Curling fans in legal limbo

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

So now it's come to this, curling fans. A potentially nasty court fight that could hold your favourite game hostage -- and cloud its television picture even more.

If that's at all possible.

A Coles Notes version of the latest chapter. The Canadian Curling Association announced Wednesday it was terminating its four-year TV deal with the CBC after one acrimonious season, citing "non-performance" by the Mother Corp.

The CBC's response? "Legal recourse," CBC Sports executive director Nancy Lee told CBC Online.

"As far as we're concerned, we have three more years of a deal. You don't get up and walk away from a signed legal document."

In the middle: Curling fans hopeful the CCA's move will mean a return of daily coverage on TSN (seen on the protest website, www.KeepCurlingOnTSN.com hours after the story broke -- "We Won!" in giant letters).

But the legal element should give curling fans real cause for worry. Sources say TSN is willing to open discussions with the CCA on a new deal -- at a much lower rate, no doubt -- but its hands are tied until any possible lawsuits are settled.

And time is of the essence. With the NHL about to finally settle its lockout, scheduling hockey will soon become the priority for TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and the CBC.

If curling hopes to regain its former foothold at TSN -- and it is the only interested party -- talks must start sooner rather than later.

"I can't believe (the window) could even go 30 days," said an industry source. "We're talking weeks, not months."

But the CBC, already stung by the loss of the Olympics earlier this year, is clearly spoiling for a fight to maintain its grip on a key TV property.

Despite Lee's comments, the CCA believes there have been several breaches of the original contract:

- The CBC cut a deal to show games on its main network and digital CBC Country Canada. But when it was discovered CRTC regulations limited Country Canada to 12.6 hours of curling coverage each week, the CBC was forced into scramble mode and brought The Score in to help at the last minute.

"They couldn't deliver on the agreement the way it was initially discussed (and agreed to)," said Dave Parkes, the CCA's CEO.

- Leaving games early, a dispute over production costs at the Ford Worlds in Victoria ... Parkes called it "just a taste" of the mess.

"(The lawsuit) is disappointing to us," he said. "Some pretty tangible issues led us to terminate the agreement. Is it a bullying tactic? Probably. Are we prepared for it? We're certainly doing everything we can."

In the meantime, curling fans are left in limbo. And the deal that, it says here, was doomed to fail from the beginning continues to haunt the CCA.

Can they escape it, and hand the rights back to the TSN, where three draws a day might even be possible again?

It could be up to the courts to rule on that one.

And time is running out.

PIERRE KNOWS DOUBLE DUTY: Pierre McGuire's broadcast profile is about to grow in a major way south of the border. Sources say the TSN hockey analyst will be part of NBC's crew when the network begins televising NHL games next season. NBC, which last aired NHL hockey in the 1970s (you remember Peter Puck, don't you?), has decided to go with a three-man booth for its games. McGuire will work as an analyst alongside John Davidson, the longtime No. 1 choice of every U.S. network that has carried NHL games. Mike Emrick, another American TV stalwart, gets the call for play-by-play. Since NBC's regular-season contract is small -- seven games on Saturday afternoons -- McGuire should have no problem fitting the NBC work around his TSN duties. There's also speculation that NBC wants McGuire to be part of its hockey team for the Turin Olympics.

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AROUND THE DIAL: Beginning Thursday, TSN has live four-round coverage of the Canadian Women's Open from Hammond Plains, N.S. That's after you start your mornings with the British Open from St. Andrews ... The card craze goes live Wednesday, when Sportsnet airs the final hand of Full Tilt Poker from 7-11 p.m. It's a Fox Sports Net production. Sun columnist Daniel Negreanu is in the field.


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