The swan song for Hockey Night in Canada anthem
It was June, 2008. There were rumours that the famous Hockey Night in Canada theme song was going to be sold by the CBC.
Of course, it turned out to be true, and TSN ended up purchasing the rights. Later, the CBC announced a national contest to name a new anthem.
This is my story that ran on the front page of sports in the Toronto Star on June 6, 2008 and shows how the controversy played out.
This is No. 18 on my top-40 countdown of favorite stories I wrote for the Toronto Star as my retirement looms next month.
Swan song for HNIC anthem?
By Curtis Rush
Hockey Night in Canada is telling the hockey nation to hold on: It has not put its famous theme song on ice. At least not yet.
But, after a frantic day, it appears the tune may fall off CBC’s charts after all, opening up a daring venture to replace a song which has been played before each CBC hockey broadcast since 1968.
Scott Moore, head of CBC Sports, says the public broadcaster is prepared to dump the song over a lapsed licensing agreement and initiate a national contest in which Canadians will be invited to make submissions for a replacement.
“If we can’t make a deal, we can’t go much past where we are now because we have to come up with a new theme,” Moore said. “That’s why we’re prepared for a new plan.”
That new plan would involve working with Nettwerk Records in Vancouver, a major label that represents artists such as Avril Lavigne and The Barenaked Ladies.
“We would launch a national contest for a new theme,” Moore said.
He said he envisions a situation where people would tune in to hear the finalists and vote on which one would get chosen for the next new “second national anthem.”
The licensing agreement, which expired after the Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup victory on Wednesday, has evolved into a case of deadline ambiguity.
Moore did admit late yesterday afternoon “deadlines come and go.”
He said he thought he was working on a 5 p.m. deadline as of today to get a new licensing deal done.
However, John Ciccone, the president of rights holder Copyright Music and Visuals in Toronto, told the Star earlier yesterday that a CBC-imposed noon deadline on Wednesday had expired.
He said the message he received was the CBC was going in a new direction and dumping the song.
And that set the nation in an uproar. Moore, however, says Ciccone jumped the gun.
“It was our understanding negotiations were ongoing,” said Moore, who just arrived from Pittsburgh yesterday after the Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup over the Penguins.
Moore didn’t dispute there was a CBC-imposed noon deadline Wednesday to get the deal done, but had said he would respond with a formal announcement later.
“I didn’t get back to him because I was in Pittsburgh,” Moore said.
When Moore didn’t get back to him, Ciccone said he interpreted that as evidence the deal was dead.
However, now that the fight has gone public, Moore wonders if there is a deal to be had.
Moore said business dealings with Ciccone have become even more strained and he is prepared to walk away if a deal isn’t worked out by 5 p.m. today.
The issue is not about the royalty fees paid to the rights holder and the composer of the song, Dolores Claman, Moore said.
Moore said sticking points are two-fold — a lawsuit hanging over the heads of the CBC and the fact that attempts to get a mediated settlement have failed.
“I love the theme,” Moore said. “But we can’t keep it if there’s litigation hanging over our heads.”
Ciccone represents Claman, a Vancouver-born graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School who composed the jingle in 1968.
In 2004, a group that includes Claman filed a lawsuit seeking $2.5 million in damages, charging the CBC with breach of copyright and breach of contract.
Claman, Vine Maple Music and Copyright Music and Visuals claimed the CBC used the hockey theme without authorization both inside and outside Canada, sold it for use as a cell phone ring tone and altered the arrangement without approval.
In the statement of claim, the plaintiffs say they signed a new deal that spelled out how the music could be used when CBC took over production of hockey broadcasts from Molson Breweries in 1998.
Claman, who returned to Canada in 1998 for a 30th anniversary celebration of her creation, has long maintained she wasn’t compensated adequately.
She also said she didn’t receive royalties until the early 1990s after her accountant pointed out she was missing out on potential income. The royalties were not retroactive.
Ciccone said a resolution of the lawsuit is not a precondition of any new licence agreement.
“We’ve tried really hard to keep it separate,” Ciccone said.
“You can’t keep it separate because you can’t responsibly do business with someone who is suing you. We have been trying for over a year to settle this.”
Meanwhile, hockey analysts were caught flat-footed by the uproar over the rights to the song.
“It’s a wonderful song and it’s got a beautiful home, there’s no other home for the song,” said TSN analyst Glenn Healy.
Long-time Hockey Night in Canada analyst Harry Neale said he was surprised to hear the song could be shelved.
But he thinks fans will get over it.
“It’s not as if they (CBC) lost the rights to hockey and are now doing cricket. It will be a minor irritation,” Neale said.
Ciccone says he offered the CBC a deal on terms similar to those that existed for the past decade. The cost to the CBC, he said, amounts to about $500 per broadcast.
Moore wouldn’t discuss what CBC pays in royalties, saying it is not just about the money.
“It’s about being able to work on good terms with each other.”