Volume 91, Issue 52

Friday, November 28, 1997

location, location


Hockey rights in Canada: Russell says television changes will be better for fans

©Patrick Nichols/CBC
SAME OLD SONG AND DANCE. Scott Russell of Hockey Night in Canada wants the show to keep its song and name despite changing sponsors.

On a visit to Western yesterday to promote his new book,The Rink – an exploration of the stories behind some small Canadian arenas – CBC sportscaster Scott Russell met up with The Gazette's James Pugsley to discuss the future of hockey on Canadian television from the perspective of a Hockey Night In Canada personality.

A recent shift in Canadian television rights for hockey, along with a new sponsor for the nation's beloved Hockey Night In Canada, are on the mind of CBC sportscaster Scott Russell.

With the expected autumn '98 arrival of Canada's newest sports channel, CTV Sports Net, Russell, a mainstay of Saturday night hockey broadcasts on CBC, feels the new station will become a major competitor with The Sports Network. His thoughts come after CTVSN out-bid TSN for the rights to national hockey coverage for the next four seasons, a large step for a channel that has yet to be allotted an actual place in the TV listings.

"I don't think anybody thought CTVSN would ever get off the ground but all of a sudden they sign this major contract with the NHL and now they have become huge players," Russell said. "I think TSN might have miscalculated the magnitude of the situation and thought [CTVSN] was dead. Now CTV has a cable outlet and has become a major player."

Russell, a graduate of Western's journalism school, feels Canadian sports viewers are in for a treat because not only will the new agreement offer a 27-game national package, but will also offer more than 100 games on a regional basis – giving hockey fans a closer look at teams in their area.

"For the longest time TSN has been called the Toronto Sports Network. They have tried to broadcast things on a regional basis but it hasn't worked. [CTVSN] will be the real thing," he said, adding that CTVSN will take on a similar role as the FOX network's regional sports success in the U.S..

Although Russell said TSN is still going to have no trouble surviving with its coverage of pro basketball, football and baseball, he said the immediate rise of the new channel will make it a competitor to bid for other sports contracts like that of the CFL, which will be up for grabs next season.

Russell said a network focusing on a much more regional basis will be loved by CFL football fans in western Canada.

The potential success of the new channel will also make it a competitor with CBC and TSN for the 1999 Pan/Am games in Winnipeg, as well as future coverage of the Olympics, he said.

But Russell has even bigger concerns about an issue happening on his own home ice. The 39-year-old Oshawa native, who has been on Hockey Night In Canada since 1989, feels the future of the way Canadians watch hockey will be even more affected if recent sponsorship complications remove the HNIC name and theme song – both co-owned by Molson, a long-time sponsor now leaving the show. Labatt's replaced Molson on HNIC for $300 million two weeks ago and Russell said if Molson upholds its rights to the name and music, it will have a bad impact on Saturday night hockey viewing.

"As much as people say that it's only music and a name, I believe it's much more than that," he said. "People identify with that music and I know every time I hear it it still sends chills up my spine."

He added that even though the alternative show will still provide the same caliber of hockey coverage every Saturday night, viewers will not associate it with the tradition of HNIC.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997