CBC tunes out national soundtrack

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

You can't get a free agent hockey player for a song.

How about a song as the most important free agent for Canadians this summer?

Forget forwards Mats Sundin or Marian Hossa.

The most interesting free agent in the hockey marketplace might be the tune many consider to be our country's second-most recognizable anthem after O Canada.

The fat lady is apparently singing for the iconic Hockey Night In Canada theme on the CBC, according to the company that oversees the copyright of the song synonymous with NHL hockey and Saturday nights in Canada (and every other night of the week come playoffs).

It would just be like the high foreheads at the CBC to dump 40 years of tradition and one of the most recognizable and beloved sounds of a Canadian Saturday night.

C'mon.

Who hasn't -- if not out loud, at least in your head --hummed that theme at some point on a frosty winter night when stepping onto the ice of a neighbourhood outdoor rink (they still have them around here, Al Gore) or even in your driveway for some ball hockey with the kids?

Yet, it looks like the soundtrack for many of the most fondly remembered nights of our childhoods is available for a measly $500 a game.

If I'm the good folks over at The Sports Network, I'm already on the phone to Copyright Music and Visuals, the company which oversees the use of the theme composed by Dolores Claman of Vancouver in 1968.

TSN, which long ago surpassed the CBC as the country's hockey network, just signed off the other day on a six-year broadcast and digital rights deal that gives the network more coverage of Canadian teams.

The deal, which starts next season and runs through 2013-14, includes TSN broadcasting 70 regular-season games annually with all the games involving at least one Canadian team, mostly on Wednesday nights.

If TSN is trying to build Wednesday as a hockey destination night, what better way to package those games involving Canadian teams than with the song that screams "NHL hockey!" to Canadians?

One of the most surprising things to me coming out of this story is the revelation the CBC was paying only about $500 a shot to use the HNIC theme, which doesn't seem to be very much for something which has become such a fundamental part of our hockey experience and therefore, a fundamental part of what it is to be Canadian.

Five hundred bucks a show?

Don Cherry probably spends about that on a tie and cufflinks.

When you consider the CBC is going to be paying something like $100-million a year starting next year for the rights to broadcast NHL games on Saturday nights, five bills seems like the equivalent of a bucket of pucks for one of the things that brings the Hockey Night in Canada brand to life.

Copyright Music and Visuals has supposedly offered the CBC about the same deal that expired when the season ended with the awarding of the Stanley Cup on Wednesday, with a 15% annual fee increase built in (which is apparently pretty standard in the music biz).

MISTAKE

The CBC is making a mistake here. The network's deep thinkers have fumbled negotiations before and it appears they've done so again.

Remember the summer of 2002 when host Ron MacLean was dropped after failing to agree to a new deal?

After a summer of fan outrage and everything short of a Ron MacLean telethon, the two sides agreed to a new seven-year deal.

CBC also made a mistake when it cut ties with play-by-play guy Chris Cuthbert in 2005, a versatile performer I think delivers the best call in the business. He was scooped up by TSN to work on both their CFL and NHL programming.

Dumping the Hockey Night in Canada theme is sure to strike a sour note with Canadian hockey fans.

If TSN acts fast, it will be the CBC left singing the blues and they will sound like this -- "dunt-da-DUNT-da-DUMB."


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