Olympics 2012: CBC Rights to 2014, 2016 Games Hinge on NHL, NBA Participation

LeBron James Miami Heat NBA Championship - H 2012
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LeBron James Miami Heat NBA Championship - H 2012

The pro hockey and basketball leagues reassessing Olympic involvement could determine whether the Canadian pubcaster makes money on its newly-acquired Sochi and Rio de Janeiro TV rights.

TORONTO -- The 2012 London Olympics are well underway, but that hasn't stopped Canadians already looking forward to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and their national obsession: the Olympic hockey tournament.

Canada's CBC network this week secured the local broadcast and digital rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, but with a twist.

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The pubcaster isn’t talking terms for its contract for the Sochi and Rio de Janeiro Games with the IOC, but the speculation is the CBC will pay less if the National Hockey League doesn’t send its pro players to Sochi.

Whether NHL players participate in the Winter Olympics will be decided during the current negotiations on a new labor deal between the pro hockey league and the NHL Player’s Association.

National Basketball League commissioner David Stern also resisting pressure to send the Dream Team to the Rio Games and considering instead staging a separate World Cup tournament will also impact the number of Canadians that tune into Olympic basketball in 2016.

Before that, if the world’s best hockey players play in Sochi, then the CBC can look forward to a possible repeat when Team Canada beat arch-rival Team USA in overtime during the gold medal men’s Olympic hockey game to end the 2010 Vancouver Games with by far a record Canadian TV audience.

Kirstine Stewart, executive VP of CBC English services, is betting Canadians will swell the TV audience for the Olympic hockey tournament in Sochi, whoever laces up for Team Canada and takes to the ice against Team USA and Team Russia on home ice.

“We're confident that as Canadians watch hockey in huge numbers, whether it's World Juniors or other tournaments outside of NHL games, Canada is a hockey nation and they will cheer on whomever plays under the flag at the Olympics,” she said.

It’s the same tune in the NBA, where commissioner Stern is talking about making Olympic basketball a 23 years-and-under tournament.

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However much the U.S. Dream Team pulls in audiences for Summer Olympic basketball, as do NHL players at the Olympic hockey tournament, the NHL and the NBA want a cut of the action from the IOC, which has still to be negotiated.

And on that agreement may turn the CBC’s fortunes, and future profits, from broadcasting the 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games to Canadians.