Wednesday night, TSN 1040 tweeted a message that immediately prompted speculative questions. It was confirmed the next morning that the Canucks had sold their exclusive radio broadcasting rights to Sportsnet for the next five seasons. This isn’t a David and Goliath scenario, it’s Goliath and Goliath. Rogers and Bell Media, two of Canada’s biggest conglomerates, have been in heavy competition with each other on all platforms. Since the NHL signed a 12-year deal with Rogers in 2013, Sportsnet has had an expanding presence in the development of league content. This deal solidifies their ownership of the big three media platforms (radio, television, mobile) covering the Canucks.
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) March 9, 2017
The Canucks aren’t the first Canadian NHL team to have their radio rights held by Rogers. Sportsnet 960 is the home of both the Calgary Flames and Hitmen. As well, Sportsnet 590 in Toronto shares the Leafs’ broadcasting rights with, ironically, TSN 1050. Bell Media has laid off numerous notable individuals over the past few years, so perhaps it was inevitable that this would happen.
So why did the Canucks choose Rogers over Bell? A big reason is likely due to the money. The Canucks’ revenue has, without a doubt, declined over the past few seasons – so much so that franchise’s annual evaluations have been trending downward. I covered this topic a few months ago and you can find that by navigating here.
According to Jason Botchford, Bell Media and TSN 1040 had a “Strong 3-year offer on the table”, but CSE chose Rogers’ 5-year deal instead. The current expiring contract with Bell is worth roughly $3.5M per year, whereas the new deal with Rogers is worth $2M annually (Credit: Iain MacIntyre). So why settle for less? There are multiple reasons – the first being the declining value of the radio. With the development of mobile technologies and different platforms, the radio simply isn’t as hot of a commodity as it was previously. Second, it’s the term. The sense of security is crucial in business when negotiating with other parties. Thirdly, the fact that the deal completes the Rogers branding within the organization is just an incentive. We’ve got Rogers Arena, Sportsnet Pacific, the Canucks app powered by Rogers, and now Sportsnet Radio (official name & station tbd). The radio was the last piece of TSN that was attached to the Canucks, but it’s now 100% Rogers Sportsnet.
When members of the 1040 clan were laid off this year and last, those were signs that Bell was clearly looking for some budget cuts. Although they did present a “strong” offer to CSE, the number is unknown. It likely wasn’t much higher than the $2M from Bell, and the lesser term couldn’t sway the front office in their favour.
To keep the markets competitive, the CRTC “Permits a person to own a maximum of two (stations) in any one frequency band,” (CRTC, pt. 19). Rogers currently owns News 1130, 104.9 KISS, and 96.9 JACK FM. Therefore, they could in fact start up a new AM station rather than randomly air games on a current one. In an intermission interview, Sportsnet’s Scott Moore indirectly acknowledged TSN 1040’s place as Vancouver’s all-sports radio station, and he did admit that it would be hard to compete with. Nonetheless, he left the door open for possibility.
Can multiple sports stations survive? Yes and it’s been fine. Our friends across the border have not two but three different stations that have been able to coincide with each other. ESPN 710 possesses the rights to broadcast both the Mariners and the Seahawks, but KJR 950 is the dominant station. TSN 1260 doesn’t own the Oilers’ broadcast rights, it’s held by 630 CHED, and TSN 1050 and Sportsnet 590 are co-rights holders for the Leafs. Multiple stations can coincide and the non-rights holder can be the more successful station.
So what does this mean for our beloved TSN 1040? The switch will occur toward the end of August before the start of training camp. According to the radio hosts, everything will remain the same except for the play-by-play coverage and organizational interviews. Other than that. it’s the same hosts at the same times and talking about the same content. The Canucks aren’t allowed to to tell them, “No, you can’t talk about us” and “We’re not going to let you talk to our players”. The pre- and post-game shows will remain intact, but it’s unknown what will occur during the game. Personnel wise, Jon Abbott and Dave Tomlinson find themselves in hot water. Radio hosts can be a little more critical now, and it’s also an opportunity to diversify and cover more Whitecaps and Lions. TSN 1040 won’t be “Home of the Canucks anymore, but it could be “Home of Vancouver Sports”.
They’ve done a great job covering the team over the last eleven years. They’re not going to crumble – at least not yet. For the optimists, just look at KJR as a good example of the non-rights holder being the more popular station. It can happen, but Bell can’t pull the plug on Vancouver. TSN 1040 has a loyal audience who seem more resistant to the change than embracive of it.
However, let’s not pretend that it’s all and well in the Vancouver sports radio sector. Bell has been known to cut ties in the past, but this time it’s not a few people – it’s Vancouver’s biggest sports team.