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CBC has abandoned plans to produce a silent broadcast of the Toronto Argonauts-Edmonton Eskimos game on Saturday and instead will use the Commonwealth Stadium announcer's play-by-play feed.

Listening to the stadium announcer describe in a few words the action will be a far cry from tuning into a professional announcing team.

But Argos president Keith Pelley said it will be preferable to a broadcast without audio.

"I think any type of identification of the players is better than having no sound at all," he said.

What's more, Al Stafford, the announcer at Commonwealth Stadium, is a veteran announcer and has experience as a sportscaster in radio. He's also the host of a sports phone-in show on radio station 630 CHED.

"I guess this puts me kind of front and centre," Stafford said of calling the game on national television.

Stafford is 43 and has been in the radio business for 22 years.

The CBC's lockout of Canadian Media Guild employees left the sports department without on-air personnel to announce the game.

The network had hoped to produce the show without commentary.

A silent football telecast was tried at least once before, by NBC in 1980, but it received so-so reviews. Société Radio-Canada aired hockey games without audio during a strike in 2002.

However, the Canadian Football League told the CBC it wanted some sort of play-by-play audio for its game telecasts.

CBC spokesman Jason MacDonald said the Saturday broadcast, using the PA system and produced by network managers, should be entertaining.

"We'll have full coverage of all the action and replay action," he said. "We're going to have real stadium sound. It's going to be novel, but we think its going to be fun. So, we're encouraging folks to tune in."

The CBC broadcast will not have a colour commentator, and that will detract from the quality of the play-by-play.

"The challenge is the analysis," Pelley said. "That's the challenge right now.

The CBC's other challenge is devising a long-range plan for announcing games if the labour dispute lasts several weeks.

CBC manager Sue Prestedge has a background in sports. She can read a sportscast and worked for the Argos for part of last season.

Could she do play-by-play?

"Yeah, I think she could," said Pelley, who produced football for Fox Television and was the president of TSN before joining the Argos.

"Sue Prestedge could identify players and add some colour, and maybe add some perspective. There would be far more storytelling than what you would get with a PA announcer."

MacDonald confirmed that the CBC's pregame show on Saturday has been cancelled.

Live, on Rogers

This is not a surprise. Rogers Sportsnet announced yesterday that it was reversing an earlier decision and airing the Rogers Cup semi-final live at 6:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday.

Two days ago, Sportsnet said it would tape-delay the semi-final because it didn't want to pre-empt its 6:30 p.m. newscast.

Can you imagine?

Rogers Communications owns Sportsnet and is the title sponsor of the tennis tournament. Yet, the people who run Sportsnet were refusing to carry the match live for a newscast.

It's not hard to think of Tony Viner, the head of Rogers Media, reading about that yesterday morning and spilling his coffee. Or chairman and founder Ted Rogers burning up the telephone from his cottage in Muskoka.

Hockey TV rights

ESPN applied a rope-a-dope strategy to television negotiations with the National Hockey League. and it could pay off in a new rights deal.

ESPN announced in June that it had terminated negotiations with the NHL because the price for rights was too high -- $60-million (U.S.) a year.

However, after the U.S. Outdoor Life Network stepped up and offered the NHL a two-year, $100-million contract, ESPN quickly responded with a statement: "We have a matching right and remain interested in continuing our relationship with the NHL, as long as the deal is commensurate with the value of the rights being offered."

The speculation now has ESPN matching the OLN offer and the NHL welcoming the sports channel back.

From the league's perspective, the league would benefit from all the positives that come from being carried by the top sports service in the United States, although distribution on ESPN2, which would carry hockey, is slightly smaller than distribution on ESPN (89 million for ESPN2 and more than 90 million for ESPN).

For ESPN, the deal would stop Comcast-owned OLN from using hockey to build a national sports service to challenge ESPN.

But the important part of the ESPN statement is "commensurate with the value of the rights being offered."

ESPN may want some sort of advertising rate or revenue guarantee from the NHL.

On the town

One of the social functions for players at the Olympic hockey team camp in Vancouver this week was a Molson-sponsored rock concert.

The private event, headlined by the Australian group Jet, was organized by the brewery at a club for more than 800 contest winners.

Among the players who attended were SteveYzerman, Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic, Martin St. Louis, Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier and Dany Heatley. Former Vancouver Canuck and real-estate developer Geoff Courtnall also was part of the group.

Iginla was seen exiting the club at about 12:25 a.m., signing autographs for fans who had waited outside for three hours.

whouston@globeandmail.ca

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