Rogers banks on hockey in competitive Vancouver sports radio market

James Cybulski, Steve Darling and Mira Laurence have been announced as the morning show hosts on the upcoming Sportsnet 650.
Vancouver hosts

The upcoming Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver is facing somewhat of an uphill battle, competing against two existing TSN stations in the market, said Craig MacEwen, program director for Sportsnet.

The new station will hit the airwaves in September, and although programming is starting to take shape — with Rogers hiring a trio of veteran BC broadcasters as its morning hosts — MacEwen admitted the station will need to do a lot to capture a dedicated audience.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, this will take a lot of hard work and determination,” MacEwen told MiC. “It’s not always easy to be second-in, especially when the other has a 16-year head start.”

Sportsnet 650 will square off against a few major competitors — TSN 1410 and TSN 1040, as well as KMTT, owned by Entercom, which includes programming from ESPN Radio. TSN 1040 is the most popular of the tree, with an AMA of 3,300, a daily cumulative audience of 99,000 and a 2.7% share.

Rogers purchased the AM station CISL from Newcap Inc earlier this year. The dial currently carries a Seattle oldies rock station, and the content will officially switch gears after Labour Day. According to the most recent quarterly ratings from Numeris, which measured the three-month period ending May 28, CISL had an AMA of 3,200 listeners, a daily cumulative audience of 70,000 and a 2.5% share.

MacEwen added that the major pivot in genres for the dial will also give it a challenge. However, he said, the station has the major advantage of the exclusive radio broadcasting rights to the Vancouver Canucks. “This is a hockey town, and because we can, we’ll talk hockey morning, noon and night. The Canucks will give us a major boost.”

Talking hockey (and other sports) in the morning will be James Cybulski, Steve Darling and Mira Laurence. MacEwen said the morning show with Cybulski, Darling and Laurence will play into the brand Sportsnet is hoping to establish in the city, which is more of a “light and entertaining” take on sports.

Cybulski has held numerous sportscasting positions for Sportsnet, as well as rival TSN, and is a former Vancouver Bureau Chief for The Score. Darling comes from a news background, and is a former anchor for Global News Morning BC. He earned a Leo award for best live broadcast for his coverage of the announcement that Vancouver had secured the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Laurence is a veteran sportscaster who spent a decade as head of the sports department for CTV Vancouver Island.

The fact that Vancouver is a major “hockey town” also played into Rogers’ overall Sportsnet strategy when choosing to expand into the marketplace. “The city has such a big loyalty to its team that this was obviously a huge key market for Sportsnet,” he said.

Aside from the hockey content, Sportsnet 650 will also have the exclusive radio broadcasting rights in Vancouver to the Toronto Blue Jays starting next year.

He said more programming and talent announcements for the station will come over the summer.


Image (left to right): James Cybulski, Steve Darling and Mira Laurence