Rogers Finds Right Guy In Brace

As Rick Brace takes over as president of Rogers Media, he will have the undivided attention of both those who work for him and those he works for.

The trepidation of the people who work for him was evident over the past week when everyone contacted declined to speak about him on the record. While new bosses often mean change among the employees, this is especially so at Rogers Communications Inc., where turnover is practically part of the culture.

And since Brace, who took up his new position on Monday, spent most of his 40-year career at TSN, the rival network to Rogers’s Sportsnet, more than a few staffers are worried about changes, especially since he has a reputation as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense boss.

While one person who spoke to Brace about his new job came away convinced that he does not plan any major changes, at least not right away, this could not be confirmed. Brace himself declined to be interviewed.

Any worries among the people like Rogers chief executive officer Guy Laurence, who hired Brace to replace Keith Pelley (who left to become commissioner and CEO of the European Tour, a professional golf circuit), are confined to the performance of Rogers Media’s holdings such as the Toronto Blue Jays and, in particular, Sportsnet.

Rogers placed a huge bet on the NHL with its $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast contract with the league. Despite Laurence’s claim of a 10-per-cent profit on the deal itself in its first year, poor ratings, because of the collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are expected to be in rebuilding mode for several years, do not bode well for the future.

While Brace is well versed in running sports properties, he is also considered an expert in advertising sales and the business side of television. The latter skills probably appealed to Laurence, as Rogers Media lost $32-million on revenue of $464-million in its last quarter, partly because of hockey-related expenses as well as the continuing trend of viewers moving away from television to other forms of media.

But this is the first time in his career that Brace will lead such a large and important business unit. While he has been the president of the TSN and CTV networks, much of his career was as the second-in-command to a division CEO.

The appointment was something of a surprise, as Brace faded from prominence in broadcasting after BCE Inc. became the majority owner of CTV and TSN in 2011. BCE brought in a new slate of executives and Brace wound up as head of specialty channels and CTV production for Bell Media before leaving the company in 2013.

“He’s the right guy at the right time for Rogers,” said Ivan Fecan, who was president and CEO of TSN’s former owner CTVglobemedia and appointed Brace president of TSN in 1998. “They made a big investment and now they need to make it work.”

First, though, industry watchers are curious to see how Brace’s relationship works with his most important department head, Scott Moore, Rogers’s president of Sportsnet and NHL. Canadian television sports broadcasting is a small world and while Moore and Brace were both at the CBC early in their careers, their last direct contact was seven years ago in a nasty fight over the rights to Hockey Night In Canada’s storied theme song.

The relationship between the CBC and the theme’s composer, Dolores Claman, was long strained and it fell apart when the rights to the song came up for negotiation in 2008. Moore, who was executive director of CBC Sports at the time, offered Claman $1-million to buy the theme outright. She demanded at least $2.5-million and talks stalled.

That is when Brace, who was president of CTV by then, entered the picture along with Fecan. They offered Claman the sort of money she wanted and the famous theme song went from the CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada to TSN in perpetuity. It was front-page news across Canada.

While Moore could not be blamed for the loss of the song, it was still his painful duty to explain to the media what happened. There were also harsh words between him and Brace. Moore accused Brace and Fecan of interfering in the CBC’s negotiations with Claman.

“Their move capitalized on a lot of publicity and had the added benefit of making a competitor look bad,” Moore wrote in a blog post on CBC.ca. “I hope it ends up being worth the money for them at the end of the day.”

Brace called Moore’s accusation “ludicrous” and insisted that CTV did not talk to Claman until the CBC said it was withdrawing from the negotiations. “They made a decision. They announced it to the world. And they walked away,” he told The Globe and Mail.

Fecan just laughed when he was asked how the contretemps would affect the working relationship between Brace and Moore.

“It’s all good sports,” he said. “It’s a small broadcasting community in the sports area. Everybody knows each other. You’re colleagues one day, competitors the next, and vice versa.

“I have no idea either [how they will get along], but I think they’re both grown-up people.”

Credit to The Globe and Mail who originally published this article