Sportsnet was launched on October 9, 1998 as CTV Sportsnet. The name was chosen to match the regional "Fox Sports Net" operations across the United States. CTV owned 40% and was the managing partner of the new network; Rogers, Molson and Fox owned 20% each.
When CTV purchased NetStar, the former parent company of TSN, in 2000, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ordered CTV that it must sell either CTV Sportsnet or TSN. CTV ultimately chose to sell Sportsnet, on which the other shareholders had first right of refusal; as Rogers was the only interested party, Rogers acquired the channel from CTV and therefore it was renamed Rogers Sportsnet in 2001. During the transition period, CTV was allowed to control programming on both networks, and some cross-affiliation and programs that were going to be tape-delayed on TSN, most notably figure skating, were given to Sportsnet. Rogers has since acquired the shares of Molson and Fox, but does air some programs from Fox networks, notably including Major League Baseball, though MLB coverage outside of the Blue Jays has not always been the Fox domestic feed.
The new network gained credibility before it went on the air, wrestling the NHL Canadian cable package away from long-time holder TSN. From 1998-99 until 2001-02, Sportsnet aired Labatt Blue Tuesday Night Hockey to a national audience throughout the regular season, and covered first-round playoff series not involving Canadian teams. On the day CTV Sportsnet went on the air, its first live sports event was an NHL opening-night telecast between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers from Madison Square Garden. The national cable rights have since returned to TSN, though Sportsnet retains regional rights to five of six Canadian-based clubs.
Broadcasting nationally across Canada, Rogers Sportsnet is actually similar to a regional sports network in the United States, with four regional feeds airing different sporting events tailored to the region they serve. Sportsnet also operates a national high-definition programming service. The four regional feeds are:
Although cable companies in Canada are permitted to carry only the local Sportsnet feed on analogue cable packages, all four feeds can be carried on satellite television or digital cable. However, in some instances programming on the out-of-market Sportsnet feeds, such as regional NHL games, are blacked out.
Rogers Sportsnet is the main television outlet for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team which, like the network, is owned by Rogers Communications. Blue Jays games are broadcast nationally, across all Sportsnet feeds. Sportsnet also offers ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball package nationally as well.
Sportsnet Pacific carries selected Seattle Mariners games produced by FSN Northwest as part of a rights deal with the Mariners. Other Sportsnet feeds carry selected regional baseball games produced by other American networks (such as the YES Network and NESN), although the MLB Extra Innings package is available for purchase in Canada.
Sportsnet is also a major Canadian broadcaster of National Hockey League games. The network's four regional feeds carry selected games of the NHL teams based in their respective regions: the Ottawa Senators on Sportsnet East, the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers on Sportsnet West, and the Vancouver Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. The Montreal Canadiens are the only Canadian NHL team not to air games on Sportsnet, as they currently have an exclusive television contract with the French-language RDS network.
In early 2005, Rogers Sportsnet was part of the consortium that won the Canadian broadcast rights to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, as well as the London 2012 Summer Olympics. This was considered a serious coup, as the CBC had consistently won Olympic broadcast rights from the 1996 Summer Olympics through to the 2008 Summer Olympics. CTV and TQS will be the primary broadcasters; Rogers Sportsnet, TSN and RDS will provide supplementary coverage.
For the 2005 season, Rogers Sportsnet also began airing NFL football, splitting late games across the Pacific and West feeds, and the East and Ontario feeds. The games not shown in the opposite regions are also carried by Rogers-owned CJMT-TV in Toronto and on CKVU-TV in Vancouver.
This peculiarity has been made light of by a couple of notable hosts on Rogers Sportsnet. Bob McCown, a radio host on Rogers-owned The Fan 590, has constantly commented on his show Prime Time Sports (a simulcast of his radio show on The Fan 590) that Sportsnet executives throw bottles across the street at the TSN studios. In addition, Sportsnet Connected anchor Sean McCormick has openly stated on-air that he drives to work with his wife, Jennifer Hedger, who anchors SportsCentre on TSN.
On April 30 2008, Rogers Sportsnet moved broadcast operations from the CTV compound in Agincourt to Downtown Toronto to the Rogers Building, a cluster of buildings in the Mount Pleasant-Jarvis Street area.
Sportsnet HD is a high definition simulcast of Rogers Sportsnet. Most of the time, the channel is a mirror of the Ontario feed, but will sometimes simulcast content from one of the other three regions or air completely separate programming. The channel was launched on September 1, 2003. Toronto Blue Jays games make up the majority of Sportsnet's live HD programming, as the team is owned by Rogers and can have its games shown across the country. When High-definition television Blue Jays games are aired, the SD stations currently crop the picture to fullscreen aspect ratio. Prior to the 2007-2008 season, the SD stations would use the widescreen feed with a letterbox for the 4:3 screen. Sportsnet began broadcasting selected Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators hockey games in HD, beginning in the 2007-08 NHL season. This is accomplished through the use of a second HD feed, activated for viewers in the appropriate market.