NFL Loses Court Battle to Stop U.S. Super Bowl Ads on Canadian TV

Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 - Tom Brady - Getty-H 2017
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The Federal Court of Appeal ruled Canadians can view hyped American commercials during the big game.

The NFL has lost a Canadian appeals court battle to stop the CTV network from being forced to air United States Super Bowl telecast commercials.

CTV-parent Bell Canada sought to overturn a 2015 ruling from the CRTC, Canada's TV watchdog, that bars the broadcaster from substituting its own TV feed and advertising for the U.S. signal during the Super Bowl. The Federal Court of Appeals ruled against the NFL and NFL Productions by upholding the CRTC ban on homegrown ads replacing glitzy American spots on Canadian broadcasts of the annual championship game.

"The appellants argue, and I agree, that there is a certain irony that legislation that has the protection of the Canadian broadcasting industry and its employees as one of its important objectives is being used to allow for the broadcasting of American ads during the Super Bowl to the apparent detriment of the Canadian industry and its employees," Justice David Near wrote in a Dec. 18 decision for the court obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.

Justice Near added that, while the NFL as a copyright holder has a right to license its program to Bell Canada for the Canadian market, the pro league cannot dictate how and which commercials can be aired during the local telecast. Elsewhere on the TV dial, Canada's decades-long simultaneous substitution rules allow local broadcasters like CTV to still replace the U.S. feed for popular American shows like The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family and air local commercials to boost revenues.

The NFL failed to convince the court the CTV needs to maximize Super Bowl ad revenue with homegrown ads to boost the value of the Canadian broadcast rights for the next time they come up for renewal. Starting with Super Bowl LI in February 2017, CTV not being allowed to replace U.S. commercials in the Fox feed led a big slice of the traditional Canadian Super Bowl audience on CTV and its sister stations to switch to the American network telecast.

Super Bowl LI on CTV and its sister CTV Two and TSN channels drew an average audience of 4.47 million viewers, down 39 percent from the year-earlier CTV audience of 7.32 million. Bell Canada and subsidiary Bell Media will now appeal to the CRTC to rescind its 2015 ruling on Super Bowl ads.

"The court deferred to the CRTC so we hope the regulator will take a close look at the clear impact of its decision on Canadian broadcasting and all those who work in the industry," the broadcaster said in a statement.