No network panic about loss of NHL

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:34 AM ET

Scramble?

What scramble?

Can we all lose the suggestion, please, that Canada's sports TV networks are in a frenzied, panicked chase to fill "the void" caused by the killing of the NHL season.

Truth be told, folks at TSN and Rogers Sportsnet in particular have been preparing for this eventuality as long as the teams and players themselves. Executives from both networks were quoted in this space some 18 months ago saying plans were already in the works for "replacement" programming.

TSN announced Wednesday an increase in amateur and international hockey coverage, but many of these events were already on the network's calendar. So, too, were the golf, auto racing, tennis and NBA coverage you'll see in the weeks ahead.

Same deal with Sportsnet, which has NBA and NCAA basketball, Memorial Cup and AHL hockey, Blue Jays baseball and soccer entrenched in its schedule.

Would the networks prefer NHL hockey and the bigger audiences and higher ad revenue it generates?

Of course.

"I can assure you we'd rather not deal with (a cancelled NHL season)," admitted TSN president Phil King.

But be also assured there's no sense of panic in either building. They know life must go on without the NHL.

And they didn't just wake up to that reality yesterday.

ROCKIN' THE HOUSE: The CBC Country Canada era begins in St. John's tomorrow, with the first rocks being tossed at the Scott Tournament of Hearts. So, too, will start the added scrutiny of CBC's curling coverage, fronted by Don Wittman and analysts Mike Harris and Joan McCusker. There was great uproar last summer, when TSN lost the rights to the Scott, Brier and several other major curling events. Most of the ire was caused by the CBC's decision to put the evening draws on its digital Country Canada channel (the Score has since picked up two Scott and two Brier night draws). Figures aren't available yet, but it'll be interesting to see how many curling fans ponied up the cash for a Country Canada subscription. And how loud the screaming will be among those who didn't.

PUCK DROPPINGS: If locked out NHLers flood rosters for the world hockey championship in May in Austria, TSN's decision to expand tourney coverage might prove to be a shrewd move. "That might be a nice little bit of luck for us," said King. "We decided we would do as many games as we could." The network is boosting its broadcast total to 17 games, including every Team Canada match ... With Senators hockey off the airwaves, the Team 1200 has decided to turn to the next best thing. Added to the radio station's lineup are 17 Binghamton Senators games, starting with the AHL team's visit to the Manchester Monarchs tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

AROUND THE DIAL: Sportsnet is making every aspect of NBA all-star weekend -- tonight's rookie game, tomorrow's skills contests and Sunday night's game -- available in high-definition format ... Hockey's status in Canada gets a two-hour examination during Hockey Nation: State of the Game, airing tomorrow at 6 p.m. on CBC Newsworld.

Weekend Picks

TV:

1) Scott Tournament of Hearts, Tomorrow/Sunday, CBC, The Score, CBC Country Canada (see listings)

2) Daytona 500, Sunday, 2 p.m., Fox, TSN, RDS

Radio:

1) Attack at 67's, Sunday, 2 p.m., Team 1200

2) Sens at Monarchs, Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m., Team 1200


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