He is still hanging stuff on the walls of his new office but Jeffrey L. Orridge knows he's got to keep an eye on the competition. The new executive director of CBC Sports Properties has a TV in the corner with a four-way split screen showing TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, The Score and, of course, his place of employment's feed.
Orridge is the man charged with charting the national broadcaster's sports future at a time when most assume CBC Sports is on a diminishing path, dwarfed by the deep pockets of its competitors.
Very publicly losing the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme song to TSN in 2008 was a sign of its foundation being chipped away. CFL and MLS rights have moved on. They did pick up the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, a co-broadcasting agreement with Rogers Sportsnet, which also spirited away his predecessor, Scott Moore, who left last November.
Orridge was announced as a replacement in March and took the gig on April 4. Talking to him early last week, while he was short on substantive details -- it's far too early to say -- for those looking for good signs for the CBC, he looks like the best one. He's enthusiastic and comes with an expansive and interesting sports media resume that hopefully makes him uniquely prepared for this job.
Born in New York, where he competed in track and field and played basketball (before tearing his ACL), he graduated from Harvard Law. After working in corporate law for a few years, he wanted to work in sports and joined USA Basketball, working with the Dream Team. He followed that with stints at Reebok and Mattel. Feeling the need to do something more socially positive, he most recently was COO of Right to Play, the humanitarian organization that uses sports as a transformative influence on youth around the world. He moved to Toronto four years ago to join that organization.
I let him know that it seems like his latest was a difficult job to fill, and he just swats that away.
"It's another dream job. It allows me to join another iconic brand that has global scope and, at the same time, is focused on the needs of a public trust," he says. "From a skill set standpoint, this job allows me to take all of my experience and bring that to bear, and leverage the opportunities for CBC Sports."
He uses the word "iconic" to describe the CBC brand a lot, and while that's true it's not how most Canadians might describe it. That's probably one of the things that betrays his American roots. He and wife Carly are permanent residents, and 11-month-old Gabriel, youngest of his two sons (Justin is 5), is a Canadian citizen. He says all the right things, talking about how much he loves Canada and hockey. I ask for his NHL playoff allegiances: "Being from Brooklyn, it was the New York Rangers, but I'm Canadian now so it's Vancouver and Montreal."
Orridge says he sees tremendous opportunities ahead for the CBC, and to not count them out: "It's a challenging time, but it's challenging for everyone. People may have deep pockets, but it's still a pocket. It's not always just about money."
Many feel co-producing is the path for the CBC moving forward, and he doesn't rule out collaboration. CBC has the rights to Hockey Night in Canada until 2014, and, like in the past, there's sure to be interest from his rivals. The Olympics are a place where CBC has shined in the past, and there may be an opportunity depending on what happens with the Broadcast Consortium deal that expires after the 2012 London Games.
Orridge won't speculate specifically on those possible futures, but he assures the CBC will come to play.
By Raju Mudhar