All Day I Dream About CBC Sports

I hate the Olympics. I find them boring. I find the heavy-handed commercialism sickening. I find the jingoistic nationalism creepy. I find the doping and judging scandals sap any possible interest I may have left in the competitions.

There, I said it.

If I spoke that aloud in public, I would be considered weird.

If I spoke that aloud in the CBC, I would be considered sacrilegious.

For if during the Olympics so many Canadians whip themselves into American-hating short track experts for a few weeks, certain CBC employees are even more insufferable. It’s considered a great honour to work on location at the Olympics for Canada’s national broadcaster, and the chosen few wear their Olympic jackets for years afterwards like heroes. Then they walk out of the elevator and those of us left inside try to remember what we won in Lillehammer.

Such an honour, in fact, that you should be willing to pay for the privilege. In the buildup for Athens, CBC Sports was looking for Canadian “interns” to volunteer in Greece. The position required you pay your airfare and cover your accommodations. There was no salary.

Such asshattery could only come from CBC Sports.

Prominent, popular, award-winning announcer inexplicably fired? CBC Sports. Hardcore sports fans screwed over with no explanation? CBC Sports. Had an assignment dangled in front of you for weeks, then pulled at the last minute for someone cheaper? CBC Sports. Lost out to a “local,” meaning someone who won’t charge hotel and per diem? CBC Sports. Asked to work overtime and just never paid for it?

A time-honoured CBC Sports maneuvre.

Even Don Cherry is careful not to complain too much. Nancy Lee has greater name recognition in this country than any other CBC exec. All of it negative.

We put up with it because, as everyone keeps telling us, they make money. If they were disturbed, perhaps they would stop making money.

Yet I’ve always found it interesting that after the supposedly fortune-crushing hockey lockout of 2004, Robert Rabinovitch put the lost revenues at $20 million. Now, English and French TV have a budget of $844 million, so that’s a 2% loss. Surely that’s not going to break us? And it didn’t.

$20 million is nothing to sneeze at — well, actually, I think we have sneezed at bigger budget cuts.

I would love to see the bottom line on sports. Yes, it makes money, but what is overlooked is that it takes many millions to make those millions. How this balances out is a well-kept secret, but if costs are not larger than profits, I’ll eat my hat.

Because we need to grasp what all the guys making millions from professional sports have known for years: it’s business, not sports.

The fans can afford to be sentimental, but we can’t. CTV bid a massive amount for the next Olympics. They did it because they think they can make that money back, and more. We’re out of our league here. It’s nothing personal. If they bid $125 million for the Aboriginal Achievement Awards, we’d lose those, too.

Just like we lost curling to TSN. Curling! Don’t laugh!

Much like the BBC lost football. And cricket. Times change and we’ve got to smarten up, because our contract with the NHL is up in 2007.

The end of Hockey Night in Canada on CBC? It sounds weird, I know. It sounds impossible. But it’s completely possible. Some say probable. Getting any kind of gossip on the contract negotiations is nigh impossible, which is a bad sign.

Last week the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications made a host of recommendations for the CBC, most of them the same as I wrote late last year, with the major exception being that I think the privates should pay to keep the CBC out of competition, not the taxpayers. They’re the ones who stand to make the most money out of it after all, and the ones who got rich off the public airwaves.

I also said we should consider getting out of sports altogether, which is not a popular position around here, I know.

You’re saying that no other network would dedicate that much air time to hockey. And you’re saying that only the CBC would do so much of the amateur stuff. And you’re saying that sports is part of the national fabric. And you’re saying that it’s the prestige that sports brings to the CBC that is its real value. And you’re saying, Lighten up, Ouimet.

I know. I know all that and more.

But I still can’t seem to muster up the rah-rah-rah for CBC Sports.


  1. Jamie
    Posted June 29, 2006 at 9:57 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Come to think of it, what would be wrong with the CBC covering developing sports and sports that just aren’t widely popular yet, so that the money stations can steal them away once they become marketable? Then the CBC moves those resources into something else…

    Likely result: we end up with a wider variety of sports getting public exposure, and the government broadcaster gets to do a lot of R&D, which benefits both the audience and the private broadcasting players as well.

    No reason to stop at sports, either. Throw a billion a year at the CBC, and say “try stuff”. Keep the basics (like the news) stable, and then try finding things to do that nobody else is doing.


  2. Anonymous
    Posted June 28, 2006 at 7:28 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The Olympics are boring … and ridiculous. I am astonished that people get suckered into watching sport on tely, so obviously is it merely a platform for the most noxious advertising. (The World Cup, with it’s two uninterupted 45 minute halves is a notable exception)

  3. CBC Frank
    Posted June 28, 2006 at 5:26 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    For the few times I’ve channel surfed in the evening, CBC always seems to be playing hockey.

    I know many would say that without hockey, the CBC is irrelevant. Let’s go there, let the sports channels scoop hockey!!

    Then we’ll need to get back into serious TV production, not just these talking head shows we do.

    Too bad we already pensioned off so much talent that we’ll now have to pay through the nose to re-engage. Believe me, once those laid off established themselves as independents, there’s NO way they’ll sign a timecard.

    From the ones that I’ve talked to (all doing very well), they get a chuckle when the CBC wants to hire them back as free lancers, and the CBC tries to nickle and dime them when their other clients cough up whatever their bill is.

    Ouimet, I’ve had similar experiences with sports. I’d just as soon see them cut loose to sink or swim. They’re insufferably arrogant. Let their magnificence carry them aloft.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted June 28, 2006 at 3:22 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Good questions and sound conclusions.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted June 27, 2006 at 11:25 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    tbThe reason CTV paid so much for the Olympics is more about ego then the amount of money they will earn back.
    The Olympics are coming to Canada and they want Canadians to know they are the Olympic network.
    With the vast Bell Globemedia war chest, money was no object.

  6. what the hell?
    Posted June 27, 2006 at 5:13 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’ve never bought into the justification for the high salaries at Hockey Night in Canada.

    Q: Why is Ron Mclean getting half a million dollars?

    A: because his show makes money.

    Ah, but if he got paid less, his show would make more money. I don’t buy the line that the ratings would drop without him.

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