An ominous bell tolled last night for Canadian broadcaster Rogers Sportsnet, as it was announced that The Score had reached an agreement with the English Premier League to broadcast its games for the next five years, commencing in 2007.
The Premier League was one of Sportsnet's most prized assets, along with the Toronto Blue Jays. Now the ailing network is left with Jays baseball, sporadic regional NHL coverage and poker. Lots and lots of poker. With the NHL, NFL, CFL and curling securely nestled in the crook of TSN's arm, and NBA and Premiership at The Score, there isn't much left for Sportsnet. Perhaps they could mould themselves as MLBTV North? Or put a television camera in radio stations across the country?
Poor Sportsnet can truly feel like the Montreal Expos of sports television. Eight years ago it took a chance on English soccer when no one believed people would watch foreigners play the game early on a Saturday morning. Slowly but surely a loyal following emerged and grew to the point where this year, because of interest produced by the FIFA World Cup, Sportsnet's soccer ratings doubled and were making a significant dent in the broadcasting landscape. Now The Score gets to reap the rewards (rumours are The Score will also get the rights to Toronto FC's games).
Sportsnet had also carefully cultivated a partnership with the Canadian Soccer Association, winning exclusive rights to both the men's and women's national teams. Then came the deal with the CBC to carry the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, as well as the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. Seems like, just as in sports, there is no loyalty in sports broadcasting.
Where does that leave us, the fans? The news that The Score will be broadcasting Premiership and probably Toronto FC matches is a little hard to take, quite frankly. When The Score does live sports broadcasting it always looks second rate, with a community TV feel. James Sharman will be an upgrade on Gerry Dobson as the in-studio host, while Craig Forrest is the dean of former players in Canada as well as a pretty good panelist, and will be missed. My bet is that the quickly gets scooped up. As for Toronto FC, let's hope they get someone in the booth who truly loves soccer. Say, Sid Seixeiro, with Tim Micallef as his wing man, and Cabbie as a sideline reporter. Throw it to James Sharman in the studio, joined by Craig Forrest or Dick Howard. Yeah, I could live with that.
The bigger question remains the future of Sportsnet. They're not likely to fade away into the sunset, considering the deep pockets propping it up. When the NFL finally comes into town with Ted Rogers as one of the owners, it will almost certainly pick up all the league's TV rights in Canada. Until then: more Jays, poker and Bob McCown?
With all the changes, let's recap:
- English Premiership: The Score (August 2007)
- Toronto FC: The Score (probably)
- UEFA Champions League: TSN
- World Cup: CBC
- German, Italian, Spanish, Rest of World: Fox Sportsworld Canada