When CBC president Hubert Lacroix spoke with employees last year in the wake of a cut to federal funding, he said the public broadcaster was working ardently to renew its agreement to carry National Hockey League games. "It's an important piece in the funding and the assumptions that we have, because of what it represents in advertising revenue," he told them. Estimates are that hockey may contribute as much as half of the CBC's $450-million in annual advertising revenue, helping to fund many of the broadcaster's other activities.
But on Tuesday, after CBC announced it had lost those rights to Rogers Media and that it would simply provide the airwaves for Saturday night broadcasts to be produced by Rogers, its executives insisted hockey was not actually a significant profit centre.
"Over time, we tried to make the margins on Hockey Night in Canada as large as we could," said Neil McEneaney, the interim executive vice-president of CBC's English-language services. "But we had some good years and you had some years that were a function of a poor economy."
Mr. McEneaney acknowledged that, with Rogers handling all of the advertising sales, there likely would be layoffs among CBC sales staff, as well as production staff. "But this is day one, and we need to sit down and figure out exactly how Rogers wants to proceed."
He added, "Outside of hockey, we're not anticipating a significant impact."
The senior representative of CBC staff at the Canadian Media Guild union said the CBC was fortunate to still be involved with hockey at all, given the skyrocketing costs for rights. "Yes, we lose the upside of revenue, but we gain in that we also have no risk," said Dan Oldfield. "We are not having to buy the property. By the time you put in rights costs and production costs on an annual basis, it's a pretty big nut to cover."
Continuing to produce the hockey broadcast also allows CBC to maintain its mobile production facilities and the infrastructure it uses for other things such as election coverage.