SSN Broadcasting Rights Issue a Point of Concern for Many CIS Athletes

Mark Staffieri@@MarkStaff100Contributor IINovember 26, 2012

Obtained from SSN Website
Obtained from SSN Website

Streaming Sports Network (known as SSN) was a key broadcast partner for Canadian Interuniversity Sport. The announcement that they lost the broadcasting rights to numerous CIS National Championship events (most except for football) has raised concern with many athletes.

While the Vanier Cup (the CIS national football championship) is aired on broadcast television, SSN was popular with the parents of student-athletes because it was the opportunity to watch their children compete in regular-season and conference games.

With their broadcast contract having expired at the end of the 2011-12 CIS athletic season, a three-year contract was reached with American webcasting firm Stretch Internet. Although Stretch Internet has now obtained the rights to broadcast CIS National championships over the web (excluding football), the company has opted to broadcast only the national championships. This is contrary to SSN, which also opted to air numerous regular-season and playoff contests over a wide range of numerous sports.

Although the Canada West conference (which covers Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia) had already been using Stretch Internet for many events, SSN was broadcasting events over the other three conferences in the CIS (Ontario University Athletics, Quebec Student Sports Federation [RSEQ], and Atlantic University Sport).  Stretch Internet is involved with over 50 schools that participate in sports at the NCAA Division I level. A key feature of Stretch is their ability to offer live stats during the game.

The CIS men’s soccer playoff in November 2011 recorded a respectable 20,000 viewers. For SSN, the apperance of an advertisement on a user’s screen qualifies as an impression. During March 2012 (when many CIS sporting championships are contested), SSN’s service boasted over a million impressions. Among sponsors that SSN were able to attract, Umbro was involved in sponsoring the CIS soccer championships.

While CIS sports has grown by a quantum leap over the last decade, especially in women’s sports such as hockey, rugby and soccer, SSN was a key partner in the growth. In the final year of their CIS contract, SSN worked with 19 of 52 CIS schools to broadcast numerous regular-season events. 

SSN was the first company to broadcast CIS sports over the Internet. Whereas SSN was involved with the production aspect of an event, the travel costs involved with that production no longer existed. Local CIS schools can now have their own production crew which can stream to Stretch. 

The key difference was that SSN provided opportunities for students that were studying journalism and communication to be involved in the on-air aspect, while giving technical experience to students studying technology to work on the stream. Bengt Neathery, the president of iSi Global Webcasting, the parent company of SSN, was a staunch supporter of helping support Canadian university athletics. SSN only charged schools $95 a year for streaming, with the option of an extra $500 a year for tech support.

As a Canadian company that believed in helping Canadian Interuniversity Sport become more viable, SSN attempted to create a bursary program that could help finance many school’s sporting ventures. In addition, the company invested in HD streaming technology.

Currently, a movement on the part of many student-athletes has been made to ensure that SSN can remain viable and a part of the CIS sporting landscape. For many of these student-athletes, SSN was a big part of their experience in competing in CIS-sanctioned sport, while making them feel like their respective sport was important. With the loss of broadcast rights to the various national championships, SSN is unable to obtain the important advertising revenue to maintain its operation.  

With Stretch having broadcast the CIS national championships for women’s rugby and field hockey in November 2012, it marks the end of an era for SSN. Having lost the broadcast rights, SSN has temporarily shut down its enterprise. The great team spirit being shown by student-athletes is a reflection of the importance of SSN to them, while sending a message to CIS that their dedication to helping grow Canadian sport must be encouraged rather than pushed aside.