Rogers Sportsnet

Canada's Constant Sports Connection

Being Canadian, and also a huge hockey fan, I regularly hibernate and exist mostly on my couch (in front of the television) during the winter months to watch  Nick Kypreos and Bill Watters discuss the finer points of the game on Hockeycentral – a daily all-news hockey program on Rogers Sportsnet.

That’s why I was so ecstatic to learn last month that Doug Beeforth, President of Sportsnet, agreed to do an interview with me to talk about the sports  broadcasting business, the game that is so historically Canadian, and how it all comes together to make Sportsnet easily the most popular sports network in the country. Beeforth was forthcoming and genuinely passionate about what he does – I have to admit that didn’t really surprise me. How could anyone not like  working in sports?

I asked Beeforth about how important Sportsnet has been to the success of sports franchises in Canada, and also about the next big thing for Sportsnet: the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Beeforth was the guy to talk to – he’s been President at Sportsnet since 2002 and involved in the network since day one – and I mean he was in the room in 1993 when a group of sports enthusiasts and entrepreneurs came up with the Sportsnet idea.

Sara Kopamees: How has Sportsnet been a pioneer in sportscasting in Canada?

Doug Beeforth: I think there are a number of areas where we’ve raised the bar when it comes to sports television in Canada. When we launched our service a  decade ago the sports television landscape was a lot different than it is now. By our entering the marketplace and operating for the last ten years it’s  created opportunities for jobs we’ve been able to offer to so many people – 15 years ago, all these bright young people wouldn’t have worked in broadcasting.  We are also the first and only operation that offers four channels across Canada with the ability to tailor our programming for specific geographical areas  of the country.

That gives us an advantage in a couple of areas; one of course is with the NHL hockey that we show. We make sure that anyone who’s in Toronto watching  Sportsnet is going to be watching a Leafs game, and a hockey game broadcast in Vancouver will always be the Canucks. We’re the only channel that can say  that. Wherever you watch Sportsnet in Canada, it’s your home team. The other thing it allows us to do that nobody else can is be very geographically specific  with our sportscasts. Our sportscasts in Canada can be editorially presented so that the important stories for the folks in one area in Canada are the lead  stories, the ones that we spend the most time on. We’re able to offer a sportscast that doesn’t have to be nationally generic.

SK: So you’ve really upped the ante in terms of sports broadcasting. What else sets you apart?

DB: Well, I believe that if Sportsnet hadn’t been in operation these last ten years or so, chances are pretty good that there wouldn’t be six Canadian hockey teams in the NHL. Before we came along, other than Toronto, and to a lesser extent in Vancouver, the Canadian NHL teams didn’t have many of their games on TV. This meant that they had limited revenue streams from their broadcast rights and they didn’t have the critical mass of televised games to build their brand. Building your brand – that’s how you get the passion of the sports fan that translates into support for the teams, the ability to compete for players, which makes your team stronger. If Sportsnet hadn’t come along, would the two Alberta teams still be in Alberta? I don’t know. Would Ottawa still be where they are? Who knows?

I’ve been told more than once if the teams didn’t have the revenue streams that we now have given them, they probably would have gone south of the border.

SK: Absolutely. I definitely think that the passion of the sports fan is so important to supporting the team base in Canada and the sports industry in general. Your commentating talent roster is amazing – why is it so important for Sportsnet to have such a great line-up of familiar faces like Bill Watters and Nick Kypreos?

DB: It’s important because there are a couple of different elements to what we offer our viewers. We offer them the ability to watch the games of their favourite teams, but we also offer them information about their sports and teams, as well as opinions and commentary. It’s not a difficult genre of entertainment to understand. Sports are tribal. People get attached to various teams in different sports. It’s that passion for those teams that drives the whole sports industry. Sports fans love to talk about and learn more about their teams. One of the ways we’re able to connect with our viewers is through the people we have on our network who are opinionated about team rosters, how teams are playing, and what the schedule is. To a fan it’s almost as though these guys are talking the same language they are. That’s what sports are all about – the constant connection with your team. And we’re able to be a pipeline, a support structure, an important part of that passion fans have for their team. Hockey in Canada is the key professional sport and that’s why it’s important for us to have both the games of Canadian teams, plus talent who are as passionate about the sport as our viewers are – and are not at all reluctant to give their points of view. You want to learn more, you want to hear more, we help you quench the thirst.

SK: What have been some of the downfalls as a result of the failing economy, if any?

DB: There’s no doubt that the advertising market has significantly dried up as a result of the economy – all sports channels rely heavily on advertising from the auto sector. So when the car industry in Canada to have its troubles it was reflected in the spending we saw. I don’t think we’ve been hurt as much as most of businesses. Sports are still as important to people in tough times as they are to people in good times. The viewership of Jays games is actually better this year than last year. Some would argue passion for sports is even stronger in tough times because sports provides somewhat of a temporary escape from the challenges that tough economic times bring into peoples’ lives every day. So I think that while we have seen a decline in ads, sports continues to deliver significant eyeballs and good demographics to sponsors, so we’re doing better than most.

SK: What will you continue to focus on in the coming year?

DB: One thing that we will be doing is to focus on getting more and more into the world of new media. We see ourselves not as a broadcaster but rather as a content provider on many platforms. You’re able to connect with the Sportsnet brand on your computer, your Blackberry, and that’s an area we will place even more importance going forward. We will continue to be available to our fans, any time of day, wherever they are.

SK: What does it mean to be part of the Rogers family from a business perspective? What are the advantages?

DB: They’re significant. To be part of a corporation that is so successful here in Canada in the communications world gives us a tremendous foundation from which to operate. It’s important in several areas – financial considerations, allowing us to invest in things, allowing us to try new things, whereas if we were on our own we probably wouldn’t be able to go down that road. There’s also the nonfinancial support we get from senior leadership at Rogers that really believes in us and are proud of what we do. One of the more significant days in our history was the day that Rogers bought 100 per cent ownership in Sportsnet. It’s almost like you’re investing in yourself. We can invest in ourselves and our ideas and think we can do better. The people that win in the end are our customers – and that’s something you couldn’t put a financial number to.

SK: Can you imagine doing anything else in your career as exciting as this?

DB: This is a great job to have, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve done things that very few people are able to do: be a part of the launch and development of a new channel, and also be part of the broadcasting of an Olympic games in my home country (Calgary). Through our position in the [Canadian network consortium for the Winter Games] I’m also involved in the broadcasting of the Vancouver games. An Olympics in your home country only comes along once every 20-25 years.

SK: Let’s talk about the Olympics. Did the Sportsnet name and reputation help the consortium gain that position for broadcast rights?

DB: I think our reputation helped. As with any program bidding, money plays the most significant role. Having said that, I know that the Olympic Committee was very impressed with the coverage plan that we, the consortium – CTVglobemedia and Rogers Media – presented.

SK: Last few points. What’s your favourite sport to watch? Sorry – I know that might be difficult to answer…

DB: (Chuckling) I can’t really say I have a favourite sport because I like a number of them. In the winter, I love hockey – I’m typically Canadian. This time of year, I just got back from the Baseball AllStar game and I love watching those guys play, and I like football in the autumn. I wouldn’t be truthful or fair to myself if I said I have a favourite sport, because I like a lot of them.

SK: So, in a nutshell, why do fans choose Sportsnet?

DB: There are lots of things. It’s our program schedule that they know. They’re going to see the events and games that are compelling to them. The other reason: our talent are able to connect with them. Our talent and our presentation of our talent create an environment for our viewers that is compelling and meaningful. We did a brand survey to see how people viewed our brand in comparison to other brands, and more than any other channel, sports fans saw Sportsnet’s talent similar to teammates.

[Respondents] saw the people that appear on Sportsnet as the type of people they would be sitting beside in their dressing room after their weekly hockey game, and they’d just be chewing the fat about what’s going on in hockey. Sports fans think: ‘Those Sportsnet guys, they’re just like me’. Beeforth gave me a real glimpse into the world of Sportsnet. And of course, the nice tour I got of the studio in Toronto didn’t hurt my love of Hockeycentral.

You can bet that next winter I’ll be back on my couch watching Sportsnet, or at the Loose Moose on Front St. in Toronto, watching my Leafs on the big screen – when it all gets started again in the new season.

About Sportsnet
Rogers Sportsnet, Canada’s live-event leader, is comprised of four channels, all of which are available nationally and in high definition. The channels include Sportsnet East, Sportsnet Ontario, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Pacific. Sportsnet Pacific is B.C.’s most watched specialty channel and #1 ranked sports channel. NHL fans turn to Sportsnet for regional, high definition coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers. In addition, the Toronto Blue Jays are available national in high definition. Sportsnet is an official broadcaster of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games and a member of Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium. Sportsnet will also broadcast the 2012 Summer Olympics Games. Sportsnet is home to the World Series, MLB Playoffs, MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC and Canadian Soccer. Sportsnet also broadcasts the Canadian Hockey League and the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Connected is the network’s nightly news program airing in high-definition, providing regional coverage of the day’s events in the world of sports. Fans that want to get connected to their home teams choose Rogers Sportsnet and for news, highlights and live-events.