Don’t expect Hockey Night In Canada to be moving from CBC

·Chris Zelkovich

The clock is ticking for the CBC on its hopes of retaining Hockey Night In Canada, the property from which all life flows for the national broadcaster.

But don't count out the mother corporation yet.

For the second straight time, the CBC is facing a serious threat from from rival Bell Media, namely CTV and TSN, which has set its sights on the country's biggest sports property for almost a decade. And while the private telecommunications powerhouse certainly has the wherewithal to outbid the CBC -- witness the MLSE deal -- there is one factor at play that gives CBC the edge.

Bell Media wants Hockey Night In Canada. The CBC must have it.

That factor alone should be enough to enable the corporation to strike a deal before its exclusive negotiation window with the National Hockey League expires at the end of August. That's what happened the last time around, in 2007, when the industry talk had CBC losing the property it has treasured for 60 years.

But in the end, CBC came up with an extra $40 million a year and made a few concessions -- giving TSN access to more playoff games involving Canadian teams, for example -- and everybody was relatively happy.

Sources say that scenario is likely to play out again in one form or another. While the Globe and Mail reported last week that the NHL is seeking $200 million a season for the HNIC package, sources say it's unlikely to get what is in essence a 100 per cent raise. Instead, it's more likely that CBC will again pay more for less. Bell Media will again pay more -- but get more.

One of the main reasons you're unlikely to watch the Stanley Cup final on TSN is that the NHL is a tad queasy about leaving its longtime partner and putting all of its games on a specialty channel. TSN would be the new flagship channel because CTV would never give up its lucrative U.S. sitcoms and dramas for hockey.

While the difference between an over-the-air channel like CTV and cable channels like TSN isn't what it used to be, it still matters in that many people still don't have cable. Shutting them out and seeing stories about folks in Prince Rupert deprived of hockey is a PR nightmare the NHL doesn't want to face.

Even Gary Bettman's subterranean popularity in Canada would take a big hit from being known as the man who killed the CBC and put Don Cherry in the Old Broadcasters Home.

But the biggest factor is CBC's reliance on hockey. The NHL provides it with the biggest chunk of its advertising revenue, and with Stephen Harper continuously finding new ways to cut the corporation's government funding, hockey becomes a vital organ for the CBC. Lose it and the network becomes a non-entity.

That is likely to keep hockey on CBC, keep Bell Media happy with a better though pricier package and the NHL happiest of all as both broadcasters enrich its coffers.

And it keeps Don Cherry's jackets from frightening residents at the retirement home.

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