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Sportsnet is a Canadian English-language sports specialty service. It was established in 1998 as CTV Sportsnet, a joint venture between CTV, Liberty Media, and Rogers Media. CTV parent Bell Globemedia then was required to divest its stake in the network following its 2001 acquisition of competing network TSN. Rogers then became the sole owner of Sportsnet in 2004 after it bought the remaining minority stake that was held by Fox.
The Sportsnet license comprises four 24-hour programming services; Sportsnet was originally licensed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as a category A service, operating as a group of regional sports networks offering programming tailored to each feed’s region (in contrast to TSN, which was licensed at the time to operate as a national sports service, and could only offer limited regional opt-outs).
Since 2011, the service has operated under deregulated category C licensing, which allows Sportsnet to operate multiple feeds with no restrictions on alternate programming. In each region, only the local Sportsnet channel is available on analogue cable, but all four channels are available nationally via digital cable (subject to blackouts for some out-of-market teams).
The four Sportsnet feeds air some common programming and simulcast major, national events, but are capable of airing programming autonomously most prominently regional programming. Sportsnet is the national cable rightsholder of the National Hockey League, and also holds regional rights to five of the league’s Canadian franchises.
It is also the national rightsholder of Major League Baseball in Canada (although most of ESPN’s MLB broadcasts are sub-licensed to rival network TSN), and the exclusive broadcaster of the co-owned Toronto Blue Jays. It also splits regional coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors with TSN; Rogers Communications and TSN’s parent company Bell Canada own a joint majority stake in the teams’ parent company.
The Sportsnet brand has since been extended beyond the original regional channels, now encompassing the national channels Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet One (and its regional part-time companion channels), and Sportsnet World; Sportsnet Radio stations in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary; and Sportsnet Magazine. With these brand extensions.
Rogers now generally uses “Sportsnet” (by itself) to denote its sports media properties as a whole, and on-air promotions for programs being carried nationally by these four regional feeds often list all four channels separately, or refer to the Sportsnet “regional” (or “main”) channels, to avoid any ambiguity.
However, standalone mentions of “Sportsnet” in reference to a specific channel can still generally be assumed to be referring to the four regional channels (or the specific regional channel available locally on analogue cable).
Sportsnet was approved by the CRTC in September 1996 under the tentative name S3, with Baton Broadcasting Inc. (later renamed to CTV Inc.) holding a 40% controlling interest in the network, and 20% minority stakes held by Rogers Media and Liberty Media. The network proposed a structure with an emphasis on regional programming, operating four feeds to serve different areas of the country.
The network launched on October 9, 1998 as CTV Sportsnet, under the ownership of CTV, Rogers, and Liberty; the latter which owned some of the Fox Sports Net operations that Fox ran in the United States after which the channel was named.
The new network gained credibility before it went on the air, having acquired national cable rights to the National Hockey League from long-time holder TSN. From 1998–99 until 2001–02, Sportsnet aired NHL games to a national audience throughout the regular season, and covered first-round playoff series not involving Canadian teams. Its first live sports event was an NHL opening night telecast between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. The national cable rights to the NHL returned to TSN in 2002, though Sportsnet retained regional broadcast rights for most Canadian NHL teams.
Sportsnet Regional feeds
Similarly to regional sports networks in the United States, Sportsnet is operated in four regional feeds. While the feeds carry national programming as well, they primarily broadcast sporting events tailored to the region they serve. The four regional feeds are listed in the table below.
All four feeds are available in both standard and high definition formats. Although cable providers in Canada are permitted to carry only the local Sportsnet feed on analogue cable packages, all four feeds can be carried on digital television services.
However, in some instances, programming on the out-of-market Sportsnet feeds, particularly regional NHL games, are blacked out due to league restrictions on teams’ regional broadcast rights. Since the revival of the Winnipeg Jets in 2011, regional Flames and Oilers games on Sportsnet West have also been blacked out in Manitoba, despite it being the “local” Sportsnet feed for that province.
Sportnet is the main television outlet for Major League Baseball in Canada: it is the exclusive television outlet for the Toronto Blue Jays (which are also owned by Rogers), airing all of its games and other Blue Jays-related programming throughout the season. It also holds Canadian rights to Fox Saturday Baseball, the All-Star Game and the postseason (through Fox, TBS and MLB International). Sportsnet also carries other MLB games simulcast from U.S. regional sports networks.
Sportsnet began airing National Football League games Starting with the 2005 season, splitting late games across the Pacific and West feeds, and the East and Ontario feeds. The games not shown in the opposite regions were carried regionally by City. It also had rights to Thursday Night Football and the American Thanksgiving games. Sportsnet lost all NFL broadcasting rights for the 2017 season.
Sportsnet carries a large amount of soccer programming; it has been the Canadian broadcaster of the Premier League since 1998 until 2018/19 season (from 2013/14 to 2018/19 season, Sportsnet jointly held Canadian rights to the Premier League with TSN), and also held rights to the FA Cup, UEFA Champions League and Europa League. Sportsnet lost UEFA coverage to TSN for 2015, but gained rights to Bundesliga matches beginning in the 2015-16 season. Sportsnet aired the Amway Canadian Championship, an annual competition featuring Canada’s five professional soccer teams – Toronto FC, Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, FC Edmonton, and Ottawa Fury FC, until TSN acquired full rights in 2017.
In 2006, Sportsnet aired coverage of the FIFA World Cup as part of a consortium with TSN and CTV. From 2011 through 2014, beginning with the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, CBC sub-licensed cable rights to FIFA tournaments to Sportsnet, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Since the acquisition of the City stations (known as Citytv at the time of the acquisition) by Rogers, Sportsnet began providing sports updates for those channels in some cases, although certain stations retain their own sports departments. In the event of programming conflicts, Sportsnet has occasionally moved Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers or Vancouver Canucks games to the local City station, although the network’s current preference is to use Sportsnet One’s companion channels for this purpose instead.
On February 8, 2011, Sportsnet announced that it had signed a multi-year deal with Tennis Canada to acquire early round rights to the Rogers Cup. Sportsnet also acquired rights to the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 and ATP World Tour 500 series events. As per an extension of Rogers’ sponsorship rights to the tournament, Sportsnet holds sole rights to the Rogers Cup beginning in 2016. In 2016, Sportsnet lost the ATP tours to TSN, but it still maintains exclusive rights to the Rogers Cup, as well as the Davis Cup and Fed Cup.
In August 2012, Rogers acquired ownership of the Grand Slam of Curling series from Insight Sports via Sportsnet, adding coverage of its events to the network. CBC Sports continues to provide sub-licensed coverage of weekend draws in selected Grand Slam events. In February 2013, Sportsnet announced that it would become the official Canadian broadcaster of the IndyCar Series beginning in the 2013 season in a five-year deal with the series.
The new contract includes broadcasts on Sportsnet’s networks and City, and French rights sub-licensed to TVA Sports. That season, Sportsnet also originated coverage from the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Indianapolis 500 and Honda Indy Toronto, with Bill Adam, Todd Lewis and Rob Faulds. Canadian driver Paul Tracy joined Sportsnet as an analyst.
In the 2019 season, all but the Honda Indy Toronto and Indianapolis 500 moved exclusively to Sportsnet World and Sportsnet Now+. In May 2013, Sportsnet reached a six-year deal for rights to the national championships of U Sports (then known as Canadian Interuniversity Sport), including coverage of the Vanier Cup.
Sportsnet Ultra high-definition television
On October 5, 2015, Rogers announced that it planned to produce 101 sports telecasts in 4K ultra-high-definition format in 2016, including all Toronto Blue Jays home games, and “marquee” NHL games beginning in January 2016. These broadcasts are offered via 4K event channels on participating television providers.
On January 14, 2016, in cooperation with BT Sport, Sportsnet broadcast the first ever NBA game produced in 4K, and the first live sporting event in 4K in Canadian history a Toronto Raptors/Orlando Magic game at O2 Arena in London. Sportsnet’s first domestic 4K telecast, a Toronto Maple Leafs/Montreal Canadiens game, aired January 23, 2016.
Sportsnet Internet streaming
Sportsnet operates a TV Everywhere service known as Sportsnet Now, which streams the programming of the Sportsnet regional channels, Sportsnet One, and Sportsnet 360. On March 31, 2016, Rogers announced that Sportsnet Now would be made available without a television subscription as a subscription-based over-the-top streaming service, initially priced at $24.99 per-month.
The service remains available at no additional charge to subscribers to Sportsnet on participating providers. In October 2018, the price was dropped to $19.99, annual subscription options were added and an additional tier known as Sportsnet Now+ was introduced, adding additional international soccer and rugby events, and out-of-market streaming of regional NHL games for Canadian teams whose rights are owned by Sportsnet.