COLUMN: Dave Leaderhouse — Nov. 30, 2013

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Dave Leaderhouse
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This last week has certainly been a busy one for major media providers as Rogers Media announced that they have purchased the national broadcast rights for the NHL and TSN renewed its agreement with the CFL.

What makes both of these deals quite startling is the amount of money being delivered to both professional leagues.

Rogers Media is forking over $5.2 billion to the NHL for the next 12 years while TSN is paying a paltry $40-plus million per year for five years to the CFL. Both are the richest deals either sport has ever signed with a media provider and both are exclusive meaning no other media agency can touch those sports unless authorized – for a fee.

And, you know what? I’m scared.

The NHL has gone through three work stoppages in the last 20 years in large part because the league can’t manage its finances properly. The owners always come running to the league saying that they aren’t making any money so when the negotiations begin for a new collective bargaining agreement the issue is always about money.

A salary cap was put in place after the season-long lockout in 2004-05, but that didn’t stop the owners from opening their wallets over the next seven years and last year another half-season was lost to get a smaller salary cap in place.

This windfall of new cash is only going to make the players want a bigger piece of the pie and the owners will oblige which means when the current CBA ends in seven years everything will be right back where it started. The owners will scream they are broke and the fans will be the ones who have to suffer.

The “exclusive” tag also bothers me as although there are a number of broadcasters at both the CBC and TSN that annoy me, there are also some very good ones and those people, as it stands, are out of work when this season comes to an end. Unless they are signed by Rogers Media, which I’m sure some will jump ship.

Having a variety is always a great way to do business, but there will be none of that for the next 12 years. That’s called a monopoly I believe and other business ventures have been blocked in the past for this very issue, but apparently that doesn’t matter when it comes to pro sports.

The TSN deal with the CFL also bothers me because you can be guaranteed that the players will want, and rightfully deserve, some of the newfound wealth as they have been grossly underpaid for far too long.

But, what does that mean for the landscape of the league?

Well, from the way I see it, players will be running to the top dollar being offered and there will be more of it being thrown around now so the war will be on to land the coveted players.

That means the team rosters will constantly change and for all of us Saskatchewan Roughrider fans the team that won the Grey Cup not even a week ago is going to be vastly different come training camp in May.

Throw in the expansion draft of the new Ottawa Redblacks (oh my, that is embarrassing) and Rider fans can expect a turnover of at least a third of the team that just won the Grey Cup. So much for a dynasty!

The league says it will be prudent with its new riches – the TSN deal is more than three times than what just expired – but what template do they have to follow? It wasn’t that long ago that the Riders had to hold a telethon to raise money to secure enough funds for the next season so now that the grass is greener what is to stop them from spending.

And, they are going to have to open the wallets to be competitive and everyone knows where the pinch will be felt the most – in the pockets of the fans. I can’t afford a ticket to an NHL game as it stands right now, I certainly hope that doesn’t happen in the CFL, but I’m getting a feeling the league is moving in that direction.

I know both leagues need the infusion of cash from broadcast rights, and TSN certainly made a tidy fortune off the CFL in the last five years for what they paid the league, but these numbers are frightening. By not allowing anyone else in the market also makes me shudder because we, the fans, have had choices pulled away from us and are left with a take-it-or-leave mentality.

Rogers Media made it sound like they are doing everyone a favour by allowing CBC to continue with Hockey Night in Canada for at least four years, but they hold all editorial rights so there is no guarantee that Don Cherry and Ron McLean will be back after this season.

Canada continues to lose its identity because of greed and that really scares me. I thought that only happened in other countries.

 

Dave Leaderhouse is a reporter with the Daily Herald.

 

Organizations: CFL, Rogers Media, NHL CBC Daily Herald

Geographic location: Canada

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