The Canadian delegation at the 2015 Pan Am Games has done their country proud. A record medal haul, inspiring stories, and dozens of break out performances from young athletes who will likely compete for medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Only problem? Almost none of these performances were available to a live national audience, and an underwhelming number of them were available to stream online on the CBC’s website.
Leading up to the Games, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of buzz in many Canadian communities, as many of the torch relay events across the country were disappointingly under-attended and minimally advertised. But like any Canadian sports fan, once the Games commenced, I was locked in for two weeks of wall-to-wall sports.
Or at least that was the plan. I woke up on the first Saturday of the games to watch the women’s K4 500m final, where Canada was favoured to win gold. I turned to CBC…and it wasn’t on. Live coverage on CBC wouldn’t start until 1pm? On a Saturday? For an international multi-sport event that we’re hosting? Ah well, I’ll bite the bullet and watch a stream online…wait…not even available online??
I, along with many other Canadians, repeated this same exercise on every day of the Games. Attempt to follow our athletes at the Games, and have our plans foiled by the central planners at the CBC. Perhaps most amusing was the Men’s BMX final, where no feed was available on TV or online. The only way to follow the race from home? Through Toronto Mayor John Tory’s Periscope feed. (Side note, how entertaining would Rob Ford’s Periscope feed be?) Tory Nyhaug took the gold for Canada, yet I’m sure a good number of his family and friends from New Westminster BC were left completely in the dark.
There were two distinct ways in which the CBC failed Canadians during the Pan Am Games.
First, let’s address the TV side of things. The CBC allotted far too few hours to TV coverage during the Games. Whether that was their miscalculation of Canadians’ interest in the Games, or what they have vaguely referred to as “not having enough resources”, their supply of broadcast content did not meet Canadians’ demand. The fact that they added an extra hour of daily coverage part-way through the Games leads me to believe that they know they miscalculated interest. And badly. Not only did they not provide an adequate number of TV hours, but the coverage they did provide was largely tape-delayed events. Those of us north of the 49th parallel have long mocked NBC’s coverage of multi-sport events, whereby they broadcast tape-delayed events while giving the viewer the impression that they are live. For two weeks, we experienced this same condescension. The on-air talent for the CBC was stellar as always throughout the Games, and I can’t imagine Scott Oake and Andi Petrillo were thrilled with the tape-delayed events they were introducing. Swimming, gymnastics, diving, volleyball, baseball, and other sports all repeatedly broadcasted hours later. And often for no good reason. On many occasions, they could have been shown live with some deft feed surfing by the CBC. The most high-profile live broadcast omissions were the men’s baseball and women’s basketball gold medal games, both featuring Canada, which were only available live online. Thankfully, Sportsnet stepped in and broadcasted the men’s basketball semi-final game between the USA and Canada, to save the CBC any further wrath from Canadians.
The other major failure of the CBC was its online content. Hundreds of events with no available feed. While I understand that this is not the Olympics, and the resources may not be there to broadcast every minute of every event at the Games, there were far too many Canadian performances that were ignored completely. Again, I sense that the CBC tried to remedy this late in the Games as they broadcasted the women’s baseball gold medal game on the final Sunday of the Games with one fixed camera and no announcers. This similar approach would have been appreciated earlier in the Games with lower-profile events.
Interestingly, it is still not entirely clear why the CBC’s coverage was so flawed. Here are two articles from the Toronto Star and the National Post. One article cites the head of CBC sports, Trevor Pilling, asserting that “resources aren’t specifically an issue”, where the other quotes Chuck Thompson (head of public affairs, CBC English services) as stating “resources are a factor”. Many of the quotes from CBC executives have defended their coverage as being superior to previous Pan Am Games, but that simply doesn’t excuse what many Canadians have perceived as a disappointing product. The CBC may have been at the mercy of the Pan Am Games Committee in terms of what was available to broadcast, but as the host broadcaster they should have strongly advocated for more events to be covered. Imagine, if you will, had the CBC made a public plea in March or April that their Pan Am Games coverage would be suboptimal without more federal funding. The federal government may not have acquiesced to that request, but it would have made it crystal clear as to what the CBC’s limitations were during the Games. Part of many Canadians’ ambivalence towards funding the CBC is not having an appreciation for where exactly the funding is going. This was a missed opportunity by the CBC to provide this clarity, while at the same time taking an enormous PR hit for its perceived coverage failures.
The CBC has vowed that their coverage for Rio in 2016 will be far more extensive than their coverage in Toronto, and I trust that it will, along with support from Bell and Rogers platforms. But unfortunately, for as comprehensive as that coverage may end up being, it can never make things right for the hundreds of Canadian athletes that were ignored during these Games, or for the millions of Canadian kids who should have been inspired by these terrific performances.