Year of change for Canadian sports fans in 2018 as media rivals stepped up to compete

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The way the NHL regular season is shaping up, it’s a good bet that five of the seven Canadian teams could reach the playoffs this spring.

That’s the kind of playoff CanCon that Rogers was hoping for when it signed a massive $5.2-billion US, 12-year deal to land the league’s broadcasting rights in 2013, a move that gave Sportsnet an immediate edge in its long-running rivalry with TSN.

After some early challenges, Rogers is set to get more bang for its buck as more teams from north of the border move into contention.

« Rogers gambled that Canadian teams would be coming back, » said sports marketing expert Richard Powers, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. « When they signed that deal, Canadian teams were really in a lull.

« They have come back. »

The partnership between the media giant and the league was announced in November 2013 and the deal kicked in for the 2014-15 season. Five Canadian teams made the playoffs that spring but three crashed out in the first round and the others were eliminated in Round 2.

The worst-case scenario for Rogers arrived a year later as Canadian teams were shut out of the post-season. Five teams made the cut in 2017 but three were eliminated in the opening round, with the Ottawa Senators making it to the conference final.

Last spring, only Winnipeg and Toronto reached the post-season. The Maple Leafs made a first-round exit while the Jets were eliminated in the conference final.

« The length of that deal was extraordinary and the amount that they paid was extraordinary, » Powers said. « I think they’re actually leveraging it quite well. I don’t know what else they can do. Everybody knows it’s Rogers. »

Sportsnet, which is part of Rogers Media, bills itself as Canada’s No. 1 sports media brand. The network’s main rival since its inception in 1998 has been TSN, which calls itself Canada’s sports leader, and is a division of Bell Media.

Changing landscape

The sports media landscape had a much different look two decades ago. Nowadays, each network boasts multiple feeds, online and mobile viewing options, and an impressive lineup of marquee international properties.

In addition to hockey, some of Sportsnet’s domestic offerings include the Toronto Blue Jays/MLB (the Blue Jays are owned by Rogers), the Grand Slam of Curling and the Canadian Hockey League. TSN’s lineup includes some regional NHL games along with the Canadian Football League, world junior hockey championship and the Season of Champions curling events.

« I think (the rivalry is) great for consumers and for viewers, » Powers said. « It keeps both teams, at each network, it keeps their eyes on the ball so to speak, no pun intended. They are looking for ways to beat the competition … so I think the ultimate winners are the fans and the viewers. »

Two of the more notable contracts — Sportsnet’s MLB deal and TSN’s deal with the CFL — run through 2021. One deal that is up in just over a year is TSN’s contract with Curling Canada for the Season of Champions events.

It will be worth watching to see if Sportsnet doubles down on a ratings winner like curling by trying to land the package, which includes the Tim Hortons Brier, Scotties Tournament of Hearts and world championships.

Fans react while watching the NFL’s Super Bowl, one of the biggest television events of the year. (Roni Bintang/Reuters)

« Sometimes you acquire rights just to sort of put a stake in the ground in terms of the bigger picture, » said Vancouver-based marketing communications executive Tom Mayenknecht. « That’s where I would really start. The bigger picture is that we probably have the most competitive sports television landscape that we’ve ever had in this country. »

However, one big question mark remains as Sportsnet has yet to name a successor for president Scott Moore. He left the company in October, with Rogers Media president Rick Brace currently handling the position on an interim basis.

Moore has said that if Sportsnet hadn’t landed the NHL rights, the network would have become a « regional, inconsequential player. » He added the deal has paid for itself each year because Sportsnet can enjoy the financial returns that come with it.

« If you’re going to buy sports media in this country now, you’re going to call us first, » Moore told The Canadian Press last October. « It used to be all the big deals went to TSN and we got what was left over. »

In addition to traditional broadcasters, subscription video streaming services like DAZN could make more of a dent on the Canadian sporting scene over the coming years.

Online powerhouses like Twitter, Facebook and Amazon could be in the mix as well.

One example of the changing dynamics came last summer at the RBC Canadian Open golf tournament. Coverage was provided by a varied lineup that included TSN/RDS, Global TV, DAZN, Twitter, PGA Tour Live, the Golf Channel and Facebook.

The hammer comes with hockey though, and the Canadian sports media landscape could have a much different look when talks begin on the next NHL deal.

The current contract expires in 2026.

« TSN and Sportsnet are no longer the only players within, » said Mayenknecht, who hosts a sports business show that airs on TSN Radio and other stations around the country. « They’re the lead players for sure, but they’re part of a much more organic, changing landscape. »

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Caledon candidate cries foul over rival’s distribution of free fall fair coupons

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Cheery yellow coupons offering children free admission to the Brampton Fall Fair have been sent to Ontario Provincial Police for an investigation into a possible breach of municipal campaign laws.

Ten candidates running for election in Caledon and Peel Regional Council signed a letter alleging that incumbent councillor Johanna Downey broke Ontario election rules by giving potential voters the free-admission coupons stapled to her campaign literature.

A Brampton Fall Fair coupon is stapled to campaign literature belonging to Caledon councillor Johanna Downey. Election rival Kevin Corrigan has filed a complaint.
A Brampton Fall Fair coupon is stapled to campaign literature belonging to Caledon councillor Johanna Downey. Election rival Kevin Corrigan has filed a complaint.  (Supplied photo)

Downey said she did nothing wrong because the vouchers “have no cash value. They sometimes go home from school, you can get them at the grocery store or the hardware store.”

In an interview, Downey said the Brampton Fair Board (run by the non-profit Region of Peel Agricultural Society) agreed to let her distribute the coupons. Calling herself a long-time supporter of the agricultural community, Downey said she was trying to help the fair attract urban residents so they could learn about the rural life of Caledon.

On its website, the Brampton Fall Fair says it charges $5 for each “single day pass” for children aged 5 to 12, while children under 4 are “always free.”

Kevin Corrigan, who is running against Downey for the job of Peel regional councillor representing Caledon’s Ward 2, said he was surprised to see pictures of Downey and her campaign volunteers holding up the vouchers stapled to campaign material, after being alerted by another candidate.

“It’s like stapling a $5 bill to campaign literature,” said Corrigan, a long-time automobile journalist.

Corrigan said that “even one of my own supporters said that the vouchers are a nice gesture for children.” That shows, he said, that the coupons are giving Downey an unfair advantage in the election.

A Sept. 24 letter sent to the Region of Peel’s clerk was signed by Corrigan and nine others, including regional councillor Barb Shaughnessy, who is now running for the Caledon mayor’s job.

The letter said the “discount coupons were stapled to Regional Councillor Downey’s campaign brochures which were then distributed widely throughout the ward.”

The 10 candidates asked that Downey be investigated under Section 90 of the Municipal Elections Act, which says that “no person shall directly or indirectly … offer, give, lend or promise or agree to give or lend any valuable consideration, in connection with the exercise or non-exercise of an elector’s vote.”

Downey and Corrigan both said they asked for legal advice.

Downey said her lawyer, from the downtown Toronto law firm of Aird and Berlis, told her she did not break any campaign laws.

“I have a very sound legal opinion on the municipal act and where that falls in line,” she said. “As it is not a corporate resource nor is there a monetary value, it is a non issue.”

Corrigan said he consulted a lawyer who told him the vouchers were a breach of the municipal act.

Two days after the letter was sent, Peel responded, saying it was forwarding the complaint to the Town of Caledon, which oversees the election of regional councillors. Corrigan said Caledon staff told him to take the complaint to police.

In an email, a Caledon spokesperson told the Star that the Municipal Elections Act falls under provincial laws and as a result, “any potential contravention of (the act) needs to be dealt with through the court system.

“The onus is on the individual that believes there is a contravention of the (act.) While the town is aware of the situation, the town has no role in investigating it,” the email said.

Corrigan said he followed the town’s direction and went to the Caledon OPP detachment to file a complaint. After a discussion, he said a senior officer told him it would likely be sent to a detachment outside the area for investigation.

An OPP spokesperson confirmed that the complaint went to the Nottawasaga OPP major crime unit on Friday.

Shaughnessy, elected as a regional councillor in 2014, said she wants an investigation done in order to ensure fairness.

“What worries me is, if this goes unchallenged, what will the next candidate do?” Shaughnessy said.

Moira Welsh is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @moirawelsh

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