off the stations. Rogers owned both FAN960 in Calgary and FAN590 in Toronto, while CTV (via their ownership of CHUM) owns several sports radio stations across the country.

But both Rogers and CTV seem eager to propagate their sports media brands quickly. Rogers has now rebranded FAN960 and FAN590 as Sportsnet Radio, dove-tailing with their regional sports television stations. And to counter than CTV, which is the majority owner of TSN announced last week that they will be launching TSN Radio in Toronto on 1050 AM. In fact, they are completely resetting the format of 1050 AM, a station that is currently owned by CHUM and operates as a breaking news channel. On April 13th, TSN and Sportsnet will officially add radio to their head-to-head battlecard when TSN Radio 1050 goes live in Toronto. And it's not hard to imagine that, if TSN Radio is successful, rebrands to some of their existing radio stations can't be far behind.

In fact, Vancouver sports radio could very well be the first place that they would want to start. In looking at the Vancouver radio ratings through 2010, the numbers show that TEAM1040's ratings are steadily increasing period after period. In fact, in the last ratings period, TEAM1040 had higher ratings than Vancouver mainstays CFOX and CBC Radio 1.

The thirst for sports radio in Vancouver is at a high. The Canucks are the best team in the league. The Whitecaps are set to start their inaugural season in the MLS. The Lions are always a big draw. And the good thing for CHUM is that all three of those sports properties are exclusively broadcast on the their two Vancouver sports stations. So it would seem to make sense to strike while the iron is hot in the Vancouver sports media market. And it would certainly be putting a dagger in the local sports market in terms of competition against Rogers.

And this is where things with the Canucks get very interesting. Rogers is the primary sponsor for the Canucks and has splashed its brand across anything and everything related to the Canucks. They have the naming rights to the arena. Rogers Sportsnet Pacific broadcasts 45 regular season games and another 13 games on Sportsnet Vancouver Hockey (a rebranded regional broadcast of Sportsnet ONE). The Canucks website and mobile app are both powered by Rogers.

But they don't own the Canucks radio broadcast rights. And you have to think that they are doing whatever they can to rectify that. Especially considering their Canucks television personalities on Sportsnet (John Shorthouse, Don Taylor, Barry MacDonald) do much of the radio-based work on TEAM1040 too. But Team1040, owned by CHUM, still has two more seasons left on their current six-year contract to broadcast Canucks game.

If Rogers is intent on shoring up their complete media coverage of the Vancouver Canucks, what is their next move? Do they start with launching a sports radio station in Vancouver? Well the problem is that they would likely have to start from scratch on that. Currently, they only own one AM radio station in the Vancouver market (News1130) and its ratings are far better than TEAM1040. They could try to rebrand one of their FM stations, but it seems like all sports format stations are on the AM band.

Let's assume that Rogers would then launch a new station. But here is the problem... there is NO WAY that Vancouver could support three sports stations. In fact, it is barely supporting the two that it currently has, and has proven in the past that it can't support more than one sports station. Does anyone remember MOJO Radio? It lasted as sports radio for a little over two years and failed miserably. As one of its primary holdings, MOJO broadcasted ESPN content... which is mostly what TEAM1410 does currently. It didn't work for MOJO and it's proving not to work for TEAM1410. And until the Lions and the Whitecaps start playing, TEAM1410's ratings will continue to falter.  And even then, it's no guarantee that those game broadcasts will net higher ratings, especially when the NHL season comes to an end.

What does Rogers do? They need the Canucks on one of their radio stations to provide a full multimedia experience to Canucks fans. And Vancouver sports radio cannot support more than two sports radio stations. I could definitely see Rogers buying out the remaining two years of the Canucks broadcast rights from CHUM, as well as buying out TEAM1040 or TEAM1410 (more likely 1410, given their ratings) from CHUM and rebranding it as Sportsnet Radio Vancouver. Finally they would need to buy out some of the on-air talent who are currently under contract from both Rogers (on TV) and CHUM. This way, CHUM can consolidate its sports holdings onto one station and divest itself of a faltering station with terrible ratings. TEAM Radio would also still have a healthy stable of popular, daily on-air talent, with Scott Rintoul, Ray Ferraro, Dave Pratt, Rick Ball, Blake Price and the Kurtenbloggers. Plus they can add in syndicated shows coming from the Toronto head office from voices like Bob McKenzie and others, which would surely draw listeners. So there is financial benefit in CHUM doing this deal, especially if they demand a mint for the Canucks' right. But this is a business after all. So if there aren't in it for the money, then why are they doing it?

Rogers will certainly have to overpay to buy out the Canucks' radio rights and the on-air talent. After all they are buying out rights from a national, bitter competitor. If the rights were worth $1.8 million per year in 2006, then you have to think that the value to buy them out now, plus a premium could be double that, or more. But they could reap massive benefits by being able to provide exclusive Canucks content across the TV, Internet and Radio. But you have to think that Rogers would like to do this sooner than later. The Canucks are the best team in the league, they're the hottest sports ticket in town, and there's a buzz about the team everywhere you go. It certainly isn't likely to happen before the end of this season. There just isn't time, and it would be a logistical nightmare to try to switch formats/contracts/stations mid-season.

It would not surprise me in the least if the landscape of Vancouver sports radio changed as early as this summer.

Is Vancouver ready for TSN Radio 1040 and Sportsnet Radio Vancouver? Well get ready, because it will happen sooner than you think.

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Cam was born in Greater Vancouver, raised in Greater Vancouver, and lives in Greater Vancouver. So, yes, he's from Vancouver. He attended his first Vancouver Canucks game on Dec 26th, 1980 and has bled orange/black/red/blue+green ever since. You can reach him on Twitter @tinfoiltuque or on e-mail at tinfoiltuque(at)gmail(dot)com.
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#1 Jonathan Willis
February 21 2011, 06:14PM
Trash it!
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This is a good write-up, Cam. The one thing I don't like about the more polarized radio broadcast network is the way talent is being forced to one side or the other - i.e. you won't hear Bob McKenzie on Sportsnet Radio (but on a positive note, you won't here Pierre McGuire either).

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