The CBC has lost its grip on one of its oldest pieces of sports Canadiana.
In a stunning move, the Canadian Football League announced yesterday it has sold the rights to all of its games -- 72 regular-season contests plus the playoffs -- to TSN and RDS in a five-year deal that begins in 2008. It means the Grey Cup, the biggest single-day sports event in the country, is moving to cable television after next year's game in Toronto.
"This is akin to the Super Bowl being aired on ESPN," said CTV Inc. president Rick Brace in stating the magnitude of this latest shift in the Canadian television landscape.
CBC has broadcast the Grey Cup since 1952. Only Hockey Night in Canada has a longer history on the public broadcaster's airwaves.
"Obviously, we're very disappointed that after more than 50 seasons of football on CBC Television, that the CFL has made this decision," CBC spokesman Jeff Keay told cbc.ca. "The CBC has a long and proud tradition of making football available to Canadians across the country."
The CBC never had a chance to stay in the game. TSN, which owned the rights to all CFL games in the previous broadcast deal, had a window of negotiating exclusivity. The CFL concluded the new deal -- believed to be worth $75 million over five years, a jump of $30 million over the old contract -- without bringing the CBC to the table.
In the previous CFL broadcast deal, TSN sub-licensed a package to the CBC that included all playoff games and the Grey Cup. But network executives insisted that won't be happening again.
"The Grey Cup will be on TSN," network president Phil King said firmly.
Questions will be raised about the ability of Canadians everywhere to watch the country's most traditional game. While TSN's reach has grown to 8.8 million homes, about 10% of Canadians still have no access to the network.
CFL commissioner Tom Wright admitted not putting the rights on the open market might be termed "a risk," but added "we feel very confident about the deal we arrived at with TSN and RDS.
"(The networks) have demonstrated the ability to attract large audiences."
The new contract also gives TSN/RDS new media rights, including broadband, mobile phone, video-on-demand and interactive content. It includes live Internet game webcasts.