CBC cuts could spell bad news for amateur sports

The Eh Game
CBC cuts could spell bad news for amateur sports
CBC cuts could spell bad news for amateur sports

There's plenty of pain going around CBC headquarters today after management slashed $130 million from its budget and hacksawed 657 jobs from the payroll.

But pain will be felt elsewhere in the country as a result, and nowhere more so than in the world of amateur sports.

After losing NHL hockey to Rogers and suffering a shortfall in ratings and advertising for its other properties, the corporation announced deep cuts on Thursday afternoon. Decisions on which jobs will be lost won't be made for a few months, but sports is expected to take a huge hit.

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The main reason is CBC's announcement that it is out of the pro sports business and will carry only those amateur sports that can either produce a profit or break even.

``CBC and Radio-Canada will no longer compete with private broadcasters for professional sports rights," Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada said in a statement. ``We will also cover fewer events and fewer sports. In addition, our involvement in amateur sports will be reduced. We will only broadcast events that allow us to break even.

``We remain committed to signature events of national importance such as the Olympics; but, as with Sochi, we’ll approach these events in new ways – new ways of producing, new technologies and new partnership arrangements."

The pro sports issue is a bit of a red herring since basically the only pro sport that will be left on CBC's schedule once Rogers takes ownership of the NHL is tennis, namely the Rogers Cup. Since coverage of tennis is a shared deal with Rogers, it's possible semifinal and final coverage for the two tournaments could even remain on CBC.

That's been a trend for some time, as CBC has waved goodbye in recent years to the NHL, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Canadian Football League, auto racing and the Toronto Raptors.

Lacroix told CBC employees that despite cutbacks in sports, the national broadcaster will still try to land large sporting events that ``are of interest to Canadians." Presumably, he meant that CBC will bid on the next Olympics package, which expires after the corporation produces the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

But cuts to amateur sports coverage will hit those organizations hard. Very few amateur sports productions make money and only a handful break even. Unless the amateur sports world can find someone with deep pockets to help defray production costs, they could get a lot less exposure in the future.

Cuts could affect everything from events such as the world track championships, world aquatics championships and figure skating. Also up for consideration are national championships in those sports as well as in skiing, bobsledding and other Olympic disciplines.

The problem the amateur sports world could face is that the private broadcasters aren't likely to be any more welcoming. While TSN and Rogers air some amateur sports, they're generally in the business of televising sports that turn a profit.

In addition, with Rogers having invested billions in its NHL package, it will be committing most of its resources to hockey starting next season. There will be little left on the Rogers table for amateurs.

It is possible that TSN, seeking content to replace its lost NHL games, could embrace more amateur sports events. But again, it needs to replace lost NHL revenue, not take on money-losing properties.

Canadian amateur sports organizations could be facing difficult times unless they come up with creative ways to finance television production.

While government budget cuts played a large role in the CBC decision, losing the NHL may have been the spark that lit the fire. CBC will air Hockey Night In Canada for the next four seasons, but Rogers will control production and take the profits. CBC will act as a sub-licencer.

Since almost one-third of CBC's ad revenue -- more than $100 million a year -- comes from the NHL, this is a huge blow to the corporation's bottom line.

Shedding jobs is nothing new for the CBC. Two years ago it cut 600 jobs.

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