Rebranded sporting network must show stronger commitment to women’s sports

As the Rogers sports broadcast empire in Canada expands with its acquisition of The Score (channel 52 for most cable subscribers in Ontario, Canada), there seems to be a commitment to stick with the status quo. As The Score is renamed SN360 (SN stands for SportsNet), the programming is relatively the same.

Fans will not be deprived of their weekly fixes of professional wrestling, mixed martial arts and poker. Meanwhile, competitive professional sports that feature women are not part of the larger scheduling plan. Women’s hockey (such as the CWHL) and women’s tackle football (with the WWCFL in Western Canada and the MWFL in the Maritimes) are just not ready for prime time.

While there is no question that the vast majority of sports fans do not know about the existence of these leagues, is there not a moral obligation on the part of these networks to try and help support home grown female sporting product? Even if there was no profit to be made with women’s hockey or women’s tackle football, there would certainly be a tax credit opportunity.

The CRTC ensures that all Canadian-based TV and radio stations air 30 percent Canadian content on their airwaves. Women’s sports would certainly help meet that criterion, while providing much needed attention for a group of budding leagues that are struggling to build an audience.

As these leagues dream of major TV exposure, there is no question that Rogers could emulate what NBC did with the NHL after the 2005 lockout. NBC acquired the rights to NHL hockey for zero money and split any profits evenly with the league. The women of hockey and tackle football are not even compensated; therefore, money is not even an issue.

The sad irony of this whole scenario is that there used to be a specialty cable channel devoted exclusively to women’s sports. Known as WTSN (Women’s Television Sports Network), the network launched on September 7, 2001. Led by former broadcaster Sue Prestedge, the fledgling network failed to gain a fan base and crumbled within two years.

Considering many of the women that compete in hockey and tackle football also juggle career and family, the demands of marketing and promotion that come with helping to grow their respective sport is difficult. While many of these women’s leagues have a board of directors and an executive body to try and help the sport grow, the support of a major sports channel would open doors that would have taken years without their backing.

As Rogers owns over a half dozen different sports channels, a sporting publication and the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club, surely, there must be room to accommodate these budding leagues. The cost of running one franchise in the WWCFL or MWFL would cost less than a baseball player earning the minimum salary.

With the broadcast exposure, it would stimulate interest in the sports, while helping build a fan base. Perhaps over time, these leagues would become profitable and even see players earning a salary. At this time, the priority is just breaking through, and sacrificing poker or horse racing at 3:00 AM in the morning is a small price to pay for the reward of helping build women’s sport in Canada.

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