It looked like a sneaky move, aimed at confusing fans of the Canadian women’s national soccer team and getting those fans to fork over money to watch crucial games.
The women’s team just played a short, intense tournament in the United States to determine what countries from the region – North, Central American and Caribbean area called CONCACAF - would qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo this summer. The tournament would decide which two countries would make it. Canada made the final and lost to the U.S. on Sunday but being a finalist meant it qualifies for the Olympics along with the Americans.
What has this to do with TV? Well, the continuing marginalization of women’s sports, for a start. See, that sneaky-looking move was this – Canada’s first games of the tournament were available for anyone to see if they had a subscription to a Rogers digital package (also on Telus and SaskTel) that includes a ton of sports channels. Alternatively, the streaming service OneSoccer offered a pay-per-view coverage of the games at a cost of $5.99 a game.
Then came the crucial semi-final match for Canada, against Costa Rica last Friday – with the winner advancing to the Olympics – and coverage disappeared from the digital channel used previously and was offered only as a pay-per-view event. Again, alternatively, OneSoccer offered a pay-per-view coverage at a cost of $5.99.
Sports broadcasting is a murky business. The landscape has changed and many events are on streaming services that cost a bundle, rather than on traditional TV sports channels that people used to believe cost a bundle. In the case of Canadian soccer, OneSoccer has a rights agreement with Canadian Soccer Business, which represents Canada Soccer. That is, for the men’s and women’s national teams, and for the Canadian Premiere League. OneSoccer is part of the company MediaPro Canada, which in turn is part of the giant Spain-based sports media company MediaPro. In the case of rights to the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, the broadcast rights sit inside a deal between CONCACAF and Mediapro/OneSoccer. Canada is, obviously, a member of CONCACAF and the president of CONCACAF is Canadian soccer official Victor Montagliani. Complicated? Yes.
Here’s the thing – far as I can tell, OneSoccer coverage is available for conventional broadcasters such as CBC or TSN or Rogers to purchase and air/stream on their own platforms. Obviously Rogers did this for the opening games in that tournament.
What on earth was stopping CBC and others from showcasing our remarkable women’s soccer team and its star goal-scorer, Christine Sinclair? In those Olympic qualifying games Sinclair became the greatest goal-scorer in the history of international soccer, men’s or women’s, by taking her tally to 185.
It is one thing for professional sports clubs to make any broadcast deal they want, to make as much money as they want. Surely it is quite another matter for a national team, heading for the Olympics. In May of last year, then-minister of science and sport Kirsty Duncan announced that the government of Canada would provide up to $4.3-million to Canada Soccer, mainly to help co-host the 2026 World Cup. In the 2017-18 period – the most recent figures obtainable – the government provided $3.1-million to soccer organizations under the sports support program and $1.1-million to soccer players under the athlete assistance program.
The national women’s soccer team is ours, supported by tax dollars, and it is led by an international legend of a player. It has twice won Olympic medals. It shouldn’t be so difficult to see our national team on TV, while its crucial exploits are monetized as pay-per-view only.
On the matter of CBC’s role, while writing for this newspaper recently CBC president Catherine Tait boasted, “CBC/Radio-Canada shines a light on our athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics.” In a speech she gave, she also claimed Canada gets to know its Olympic athletes via CBC coverage. Well, not in the matter of women’s soccer, clearly.
Bell Media’s TSN did a first-rate job last year covering the Women’s World Cup, with an all-women team on TV doing analysis and punditry with knowledge, vigour and wit. The recent Rogers coverage, before it became pay-per-view, had a great all-women coverage team. There are excellent commentators available, there’s respect for, and interest in, our female soccer players. Again and again, though, it is all pushed to the margins.
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the issue of women’s soccer here. A lot of Canadians, men and women, would love to wear a Sinclair shirt, but try purchasing one. They don’t seem to exist. It’s the murky broadcast issue that sticks, mind you. Call it sneaky moves or call it just business, but it looks like women’s sports being marginalized over and over again.