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Sports Dowbiggin: CBC deal allows secondary networks use of Olympic highlights

CBC will formally announce its Olympic broadcast contract this morning, confirming that it has obtained TV and digital rights to the 2014 Winter games in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The deal was previously revealed by CBC on the eve of the 2012 London Summer Olympics, a move that annoyed more than a few people in the Bell/ Rogers consortium that had rights to those games.

What's interesting in the deal is that CBC is parcelling off limited packages of rights to both TSN and Sportsnet for the 2014/ 2016 Games.

Industry sources tell The Grind that the networks did the deal in large part to have access to video resources that include use of copyrighted highlight material during the Games. There will be some sports parcelled out, but today's press release does not discuss announcer or host assignments.

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CBC also announced the launch of its official Olympic website for Sochi last weekend.

In response to an e-mail last week requesting updated material on CBC's plans for Sochi, Jeffrey Orridge, CBC's vice president of sports properties and GM of the Olympic property, told us, "It's a little premature.. .many details yet to be determined."

Super Bowl by the numbers

Two important statistics emerged from Sunday's Super Bowl. Despite the Beyonce blitz, Sunday's Super Bowl audience of 108.4 million dropped three per cent from last year's game. Of course, last year's Super Bowl XVI with the New York Giants beating New England was the highest-rated TV broadcast ever with 111.3 million. (Followed only by Super Bowl XV with 111 million).

In Canada, the Super Bowl drew an average audience of 7.333 million on TSN. The telecast topped out at halftime when Beyonce bumped her way to 9.4 million Canadian viewers. (The numbers do not reflect the 34-minute hiatus due to blackout.)

Leaving the NFL only one option to reach the coveted 112 million. Stage the Grammys at halftime of the Super Bowl. And get every single TV viewer in North America.

Betting line

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The other significant number was the betting handle.

North Americans love football. Just as much– perhaps more– North Americans love betting on the Super Bowl. Whether in provincial lotteries, pools, fantasy leagues or online betting sites, wagering is the fuel that propels the Super Bowl.

This year's handle at $98.9-million reportedly broke the all-time record in Las Vegas. Estimates of the total handle (legal and illegal) range into the billions. Vegas made $7.5-million on the SB XVII action, a figure dampened only when Baltimore conceded a safety at 9-1 odds in the final four seconds. Ouch.

It would seem a slam dunk that governments would want to get in on this action as a means to balance their tapped-out budgets. But recently we have seen Senate hearings in Canada about single-game wagering and similar hearings in New Jersey showing that pro sports leagues object to what is already a fact among many of their their fans.

The leagues worry about corruption caused by gamblers and corruption of their brand.

Paul Beeston, president of the Toronto Blue Jays trotted out pro sports' logic for the Canadian senators. "The legalization of single-event sports betting by any government would increase the chances that persons gambling on games will attempt to influence the outcome of those games," Beeston said. He also worried about increased gambling addiction.

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As James Surowiecki of the New Yorker writes, the "corruption" logic against legalized betting rests on sand. "The leagues insist that legalized betting will make people suspect that games are fixed, thus harming their brands. Yet in Vegas billions are wagered legally on sports every year, apparently without ill effect, and legal sports betting in Great Britain doesn't seem to dim anyone's passion for Premier League soccer.

"Moreover, as [Dennis Drazin, the lawyer who advises the Monmouth Park racetrack in New Jersey] said to me, betting is already an integral part of sports in the U.S.: 'If gambling is really hurting the leagues, why does every sports show talk about point spreads and favorites and underdogs? And why does every office in America have a pool on the N.C.A.A. tournament?'"

To say nothing of the fantasy sports, where followers make money off teams they draft, a phenomenon that is embraced by sports leagues and broadcasters alike.

Recently the Grind discussed the betting issue with a highly placed political figure in Canada who was surprised to hear how easy it was to wager online in Canada with offshore companies such as Bet365, Bodog and Pinnacle Sports.

If he's typical of our Senators contemplating Bill C-290, they haven't been getting the full brief on this file.

Government coffers

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Sports leagues are riding the halo effect sports about match fixing and addiction. These are not trivial issues. But neither is organized crime's hold on gambling as seen in this raid of an alleged operation in Markham on Super Bowl Sunday.

The billions of dollars wagered in Canada and the U.S. are now shovelled into crime operations such as Hells Angels or to offshore sites in the Caribbean and Europe.

It's a significant loss to the economy. Better they should be captured by governments at the provincial and state levels to offset the impact of gambling addiction and reduce the significant policing costs that are now dedicated to such operations. Above-board betting also means more transparency on who is betting large and which teams might be showing suspicious patterns.

We learned from prohibition the price of driving a product underground. It's time we applied the same logic to legalized betting.

Taking talents South of the border

Wednesday was signing day in the U.S. for top high school football prospects. Several Canadians featured prominently. Offensive tackle David Knevel of Brantford, Ontario signed at Nebraska. Offensive guard Peter Godber from Aurora, Ontario, officially signed with Rice. Offensive tackle Josiah St. John from Pickering, Ontario chose Oklahoma.

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As usual, the top schools such as Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Alabama, USC and Oklahoma did well in pulling in many of the top recruits. Too bad they don't have parity in college football. Because no one in the U.S. likes how big programs always win in NCAA football. Don't they understand that the small schools have to win or no one will watch? Just ask Gary Bettman. / @dowbboy

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