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Some Thoughts on Radio Rights and the Canucks’ Media Landscape

Canucks radio rights are up in the air, and that has implications for the local media scene

2019 NHL Draft - NHL Hot Stove With Commissioner Gary Bettman and Francisco Aquilini Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The Canucks market is known for its vibrant media scene. Everywhere you look, there’s a new podcast, blog, or other such content being created by fans, professionals, or someone somewhere in between. There’s a reason the outcry was so extraordinary when Bell shut down TSN 1040 in February of 2021. People in this market love this team, and they love creating content about this team and talking about it with equally passionate fans. From Dan Russell’s Sportstalk, to Don Taylor’s Sports Page, to TEAM/TSN 1040, to The Provies/Athletties/Armies, there is a long and storied history of community-driven content dominating narratives around the Canucks.

It’s part of what makes this news about radio rights so important.

If you haven’t been following, basically, the rights deal between the Canucks and Sportsnet 650 is up, and there’s some ambiguity about what’s going to happen next. I’m not familiar with the details of the agreement or subsequent negotiations, but supposedly it goes something like this:

So, yeah, not a tidy process. Rumour has it that the organization is considering taking their radio broadcast in-house (how that would work, exactly, is unclear).

If this were to happen, I think that it would have a distinctly negative impact on the Canucks media scene.

Listen, I understand that radio is dying. It’s sad, I don’t like it, but I do get it. With the advent of streaming and podcasts and YouTube and whatnot, there is less reason than ever to listen to traditional radio broadcasts. And I say this as a regular radio listener! But frankly, this decision will go beyond where you can hear a radio broadcast. Without the radio rights, there are some who fear that it could have a severely negative financial impact on Sportsnet 650 more broadly. Without the revenue brought in by game broadcasts, some worry that the station will have a hard time remaining financially viable, and that’s a bad thing for the fanbase.

Is it great we have so many podcasts? Of course! I’m an avid listener of a few of them. But they don’t capture the instant, up-to-the-minute urgency that’s so entertaining as a fan.

When something massive happens — in recent memory, for example, the Green/Benning firing day, or the OEL trade afternoon — the first thing I do is switch to live programming. Yes, podcasts can do solid analysis in the aftermath of such events, but they don’t come close to capturing the of-the-moment dynamism that makes being a sports fan so much fun. Podcasts also don’t build community in quite the same way. The live interaction with hosts via phone calls or texts is valuable and authentic, and for my money, beats even social media engagement or other forms of communication (think Discord or comment sections). The live back and forths can do a lot for building a rapport with a fanbase. When you lose a live radio station, you lose that relational and community dynamic.

And this is all to say nothing of the objectivity you lose by simply having the organization broadcast itself. I’m sure, if it happens, it will be a perfectly competent broadcast, but we’re all human, and certain biases are bound to sneak in. And besides, would you even want the appearance of being prejudiced? It’s hard to see how such a move would improve the product, quite frankly.

What I love about this market, and this fanbase, and this media landscape is the fact that it’s so grassroots and fan-driven. That has manifested itself in our radio stations, blogs, podcasts, print columns, and many other avenues. A shift of the radio rights from 650 to some sort of team-based alternative will harm, in my estimation, the quality of the broadcast, limit opportunities available for local talent, and harm the state of the local radio station. It flies in the face of the qualities that make being a Canucks supporter so much fun.

What we do here at Nucks Misconduct and at SB Nation is build community. It’s why I like writing here, and what I think makes us an interesting venue for fan engagement. It’s not all analysis, all the time — it’s about the fans. I think this focus on community extends far beyond us, into the broader Canucks marketplace. And I think that if the Canucks decide against renewing their radio rights with 650 — or even another local, live station, for that matter — and bring their product under their own control, they will be making a mistake with distinct consequences for the ways that this ream is covered. I hope that the resolution to this situation is that radio rights remain live, local, and in the hands of the fans and local talent.