Moving to a new radio station is a little like moving to a new house.
Apart from all the daunting labour involved, moving your family brings angst and uncertainty. A new neighbourhood means a new school for the kids, maybe a new doctor and babysitter, a different piano teacher or pastor.
Sure, it’s exciting if the house is bigger and newer. But few people enjoy moving. That’s why you find the right house and neighbourhood and just stay.
After 11 years, the Vancouver Canucks are changing radio homes, leaving TSN 1040 for a yet-to-be-named station owned by Rogers Media. This is a huge move — a game-changer with the potential to alter the radio landscape in Vancouver.
That’s what happened 11 years ago when 1040 took the Canucks’ radio rights away from CKNW, a local heritage-brand station that had partnered the National Hockey League team for three decades.
That decision affected people and their careers, and so will this one.
“I went through this exact same thing in 2006,” longtime Canuck play-by-play broadcaster John Shorthouse said Thursday morning as the Canucks prepared to play the New York Islanders. “I was in Nashville getting ready for a game and I got three phone calls all in a span of 15 minutes, from CKNW, from 1040 and from the Canucks.
“I remember how disconcerting and mind-blowing that news was. Am I going to keep my job? What about the great people I work with? So I know what people are going through now at 1040.”
Less than a month after losing Canuck rights in 2006, CKNW announced layoffs.
Back then, the radio rights were decided in boardrooms in Toronto by smaller media empires — CHUM Limited and Corus Entertainment — whose top executives may or may not have had a clue about the impact in Vancouver and British Columbia the hockey team’s rights carried.
Snaring Canuck rights validated 1040, which started in 2001 and was later bought by Bell Media.
TSN is owned by Bell, which is in ferocious competition with Rogers to rule Canadian broadcasting and the mobile phone market.
Canuck chief operating officer Jeff Stipec is aware how his new five-year deal with Rogers Sportsnet, which swooped in late to win the rights after months of negotiations between the hockey club and TSN, will affect not only the media market but many people who work in it.
“It was a funny day in the halls here,” Stipec said Thursday afternoon. “We’re excited to strengthen this partnership with Sportsnet, but there’s no confetti, no champagne. These TSN guys have been awesome with us. We’re going to have that chance to celebrate with Sportsnet down the road when they kind of get their station in order. I look forward to that time, but it has been pretty subdued in some respects today.”
Stipec said the rights wouldn’t have changed had the Canucks not had such a strong relationship with Rogers.
Rogers owns naming rights on the Canucks’ arena, reportedly for $60 million over 10 years, and pays the hockey team about $20-$25 million annually for television rights. Amid this financial scale, radio rights are a comparative drip in the revenue stream for the Canucks.
The radio rights themselves have gone down in value.
TSN 1040’s expiring agreement was worth about $3.5 million annually to the Canucks, but the new deal with Rogers is believed to be worth only about $2 million per season. The contract, however, is for five years, which is longer than TSN had offered.
“There are so many things,” Stipec said of the Canucks’ multi-faceted partnership with Rogers. “This is the one piece in the broadcast platform that wasn’t in Rogers’ portfolio and it made sense on a lot of levels to extend that.”
“We’re thrilled,” Rogers Sportsnet president Scott Moore told Postmedia. “It’s been a terrific partnership with the Canucks over the last 20 years and it was a natural to expand the relationship. We’re now in the enviable position of having the most important sports content in the market on both television and radio.”
But Rogers does not yet have a radio station to broadcast the Canucks.
It owns News 1130 AM, but isn’t likely to mess with a profitable station that leads the Metro Vancouver market in news and traffic.
Rogers’ local FM properties are KISS 104.9 and JACK 96.9 — both music stations.
It seems to make little sense to acquire Canuck radio rights, monopolizing the team’s broadcasts, without an all-sports station like 1040 to drive listeners.
Moore said no decision has been made on where and how Canuck games will be presented on radio next season but didn’t rule out the possibility of Sportsnet developing its own all-sports station. If that happens, can TSN 1040 survive without the Canucks as an anchor?
Seattle station KJR tops its sports radio market without holding any major local broadcast rights. But no one entity dominates the Seattle sports scene the way the Canucks do in Vancouver.
“It’s a little early for us to talk about that,” Moore said of an all-sports Rogers station. “But we certainly will build a great deal of content around the Canucks. We plan on expanding our online capabilities in Vancouver. Having just acquired the rights, we’re still in the process of putting together the right strategy.”
TSN 1040 mid-day host Matt Sekeres assured listeners the station will continue to cover the Canucks, and praised the owners who brought all-sports radio to Vancouver.
“It has changed my life,” he said. “It has changed a number of our lives and it has given Vancouver and B.C. at-large a sports radio campfire … to gather around.”
But soon there will be a new fire burning, and no one knows how hot it will grow.