The Sports Network is a Canadian English language sports specialty channel. Established by the Labatt Brewing Company in 1984 as part of the first group of Canadian specialty cable channels, since 2001, TSN has been majority-owned by communications conglomerate BCE Inc. (presently through its broadcasting subsidiary Bell Media) with a minority stake held by ESPN Inc. via a 20% share in the Bell Media subsidiary CTV Specialty Television.
TSN is the largest specialty channel in Canada in terms of gross revenue, with a total of $400.4 million in revenue in 2013. TSN’s networks focus on sports-related programming, including live and recorded event telecasts, sports talk shows, and other original programming.
TSN was the first national cable broadcaster of the National Hockey League in Canada. Its stint has been interrupted twice by rival network Sportsnet, most recently as of the 2014–15 season under an exclusive 12-year rights deal. TSN holds regional television rights to four of the NHL’s seven Canadian franchises.
As of 2015, major programming rights held by TSN include exclusive coverage of the Canadian Football League and Curling Canada’s national championships, coverage of the NBA and the Toronto Raptors, coverage of Major League Soccer and exclusive rights to Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, along with Canadian rights to the tournaments of FIFA (soccer) and the IIHF (ice hockey), the NFL (shared with sister network CTV), Formula One, NASCAR, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the Grand Slam tennis tournaments, among others. TSN also receives a large amount of programming through its minority partner, ESPN.
The TSN licence currently comprises five 24-hour programming services; from its launch until 2006, TSN operated as a single, national service. In 2006, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled that TSN could operate multiple feeds with a limited amount of alternative national programming this was followed by the launch of TSN2 a second 24-hour network under the TSN licence that was legally considered a west coast feed of TSN.
In 2010, TSN has been subject to deregulated Category C licensing by the CRTC, which allows multiple feeds to be operated under the TSN licence with no restrictions on alternate programming; TSN used this new ability to operate an autonomous TSN2, along with part-time feeds for regional NHL coverage.
On August 25, 2014, the primary TSN service was re-structured into four 24-hour feeds TSN1, TSN3, TSN4, and TSN5 with each designated as the primary TSN network for each region of Canada.
TSN now essentially operates as a group of regional sports networks similarly to Sportsnet, the 1, 3, 4, and 5 channels air some common programming and simulcast major events, while all five channels are capable of airing programming autonomously including alternative national events and studio shows, supplemental coverage of larger events, and regional programming (such as NHL games; subject to blackout outside the respective team’s market).
TSN network was founded under the leadership of Gordon Craig, a former employee of CBC Sports; alongside coverage of the then co-owned Toronto Blue Jays, TSN also reached a deal with ESPN (itself only 5 years old) shortly before launch to provide additional programs.
Although reaching around 400,000 subscribers, TSN’s early years were hindered by its initial status as a premium service, bundled in a high-cost package with movie channels such as First Choice and Superchannel, alongside competition with free-to-air sports broadcasts by CBC Television among others.
To improve the prominence of the network, TSN sought to obtain the national cable rights to the National Hockey League rights that, according to the league, were not sold under the current arrangement with CBC.
However, the task was complicated by claims by CBC that it owned the cable rights to the NHL, along with the involvement of competing beer company Molson in Canadian NHL rights at the time. With the help of a Molson employee who was a friend of Gordon, a deal was reached between TSN, Molson, and the NHL to allow the network to broadcast games on cable.
By December 1987, TSN had reached one million subscribers, but the network’s staff sought wider distribution for the channel as part of basic cable service; the CRTC approved the network’s request for permission to allow TSN to be carried as part of a basic cable lineup.
Mike Day, producer of TSN’s daily sports news program SportsDesk lamented about the shift to basic cable and the larger audience it would bring, commenting that “one night you’re doing a news show that potentially has an audience of one million people, and the next day the potential is five million people.”
In 1991, TSN acquired rights to the IIHF World U20 Championship, otherwise known as the “World Juniors”, which were previously broadcast by CBC. TSN’s coverage, along with the recent “Punch-up in Piestany” incident and a strong performance by Canada at the tournament in the mid-1990s, helped to significantly heighten the profile of the tournament in the country (even more so than in other participating countries), to the point that it is, alongside U.S. college football bowl games, regarded as a traditional sporting event of the holiday season in Canada.
Due to CRTC regulations on the foreign ownership of broadcasters, Labatt was forced to sell TSN and RDS upon its acquisition by Interbrew in 1995. Labatt’s broadcasting assets were sold to a privately held consortium named NetStar Communications, the investors of which included a number of Canadian firms as well as ESPN Inc., which held an interest of about 30 percent.
The same CRTC regulations prevented ESPN from establishing its own separate Canadian sports network outright, so acquiring a minority stake in TSN became ESPN’s alternative plan to get into the Canadian market. The Sports Network launched its website TSN.ca on October 1, 1995.
In 1997, the CRTC began permitting TSN to offer an “alternate feed”, which could be used to provide a regional opt-out of the main TSN service for programming that must be blacked out in the rest of the country. Alternate programming could make up a maximum of 10% of the TSN schedule an average of 2.4 hours a day.
TSN licence is permitted to have multiple channels, and currently encompasses all of the channels listed in the table below. However, unlike premium services like The Movie Network, subscribers receiving one TSN channel are not necessarily automatically entitled to receive all additional channels, and in many cases they are (or previously were) only available by paying a separate charge to a service provider.
For example, until 2013, Rogers Cable customers were required to subscribe to the HD Specialty Pack add-on in order to receive TSN HD (whereas most other HD simulcast channels were provided at no additional charge). On many providers including Rogers, TSN1, 3, 4 and 5 are included in a single package, but TSN2 is still provided only as part of a separate higher-tier package.
On May 6, 2014, TSN announced plans to launch three additional multiplex channels, for a total of five 24-hour national channels. The existing “TSN” service was replaced by four regionally-focused channels (referred to as “feeds”) TSN1, 3, 4, and 5 similar to the Sportsnet regional channels.
All five channels are available nationally, but on most local providers, the channel location previously occupied by TSN’s primary service was filled by the appropriate regional feed. While major sports telecasts are simulcast across TSN1, 3, 4, and 5 to ensure national coverage, alternative studio shows and live events can also be split across the channels.
The feeds carry a small amount of programming tailored towards their respective regions, including simulcasts of lunch-hour shows from TSN Radio stations in their relevant region, and regional NHL coverage. When TV listings and promotions make a reference to a program airing on “the TSN network” or simply “TSN” without disambiguation, it can normally be assumed that the program will be simulcast on TSN1, 3, 4 and 5.
Their launch date was originally announced as September 1, 2014, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of TSN’s launch, but was moved up to August 25 in order to accommodate multiple-court coverage throughout the 2014 US Open. Prior to the launch of the additional feeds,
Bell executives stated that the expanded five-channel service would be offered for the same rate as was charged at the time for TSN and TSN2 together. Notwithstanding this claim, some providers, including Shaw Cable, have elected to charge extra for some of the new feeds. Most major Canadian television providers carried the new channels upon their launch, including Bell, Cogeco, Eastlink, MTS, SaskTel, Shaw, Source Cable, Rogers, and Telus.
TSN programming TSN’s flagship news program is SportsCentre, a sports news program airing several times throughout the day. Formerly known as Sportsdesk, it was revamped to closer resemble ESPN’s own SportsCenter (including the use of its theme music, logo, and opening) in the Fall of 2001 as part of a corporate restructuring, closer aligning itself with minority owner ESPN.
In 2006, a new studio was built in order to prepare the show for its transition to high definition becoming the first daily news program in Canada to be produced in HD beginning on September 25, 2006. Other original programs on TSN include the daily hockey news program That’s Hockey, SportsCentre-branded countdown shows, the automotive newsmagazine Motoring, and TSN The Reporters.
In connection with ESPN’s minority ownership in TSN, the network has a long-term agreement with ESPN International for the Canadian rights to ESPN original and studio programs, including Pardon the Interruption, Around the Horn, Sunday NFL Countdown, NFL Live, Baseball Tonight, ESPN FC, and ESPN Films documentaries including the 30 for 30 series, among others, though it does not always air these programs simultaneously with their U.S. broadcasts.
In 2012, as part of promotion for the 100th Grey Cup, TSN produced its own anthology of documentary films, Engraved on a Nation, focusing on stories related to the Grey Cup and CFL. In 2019, TSN revived the series with a second season, chronicling other major figures in Canadian sports.
TSN has been the exclusive broadcaster of the Canadian Football League, airing all of the league’s games, including the season-ending Grey Cup. In November 2019, TSN and the CFL signed a six-year media rights extension, which was reported to expire in 2025.
The channel also previously held rights to the country’s university football playoff tournaments, including the Hardy Cup, Uteck Bowl, Mitchell Bowl and the Vanier Cup championship. The Hardy Cup coverage reverted to Shaw TV in 2014 while the Uteck, Mitchell and Vanier contests moved to Sportsnet, who acquired exclusive rights to CIS tournaments in May 2013.
TSN Basketball splits rights to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Toronto Raptors with Sportsnet, by virtue of the league’s Canadian media rights being managed by Raptors owner MLSE.
TSN alternated broadcasting the 2019 NBA Finals with Sportsnet, which featured the Toronto Raptors winning their first-ever NBA championship. TSN aired the series-clinching Game 6, which saw an average of 7.7 million viewers as the most-watched NBA telecast in Canadian history.
TSN acquired Canadian rights to Major League Soccer in 2011, airing 24 matches during the 2011 season that involved the league’s Canadian clubs, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Its slate expanded to 30 games in 2012 with the debut of the Montreal Impact in the league. TSN’s channels broadcast a package of other regular-season games, the MLS All-Star Game, MLS Cup Playoffs and the MLS Cup.
In January 2014, TSN announced that it would take over broadcast rights to Whitecaps games beginning in the 2014 Major League Soccer season, under a separate deal. On October 27, 2011, Bell Media and TSN announced that they had secured broadcast rights for FIFA soccer tournaments from 2015 to 2022. The rights include the 2018 FIFA World Cup, 2022 FIFA World Cup, and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup hosted by Canada. In 2017, TSN reached a 5-year extension to its Major League Soccer broadcasting rights.