The victors strode into the CBC’s Toronto headquarters at 250 Front St. West on June 1 in an especially humiliating denouement for what was left of the public network’s sports department and its version of Hockey Night In Canada.
Not only had Rogers Communications Inc. wrenched the Canadian national broadcast rights to NHL games from the CBC’s grasp with a stunning $5.2-billion payout over the next 12 years, but the Visigoths were actually at the gate. Part of the ensuing deal, in which those in charge of the CBC meekly handed over the company’s airwaves for free, was that the Rogers people connected to Hockey Night, along with some people hired from rival TSN, would use the CBC’s studios and take over the show’s office space on the north side of the eighth floor – the plushest in the building thanks to the show’s status as the network’s biggest money spinner.
The cash-strapped national broadcaster may have lost a Canadian institution it held for 62 years because it could not hope to match the money Rogers threw at the NHL, but no one was actually going anywhere. The show’s staff stayed put and the new bosses moved in. Hockey Night will continue to be broadcast on the CBC’s stations across the country – the show makes its season debut Saturday night after Rogers officially unwrapped its new toy this week with Wednesday Night Hockey to cover the NHL’s opening night – but the money all goes to Rogers now.
The only revenue the CBC will get is from renting its studios, offices and some staff to the conquerors.
Not long after the Rogers people moved into the CBC building, a notice went up: The eighth-floor boardroom was now off-limits to CBC staffers. If they wanted to use it, a request had to be made through Rogers.
“I’d say weird is a great way to put it,” one Hockey Night staffer said of the atmosphere in the offices on the eighth floor, adding that another emotion has a greater hold. “I’m angry at the CBC for how they handled this. I think a lot of people are mad. They fired 50 people in sports and those are people with families. This didn’t have to happen.”
It didn’t have to happen, staff at both the CBC and Hockey Night say, because they believe NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his marketing chief John Collins were willing to offer the CBC a compromise that would have saved a scaled-down version of Hockey Night for the network that still would have been a significant source of revenue. Those staffers also believe the CBC executives missed this chance because of their failure to recognize the changed broadcast landscape and to see the threat posed by Rogers and BCE Inc., which owns the TSN and CTV networks. The CBC negotiators insisted throughout an exclusive negotiating period with the NHL that any new deal would see the network stick to a regional and national schedule by carrying all games played by Canadian-based NHL teams on Saturdays.
A humiliating blow to the CBC which will have an impact on Canadian broadcasting for years to come.