Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Unholy Alliance:
Curling Canada & the CBC

I posted earlier that my wife and I have just taken up the sport of curling. I became fascinated with the game more than 20 years ago because, when I first started watching it on television, my wife, along with the announcers on TSN(cdn), did a thorough job of explaining the rules and strategies. During that entire period, TSN did all the round-robin broadcasting, covering every end of every major tournament during the round-robin play; CBC held the broadcast rights for the semi-finals and finals.

Last summer, when the contract to televise curling was up for renewal with the Canadian Curling Association, TSN made a bid for the entire contract, including the semi-finals and finals. The response from CBC was to bid for the entire contract as well. While I had a preference for the TSN announcers and telecasts, I didn't really care all that much who won the contract. ..... until I found out what CBC was doing with their broadcasts. The television schedule is posted here.

It turns out that CBC is not broadcasting any of the morning draws (games). Why not? No reason is provided in any of the material I have seen.

Furthermore, CBC is not showing any of the round-robin play during prime time! At least they are not showing curling on the standard CBC over-the-air channel. Instead, they are showing it on something called "Country Canada", which, quite frankly, I had thought was a possibly a really weak country music channel.

That would be okay, I guess, if Country Canada were part of some standard cable package. It isn't; it is available only via digital cable or satellite. In addition, it is such a pathetic network, that it averages 500 viewers per day (900 per day during prime time).
[I'll bet I could get more viewers than that if I set up a network devoted entirely to my economics lectures!]
Currently, viewership for the channel is minuscule, with 500 people tuning in daily and the total rising to 900 during prime time. Lee said a great deal of marketing is planned to try to drive curlers to subscribe to the channel, which can be obtained only through a digital receiver or a satellite dish.

I couldn't believe it! I was so distressed, I fired off the following letter to the Curling Canada Association:
Okay, folks. Whose wise idea was it to show curling on CBC's extremely lame "Country Canada"???? We don't get it where we live, and we will now miss a LOT of curling.

I sure hope CBC paid somebody a lot of the taxpayers money to make sure that fewer Canadians now have less access to watching curling on television.

I was wrong; we can get Country Canada here if we sign up for digital cable. And so this morning, we committed ourselves to spend a lot extra over the next few years to get digital cable boxes so we can watch curling. As I said, I was furious. And then I read this from

... under terms of its licence from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Country Canada is permitted to allot only 10 per cent of its broadcasting week to amateur or professional sports. Based on Country Canada's 18-hour day, that equates to 12.6 hours for the week. According to a schedule posted on the CBC's website, it will be more than that, no matter how the nine-day event is sliced into a seven-day period. And that doesn't even account for any extra-end games or tiebreakers.
In other words, the CBC bid taxpayer dollars for something that the regulations will not permit them to show in its entirety.... What a bunch of #%#^%^. The CBC finally figured out how to get around this problem by fobbing off coverage of two of the prime time matches to The Score, the Canadian CTV all-sports network. I haven't been able to find any financial details of the arrangement, but I'll bet the negotiations were amusing.

To make matters even more insulting, here are excerpts from the [apparent form letter] response I received from the Curling Association:

...the new television agreement will provide more hours of exposure on the main CBC network than any other sport, amateur or professional, except for NHL Hockey once it returns to arenas around North America.
Yes more on CBC, and a whole lot less in total. I don't see how this sophistry is of any benefit to the Canadian Curling Association.

In the final analysis, the CBC’s proposal was stronger.
How so? Did the CBC hire some executives of the Canadian Curling Association [and/or their relatives] as consultants??

If indeed the CBC offered to pay more than the TSN bid for the broadcast rights, and then all they are doing is making curling fans angry and inhibiting the viewing of the matches, it is time for the Auditor General of Canada to investigate why the CBC is misspending taxpayer dollars in such a frivolous manner.

Most importantly, the CBC is making more live curling coverage more
widely available to more Canadians than ever before.
This is a specious argument. CBC reaches a few more people than TSN because its rebroadcasts and transmitters are subsidized everywhere; and I can readily imagine that considerably fewer will be watching curling during prime time when it is available only on digital or satellite. More people seeing less curling, with considerably less total viewership does not sound like a strong proposal to me.

Teaming up with CBC means we’re able to deliver world-class curling to
99% of all Canadian households.
This is total nonsense: reaching maybe 1% more households for 50% less air time has to amount to less total viewership. This situation cannot be good for curling in Canada.

Every game is available live and there are no longer any tape delays.
This is just plain wrong, and if that is what the CBC promised, they are in breach of their contract. And by repeating it, the Curling Association is flat-out lying to its fans and correspondents.

So here are some possibilities about what is going on:

  • Maybe someone somewhere is on the take.
  • Maybe the Canadian Curling Association was seriously hornswaggled by the CBC negotiators. If so, the CCA should fire its executive, its lawyers, or both.
  • Maybe the CCA was paid a whole bunch of money by the CBC --- an offer they couldn't refuse. In which case, they should just say so and not lie about it, and
  • Maybe the CBC made such a tremendous offer in order to use curling to promote their new channel. After all, it worked for Fox the first time they obtained an NFL broadcasting contract. The difference is that Fox offers other programming people want to watch.

And if the last option above explains what happened, it is yet another example of how bureaucrats who are spending taxpayer money [directly or indirectly] make decisions that might help expand their bureaucracies but which are truly poor business decisions.

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