Kirstine Stewart, the chief of the CBC’s English services, said this week she has every intention of bringing back the National Hockey League to the public broadcaster when the current contract with the league comes due two years from now.
“We’re going to,” the executive said forcefully during a panel discussion Thursday with the heads of the country’s networks. “That’s our plan.”
Both Rogers Communications Inc. and CTV— now Bell Media — were already formidable foes before BCE Inc. bet on TV content to fuel its telecom businesses and acquired the network and specialty-channel operator, a strategy that has raised the stakes for all.
Since being acquired by the telecom giant last spring, the new Bell Media has lapped up sports broadcast rights left, right and centre in a race only Rogers has been able to keep pace with (Shaw Media, formerly Canwest, backed down from a sports network launch last year).
The pairs’ joint $1.3-billion purchase of a controlling stake in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. in December all but guarantees the Saturday night NHL games the CBC has been able to secure from the league for decades will be lost, some analysts say, either entirely or in part.
“The next logical step, now that you’ve teamed up, is to gang up on the CBC and to take away Hockey Night In Canada,” quipped business journalist Michael Vaughn, the moderator of the high-powered panel, which included Bell media head Kevin Crull, Rogers’ Keith Pelley, Shaw’s Paul Robertson and Pierre Dion from Quebecor-owned TVA.
Still, Ms. Stewart argues the CBC can compete.