TSN debuted in Canada in 1984, and I was immediately hooked. Suddenly we could see Blue Jays games on TV on more than just Wednesday nights and weekends, and Sportsdesk (later SportsCentre) showed highlights of the previous day’s games in just about every sport. Could TV get any better than that?
That’s all there was for sports TV in Canada for 14 years. In 1998, Sportsnet came along, and I basically thought of it as the poor man’s TSN. They did show NHL games, but I found the sports news / highlight show was less polished than the guys over at TSN. For years, Sportsnet remained, in my mind, a distant second to TSN in terms of quality. A year later, a third station, The Score, was created, but it was mostly highlights and a score ticker. They were a distant third.
Fast forward fifteen years. Despite the fact that I tend to watch more baseball than hockey and Sportsnet definitely shows more baseball, I still preferred TSN. If I’m looking for sports highlights, I still instinctively head to TSN. In my mind, they’re the seasoned veterans and these Sportsnet guys are just TSN wannabe’s.
But are they really? Let’s compare.
TSN has five radio stations while Sportsnet only has two. But until I began researching this article, I forgot that TSN Radio even existed. Meanwhile, I’ve listened to The Fan in Toronto for years. I’ve subscribed to Sportsnet Magazine since it debuted in 2011; TSN has no print media at all.
TSN rarely shows baseball anymore, while the majority of Blue Jays games are on one of the Sportsnet channels. TSN has more hockey, though not for much longer (but I’ll get to that later). TSN shows the CFL and the occasional NFL game, Sportsnet shows more NFL. TSN has basketball, Sportsnet doesn’t. Sportsnet has tennis, TSN has golf. TSN has the advantage of being partially owned by ESPN, so they sometimes simulcast (or rebroadcast) ESPN programming. TSN and TSN2 showed some lacrosse last year, though I know the Toronto Rock paid for their games to be shown. Sportsnet used to show the Rock home games until a few years ago, and last year they showed a couple of Calgary / Edmonton lacrosse games but I don’t know who paid for that.
Both stations have daily news / highlight shows. Sportsnet’s version might have lacked polish in the first year or two, but that’s long since been cleaned up. And of course, each one occasionally shows things like wrestling, and even dog shows and spelling bees.
For the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and the 2012 games in London, Bell Media (owners of TSN) and Rogers (owners of Sportsnet) teamed up to show as much of the games as possible. I have to admit it was pretty weird seeing TSN people talking about what was coming up on Sportsnet, and Sportsnet people telling you to go to TSN to watch a particular event. Both networks did an excellent job and it became clear at that point that Sportsnet was no longer “that other sports network”. If they were still second to TSN (and even that wasn’t clear), it wasn’t by much.
And now Rogers has signed a deal with the NHL for sole rights to broadcast games in Canada. TSN will still show a few and Hockey Night in Canada will still exist on CBC for at least a few years (though Rogers will produce it), but the vast majority of games will be on the Sportsnet channels, likely with multiple games on each night. What’s more, Rogers is a telecommunications company and so the NHL will be counting on them to bring the NHL to tablets and phones, and there will likely be some easy way to watch games live over the internet.
With this deal, Sportsnet has proven that they are major players in Canadian sports broadcasting, perhaps even supplanting the mighty TSN as top dog. I almost want to apologize to Sportsnet for not giving them enough credit over the last few years.