Licensed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on April 2, 1984 as Action Canada Sports Network, the channel was launched on September 1st of the same year as "The Sports Network", or "TSN". TSN was originally the property of Labatt Brewing Company, partly to help market the company's flagship products but also to act as a vehicle for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, also a Labatt property at that time. Labatt was forced to spin off TSN once it was acquired by Interbrew to satisfy foreign ownership rules. As of 2005 most Blue Jays games were again on a service affiliated with the owner of the team, but that service is now TSN's chief rival, Rogers Sportsnet.
Labatt's broadcasting assets were sold to a privately held consortium named NetStar Communications, the investors of which included a number of Canadian firms as well as ESPN, which held about 30%. In 2000, after ESPN blocked two attempts by the Canadian partners to sell NetStar to CanWest Global, CTV acquired the Canadian partners' shares thanks in part to ESPN's disapproval of CanWest Global.
Today the majority owner of TSN is CTVglobemedia, which became CTV's parent in early 2001. ESPN retains a minority share, and as part of that restructuring in 2001, got CTV to agree to change the name to ESPN Canada. That change never went through, partly because of the popularity of the TSN brand in Canada but primarily because the CRTC, Canada's broadcasting regulator, refused to allow the name change. ESPN also firmly denied occasional rumours that it would consider outsourcing production of its flagship sports news show, SportsCenter or other studio shows to TSN, the way Fox Sports World Canada/Fox Soccer Channel's Fox Soccer Report is produced by CKND-TV (a Global Television station) in Winnipeg. The CRTC did permit ESPN to retain some input on the direction and look of TSN. That decision resulted in ESPN redesigning TSN's logo to look somewhat like its own. Also, TSN airs many ESPN programs in the same form and time-slots (see below).
The Globe and Mail reported that CTVglobemedia is bid $1.4 billion (CDN) over 10 years for full Canadian broadcasting rights to the National Hockey League, which would include cable and over-the-air rights in both English and French, i.e., coverage on CTV, TSN and RDS. This would not affect regional rights, which are controlled by the teams and held mainly by Sportsnet. It is expected that CTV would not air playoff games as regularly as does CBC Television, because of other programming commitments, but additional games could air on TSN2 and the NHL Network, another CTVglobemedia outlet. However in March 2007, CBC Television retained the rights to Saturday night games and the Stanley Cup Finals in a new contract with the NHL. TSN renewed its national cable rights with expanded Canadian team coverage.
Effective August 29, 2008, a timeshifted West coast feed called TSN2 launched. The channel, which is only available on digital cable or satellite TV, carries over 800 hours a year of live coverage not carried by TSN, as well as timeshifted programming on a three hour tape delay, broadcast earlier on the main channel.
TSN also airs ESPN original programming, including Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Football and Pardon the Interruption, as well as a number of events for which ESPN owns the worldwide or North American rights.
The network covers and broadcasts most major national and international sports, such as National Hockey League, National Football League, UEFA Champions League and Canadian Football League games, and Formula One auto racing.
TSN is the master rights-holder for the CFL, but sub-licensed the English-language rights to selected games, including the playoffs, to CBC through 2007. On December 20, 2006, the rights to all CFL games were transferred to TSN and French sister station RDS as of the 2008 season, playoff and Grey Cup games included.
In addition to Monday Night Football and the CFL, TSN broadcasts NBC Sunday Night Football and the NFL Network's package. Beginning in 2007, it produces a Sunday afternoon telecast for CTV, although the feed is taken from CBS or FOX.
It also shares the Canadian broadcast rights to the PGA Tour with The Golf Channel, as well as NASCAR, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the National Basketball Association with Sportsnet and/or The Score. TSN's NBA coverage mostly features the Toronto Raptors, but it does hold exclusive Canadian broadcast rights to the NBA Finals, using the ABC feed.
As noted elsewhere, much of TSN's coverage, especially for the NFL, NBA games not involving the Raptors, UEFA Champions League, Grand Slams, Indy Racing League, and NASCAR, is simulcast with ESPN or ABC. Any U.S. programming available in high definition (regardless of network) is also broadcast on TSN's HD feed.
TSN often picks up American feeds of NHL games involving American teams if NBC or Versus is televising the game in the U.S. so they can save production costs and sim-sub on Bell TV. In almost a reverse fashion, TSN's coverage of the NHL Entry Draft is simulcast on Versus, although ESPN picked up TSN's coverage of previous drafts; this is because TSN offers coverage similar to what ESPN does for the NFL Draft and NBA Draft.
Beginning in 2008-09, the NHL will change the determination of playoff television rights in Canada. TSN will now have the third, fifth, and seventh choices of the first-round playoff series, regardless of the teams involved. This means that, for the first time since the 80's, Canadian-based teams may have their playoff games appear on cable, instead of over-the-air.
Hockey Canada and TSN are in the middle of a 7-year contract that gives TSN the rights to broadcast the IIHF World Junior Championships, Men's and Women's World Hockey Championship, Men's Under-18 World Championships, Allan Cup, Royal Bank Cup, Spengler Cup, Telus Cup and ESSO Women's Nationals.
Like the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, TSN has attracted criticism from fans of Western Canadian hockey clubs for refusing to split the network to ensure that teams scheduled to receive a local team's game receive the entire game. If the eastern game (most often involving the Toronto Maple Leafs) runs into overtime or a shootout fans of the western club will miss a portion of their game.
TSN's parent, CTV Inc., acquired the rights to The Hockey Theme after the CBC decided not to renew its rights to the theme song in June 2008 amid a legal dispute with its composer, Dolores Claman. A re-orchestrated version of the tune, which has been the theme song of Hockey Night in Canada for forty years, will be used for hockey broadcasts on TSN and RDS beginning in the fall of 2008.
However, as of June 15, 2006, the Canadian Curling Association announced that TSN/CTV will obtain exclusive rights to curling broadcasts in Canada as of the 2008-09 season, shutting the CBC out of the championship weekend for the first time in 40-plus years.
This has disappointed many wrestling fans over the years, and is unusual since the violence of wrestling scenes are not significantly different from other television programs aired on regular Canadian networks. It was expected that in fall 2006, when TSN started airing the ESPN iteration of Monday Night Football (as well as the NBC Sunday Night Football games), that WWE RAW was expected to air on tape delay during the NFL season. However, WWE decided to move the program to The Score rather than air on tape delay, although RAW continues to air on tape delay on The Score by 15 minutes, for editing purposes in addition to limits on the amount of live programming the Score can air in a week.
In 2004, both TSN and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) Wrestling, (known then as NWA-TNA), erroneously announced that Impact! would air on the network, however the deal was never completed and the article on the TSN Wrestling page was taken down shortly after. However, TSN's French-language sister network RDS airs the program.
In past years, TSN also aired shows from the American Wrestling Association (AWA), Stampede Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) Monday Night Nitro, as well as producing a one-hour show called Pro Wrestling Plus, which featured highlights from various promotions and was hosted by Stampede announcer Ed Whalen; that program was the Canadian equivalent of the syndicated American program Pro Wrestling This Week.
The broadcasting of events with limited interest in Canada (such as NASCAR) instead of more popular events such as the Canadian Football League games is also a frequently contended decision. This may be addressed by the recent approval of an alternate feed and broadcasting of all CFL games starting in 2008.
TSN's decision to replace Sportsdesk with SportsCentre was a blow to an original Canadian landmark name that had aired since 1984 and fueled the view that the network was being Americanized. Some Canadians still call the program Sportsdesk out of habit.
TSN also hosts much of Canada's supplementary Olympic coverage, being the first pay-TV station in the world to ever broadcast the Olympics with the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, and having been part of the CBC's coverage from 1996 to 2008. The station will be part of CTV's coverage from 2010 to 2012. TSN has a similar agreement with Rogers Sportsnet to share coverage of soccer's World Cup.
Sports news segments on CTV owned-and-operated stations and on CTV Newsnet are co-branded with TSN.
Various reporters and analysts from ESPN may also be featured.
Until April 30, 2008, both TSN and its main competitor Rogers Sportsnet were based at 9 Channel Nine Court in the Toronto neighbourhood of Agincourt. Sportsnet, originally controlled by CTV before its acquisition of TSN in 2000, had been based there from the start and never moved out. Hence, when on-air hosts, such as Darren Dreger, move from one channel to the other, it has been referred to as "crossing the parking lot" or, less commonly, "crossing the street". Some at Sportsnet had complained about feeling like "poor country cousins" to CTV and TSN at Agincourt.
This peculiarity had been made light of by a couple of notable hosts on Rogers Sportsnet. Bob McCown, a radio host on Rogers-owned The Fan 590, had 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 had 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 and the newly constructed Rogers Building, a cluster of buildings in the Mount Pleasant-Jarvis Street area.