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GiveLife.ca

    
The top 25 in Canadian sports
After being on the fringes for a number
of years, Ted Rogers now leads the pack
of movers and shakers in Canadian sports,
WILLIAM HOUSTON says

WILLIAM HOUSTON

Saturday, December 23, 2000

He was always close, but never a real player.

As a cable operator, he owned Canadian rights to the National Football League's pay-per-view programming. He served as a member of the Maple Leaf Gardens board of directors until the board was fired in the bitter 1992 Steve Stavro takeover. And periodically his name appeared in the news as the cable guy who wanted to buy an NFL team and move it to Toronto. But Edward (Ted) Rogers remained a peripheral figure in Canadian sport, a minor-leaguer waiting for his big chance.

It came in 2000.

In an astonishing series of moves, Rogers laid claim to CTV Sportsnet, a cable channel that may or may not end up as his property, depending on CTV's willingness to deal, on a decision by the federal broadcasting regulator and perhaps on a court ruling.

Then he bought 80 per cent of the Toronto Blue Jays, a great franchise that had fallen on hard times. He also financed a new U.S. Arena Football League team in Toronto and reiterated that he would continue to pursue an NFL club.

Throw in the fact that Rogers Communications Inc., as Canada's largest cable distributor, is in more than 2.2 million homes, provides an Internet service to 300,000, owns one Toronto television station, 200 video stores, 30 radio stations and 65 magazines, the picture becomes clear very quickly: Accidental sportsman or not, Ted Rogers has become a sports-media powerhouse.

Based on his impact season, Rogers, 67, tops The Globe and Mail's year-end list of people who had the biggest influence on Canadian sport.

Following closely are Wayne Gretzky, the most popular and arguably the most influential athlete Canada has produced, and now a co-owner of a National Hockey League team; Dick Pound, the International Olympic Committee's No. 2 executive and favourite to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch as IOC president next summer; Toronto Raptor Vince Carter, the National Basketball Association's brightest new star and the league's best hope for long-term success in Canada; and New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria, whose majority ownership of the Expos will either save baseball in Montreal or send it south.

Rounding out the top 10 are NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who presides over the most powerful hockey league in the world; Mike Weir, who, at age 30, is perhaps already the greatest professional golfer Canada has produced; Ottawa Senators owner Rod Bryden, whose campaign for tax relief to Canadian-based NHL clubs drew mixed reviews and results but kept the issue in the national spotlight; Ken Dryden, who, as president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, operates the most successful sports franchise in Canada; and Nancy Lee, the head of CBC Sports, which is the leading producer of high-end sports content in the country.

But in a sports year dominated by business and media, Rogers remained the top story. Not only did his acquisition of the Jays stabilize a declining franchise, but he also replaced an absentee owner with a motivated Toronto-based presence headed by deal-maker Paul Godfrey. That's good news for Jays fans, because in Rogers's vertically integrated sports-media strategy, winning will be a big part of the equation. Not only does on-field success increase revenue at the gate, but also drives up the bottom line in radio, television and the Internet, and helps market everything else owned by the company.

"We bought the team because it fits with Rogers in a number of ways," said Phil Lind, the vice-chair of Rogers Communications and an old friend of Rogers.

"It fits in marketing. Rogers cable is in most of Ontario. Rogers radio is in a lot of Ontario. Wireless [cellphones] is situated in Ontario as well. So, there are lots of cross-promotional opportunities involving the Jays."

Most remarkable is that Rogers seemed to be working from a plan. In the past, he was famous for merely pursuing ideas, or less charitably, lurching from one enterprise to the next, winning some and losing his fair share, too.

The son of a famous investor and founder of CFRB radio in Toronto, Rogers suffered from poor health as a child, although he boxed competitively as a teenager. He was only five years old when his father, Ted Sr., died at age 38. Like his father, Ted started in radio. He established the first FM station in Canada, Toronto's CHFI, and then teamed with John W. Bassett to start up Toronto's first privately owned television station.

He moved to cable in 1967, later got into (and then out of) newspapers, pursued the long-distance telephone business and lost $500-million, went into cellphones and the Internet with mixed results, expanded his cable operation, with one failed strike into the United States, and then this year, hit on a strategy that seemed to pull it all together: Sports.

The convergence of sports and cable carriage is not new. Ted Turner has been carrying the Atlanta Braves and Hawks on his cable stations TBS and TNT for years. The models for cable distributors owning sports cable content include Comcast Corp.'s Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers, and Cablevision Systems' New York Knicks, Rangers and Madison Square Garden. But it's a first in Canada. And like his U.S. cable counterparts, Rogers's ownership of the Jays has a lot more to do with business than celebrity.

"Rogers is a fan, just like the guy on the street," Lind said. "But he's not a rabid fan. This is certainly not an ego or vanity thing. It's a strategy that fits with Rogers's media strategy. Plus, it's good for the city and province. You don't know what would have happened if someone else had bought the Jays."

Vertical integration -- ownership of the content, the carrier and the carriage -- is central to the Rogers plan, but there exists a second equally important motive for his move into sports. Rogers buys into the theory that the proliferation of digital cable channels will speed up market fragmentation and that television ratings, across the board, will continue to decline.

What's more, new technology, such as TiVo, which allows the consumer to delete commercials, will diminish the value of taped TV programming. However, sports, because it's live and presents an unfolding drama, will continue to draw an audience and attract advertisers.

"There will come a day when most TV programs will be controlled by TiVo or Replay or something like that," Lind said. "So, you won't watch hardly any commercials, except on live sports or live news, or something like that. So, the people who have sports channels and news channels -- channels that can't be interrupted -- are the ones who are going to gain."

But for Rogers to make his sport-media conglomerate work, he requires the final piece of the puzzle. He needs to own Sportsnet. CTV, which is required to divest Sportsnet as a condition of owning TSN, is in no hurry to sell, although a March 24 deadline looms. Rogers, which, as a minority owner in Sportsnet, has a right of first refusal on shares, is anxious to get the deal done.

But even if an agreement is reached, that's only half the battle. As a cable operator, Rogers's ownership of Sportsnet, a cable channel, will require approval from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The CRTC seems to be indicating that it will approve, in some cases, the joint ownership of content and distribution if a code of conduct is followed.

Rogers's next "idea" is to bring Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which owns the Leafs, Raptors and Air Canada Centre and is owned in part by his friend and Toronto neighbour Larry Tanenbaum, and Rogers's Blue Jays under one roof. This would be done, Lind said, by an exchange of shares and the establishment of a holding company controlling the three Toronto teams.

"I think what Ted really wants is one group operating all the teams," Lind said. "Ours would go in with the Maple Leafs, and we would set up a common structure to sort of market and program, and do the sort of promotions for the teams."

But communications rival BCE Inc. is also eyeing Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. Could Rogers work with BCE?

"It would be hard, but anything's possible," Lind said.

"Every battle he's ever entered he's won," said Colin Watson, the vice-president of Canadian Cable Systems, a company that Rogers acquired in a 1960s hostile takeover. "The fruits of victory have been greater in some cases than others, but he always wins."

Rogers also got involved in professional tennis, as Rogers AT&T Wireless and AT&T Canada replaced Imperial Tobacco Limited to share title sponsorship of the successful Canadian Open championships. The inaugural Rogers and AT&T Canada Cup will be played in Toronto next August.

Not everyone on our list is necessarily a winner. Loria had an impact on baseball in Montreal and not much of it was positive. He failed to reach English-language broadcasting deals. A new stadium plan was scrapped, attendance problems continued and so did speculation the club would eventually relocate. Pound, Bryden and Dryden have their critics, but nobody can question the impact they have made in their respective areas. Pound, the former Canadian swimmer and a Montreal lawyer, handles the tough Olympic jobs. He oversees the IOC's drug-testing operation, is in charge of negotiating broadcasting rights and is also chairman of the IOC's new Internet group.

Bryden, in addition to publicly leading the tax fight for his Canadian counterparts, went to war against holdout Alexei Yashin, and won. The Senators, under Bryden's hand, are one of the NHL's best-run franchises.

Dryden organized the Open Ice summit on the development of Canadian hockey players more than a year ago, and Open Ice's recommendations are influencing the way hockey is taught. He has also helped change the way hockey telecasts are produced, by encouraging lower and closer camera shots, and quicker cuts.

Gretzky was ranked second on our list because he never really left hockey after retiring as a player almost two years ago. His influence in 2000 was most felt as a proponent of reform in Canadian development hockey, and as new minority owner and hockey boss of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. Gretzky's Canadian presence will increase in 2001, when he helps organize Canada's men's hockey team for the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Other role models for Canadian children include Vince Carter, who emerged last season as the NBA's most spectacular young player, and Mike Weir, who had eight top 10 PGA finishes, won $2.4-million (U.S.) and captured the World Golf Championship event in Spain last month.

IMG's Kevin Albrecht, who ranks No. 11 on the list, is largely unknown to sports fans, but behind the scenes, IMG's Canadian office operates more than 40 events a year and represents Canada's two leading golfers, Weir and Lorie Kane.

Albrecht is followed by Montreal Alouettes owner Robert Wetenhall, who seemed to discover the secret to pro sports success in Montreal, where the Expos have failed and the Canadiens struggle. The Alouettes have successfully exploited the grassroots popularity of football in Quebec and a marketing program has captured the fancy of the city's corporate community and the public that fills Molson Stadium every game.

Next is Kane, who enjoyed a terrific season, winning three tournaments and reaffirming her position as Canada's top woman golfer, and perhaps the best ever on the LPGA Tour.

At No. 14 is Michael Heisley, the singing owner of the Vancouver Grizzlies who shook up the front office and, for a few years at least, is keeping the franchise in Vancouver.

Harley Hotchkiss, as part owner of the Calgary Flames, works behind the scenes, but as chairman of the NHL's board of governors, he is effectively the league's No. 2 executive behind Bettman, and an important voice for the Canadian team owners.

Godfrey, as the Jays' new president, made an impact on the club almost immediately. He appointed Buck Martinez manager, the payroll jumped to more than $70-million (U.S.) and he took charge to close the deal with shortstop Alex Gonzalez, signing him to a four-year deal worth about $22-million (U.S.).

Godfrey, who ranks 16th, is followed by Bob Goodenow, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association. Goodenow keeps a low profile between collective bargaining negotiations, but scrutinizes all contracts and represents the significant will of the players.

One big winner in the merger of NetStar's cable channels with CTV was Rick Brace, who not only runs TSN but now calls the shots at CTV's Sports. At No. 19, John Bitove Jr., who leads Toronto's 2008 Olympic bid, will become a bigger player in 2001 when the vote is held for host city.

Twentieth spot goes to Frank Stronach, whose Canadian thoroughbred stable came up big at the Breeders' Cup, with Macho Uno winning the juvenile race and Perfect Sting taking the Filly and Mare Turf. Stronach also helped save the LPGA event in Canada by arranging to hold the women's tournament at his club in Aurora, Ont., next summer.

Sports lawyer Gordon Kirke effectively advised Eric Lindros during his acrimonious split with the Philadelphia Flyers. Kirke provides legal counsel to the Canadian Hockey League and represents several prominent sports media figures.

Former Blue Jay president Paul Beeston, now chief operating officer of Major League Baseball, cut a huge television deal with Fox, selling exclusive World Series rights to the network for $2.5-billion (U.S.) over six years. In Canada, he negotiated a TV deal with Headline Sports, giving the highlights channel its first major event property.

Because of the importance of figure skating in Canada and its popularity on television, David Dore, the long-time director-general of Skate Canada (formerly the Canadian Figure Skating Association) ranks 23th.

Richard Peddie, as president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., oversees the most powerful pro sports bloc in the country.

Finally, at No. 25, is Wayne Russell, whom you probably don't know. Russell is chair of the Canadian Hockey Association's board of directors. The board sets policy regarding the teaching of hockey to children, and Russell has spent the past year promoting reform at the grassroots level. In the long run, he may have more influence on sport in Canada than any of our impact figures.
1. Ted Rogers

President, CEO, Rogers Communications Inc. Accidental sportsman or not, now a sports-media powerhouse. 'It's a strategy . . . plus, it's good for the city and province.'
2. Wayne Gretzky

Hockey player turned executive
Proponent of reform in development of Canadian hockey players, future co-owner of NHL team, organizer of Canada's men's hockey team for the Salt Lake City Olympics.
3. Dick Pound

Vice-president,
International Olympic Committee
Handles the tough Olympic jobs, oversees the IOC's drug testing, and is in charge of negotiating broadcasting rights.
4. Vince Carter

Forward, Toronto Raptors
NBA's brightest new star and the league's best hope for long-term success in Canada.
5. Jeffrey Loria

Majority owner,
Montreal Expos Baseball Club
The majority owner of the Expos will either save baseball in Montreal or send it south.
6. Gary Bettman

Commissioner,
National Hockey League
Presides over the most powerful hockey league in the world.

The Globe list

1. Ted Rogers, Rogers Communications Inc. president/CEO
2. Wayne Gretzky, hockey player turned executive
3. Dick Pound, International Olympic Committee vice president
4. Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors forward
5. Jeffrey Loria, Montreal Expos majority owner
6. Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner
7. Mike Weir, Canada's premier male golfer
8. Rod Bryden, Ottawa Senators owner
9. Ken Dryden, president of Toronto Maple Leafs
10. Nancy Lee, head of CBC Sports
11. Kevin Albrecht, managing director of IMG Canada
12. Bob Wetenhall, Montreal Alouettes owner
13. Lorie Kane, Canada's top female golfer
14. Michael Heisley, owner of Vancouver Grizzlies
15. Harley Hotchkiss, co-owner of Calgary Flames
16. Paul Godfrey, president of Toronto Blue Jays
17. Bob Goodenow, executive director of NHL Players' Association
18. Rick Brace, head of CTV and TSN Sports
19. John Bitove, T.O.-Bid 2008 chief
20. Frank Stronach, thoroughbred racing power broker
21. Gordon Kirke, sports lawyer and Lindros family legal adviser
22. Paul Beeston, Major League Baseball chief operating officer
23. David Dore, director-general of Skate Canada
24. Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment
25. Wayne Russell, chairman of the CHA's board of directors

Canada's sports leaders

Today: The leaders and losers
Tuesday, Dec. 26: The athletes
Wednesday, Dec. 27: The unsung heroes
Thursday, Dec. 28: The media stars
Friday, Dec. 29: Ten to watch in 2001

Follow the series at globeandmail.com/sports and make your pick for Canada's Sports Leader in 2000.


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