TORONTO - The on-again, off-again effort to rescue the familiar theme song to CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" took a dramatic turn Monday when rival network CTV announced it had purchased the rights to the iconic tune in perpetuity.
CTV said it plans to use the song on its NHL broadcasts on TSN and RDS, as well as during the network's coverage of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Financial details of the deal were not immediately disclosed.
"We kind of saw this thing fading into oblivion, something that's been part of Canadians' culture for 40 years, and thought it would be great if we could save it," CTV president Rick Brace said in an interview.
"We're hoping that Canadians see this as something that we saved, because we waited until after CBC had closed the door on negotiations and gone a different direction, and that's when we stepped in."
That door appeared to slam shut Friday when CBC, which had been trying to negotiate a licence extension, announced plans for a contest to find a replacement for the ditty, written in 1968 by Vancouver composer Dolores Claman.
CBC Sports announced Monday, however, that it was appointing a prominent sports lawyer to act as a mediator in talks with Copyright Music and Visuals, the company that controls the rights to the song. CBC's rights to use the song expired following last week's Stanley Cup final.
"I am very moved by how so many Canadians have taken the hockey theme to heart," Claman, who now lives in England, said in a release. "Throughout our negotiations, CTV displayed a tremendous amount of respect for my family and the song."
CBC Sports executive director Scott Moore said the Monday offer was "one last olive branch" but that the network had done everything it could to reach a deal.
Copyright Music and Visuals was simply asking for more money than CBC, a public broadcaster financed with taxpayer dollars, could afford - between $2.5 million and $3 million.
"If CTV can justify that for a song that will be forever associated with the CBC, I wish them luck," Moore said.
Brace said he called Copyright president John Ciccone on Friday after hearing of the trouble the two parties were having reaching an agreement.
When CBC announced later that day it was holding a $100,000 contest to find a new theme for "Hockey Night in Canada," CTV and Ciccone reached a verbal agreement that was finalized Monday, he added.
Brace refused to say how much the network paid for the song, but told CTV Newsnet it was "fair."
"We own these rights obviously in perpetuity, and therefore the value is going to be spread in our lifetime, and probably the lifetimes of many generations to come."
All was not lost for the CBC, however: Tom Connors Jr., who manages the career of his famous guitar-toting singer-songwriter father, Stompin' Tom Connors, floated the idea of licensing the cowboy-booted performer's "The Hockey Song" to the broadcaster.
"If they want to use 'The Hockey Song,' it's a good song, whether Tom sings it or not," Connors said in an interview Monday from his home in Georgetown, Ont.
"There's other versions out there. Even if they wanted to commission some other band, like a big (current) band if they wanted to do more of a 'Hockey Night' theme, everything is open for negotiations, of course. That's the business we're in."
Brace said the famous HNIC tune would likely undergo a makeover.
"We're going to re-orchestrate it, and I don't mean it'll change," he said. "It's still going to be the same music but a different arrangement."
CBC's contest announcement followed months of negotiations that failed to result in a new licensing agreement between CBC and the agent.
Moore said he didn't think "Hockey Night in Canada" would lose viewers along with the song.
"Hockey's a game, not a song," he said.
Even celebrity hockey fans like Mike Myers of Austin Powers fame weighed in on the controversy, describing the song as part of the "fabric" of his life.
"It feels like the second anthem, 'Hockey Night in Canada,"' Myers told a news conference.
Across Canada, many fans said they'll continue to watch hockey on Canadian television regardless of the channel or the music that precedes the game.
"Honestly, whatever channel it's on, I'll watch," said one Toronto man who identified himself only as Frank. "I think what people are more concerned about is not hearing the song, so the fact that we're still going to hear it, we're all good, right?"
"I'll tune in, for sure," said Edmonton hockey fan Todd Cook. "I'll flip back and forth, but I'll tune in for it. We grew up with it and it's part of our culture."
Todd Carruthers said it's his hope that Canadians won't miss out on the song because it's moving to a private broadcaster.
"I'm glad that it's staying in Canada because it is a Canadian iconic song," Carruthers said. "Unfortunately, that will exclude a lot of people from watching it unless they have cable or satellite at home."
Kelly Shipman, who works as a waitress at a sports bar in Toronto, said the song is "pretty important."
"At the sports bar when the game starts and that song starts, the whole bar quiets down and everyone's watching hockey."