Politics

CRTC's Super Bowl ad ruling on Trump's radar, says NFL

The National Football League says the Donald Trump administration is now aware of its ongoing dispute with Canada's broadcast regulator surrounding the ban on the substitution of Canadian ads over American ones during the upcoming Super Bowl.

NFL vice-president says letting Canadians see U.S. ads undermines contract between Bell Media, NFL

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady practises ahead of the Feb. 5 Super Bowl game against the Atlanta Falcons. This year Canadians tuning into Fox can watch American ads. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)

The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons aren't the only two sides lining up for a fight on Super Bowl Sunday.

The National Football League says the Donald Trump administration is now aware of its dispute with Canada's broadcast regulator surrounding the ban on the substitution of Canadian ads over American ones during the upcoming Super Bowl.

This year's game will be the first time Canadians tuning into Fox will be able to watch those much-anticipated, big-budget American spots during the championship game. Canadian ads will still play on CTV.

But the CRTC's decision to wade into the business contract has angered Bell Media, which owns CTV and exclusive rights in Canada to the NFL championship through to 2019, Canadian advertisers and the league itself.

NFL challenges ruling on Super Bowl ads

5 years ago
8:57
The NFL's Jocelyn Moore explains why the NFL is working to reverse a CRTC ruling allowing U.S. Super Bowl ads in Canada 8:57

"We have raised this with all levels of government here in the U.S. and Canada. This is on the Trump administration's radar," Jocelyn Moore, the NFL's senior vice-president of public policy and government affairs, told CBC Radio's The House.

"We are very, very hopeful that this will be resolved before the Super Bowl."

Business relationship cast into doubt

Moore said she understands how popular the American commercials are, but argues the heart of the dispute is over a public tribunal interfering in a contract between two businesses.

"Look, if any American company, whether they're in Canada already or seeking to do business with Canada, when they look at this example of two entities, one U.S and one Canadian, entering into a contract and then that contract in the middle is kind of retroactively undermined, I think they have to question the lack of business certainty in Canada," said Moore.

Bell and the NFL have already gone to the courts to ask that the CRTC decision be put aside, arguing that the regulator has no jurisdiction to prohibit Canadian ads under its simultaneous substitution (sim sub) regulations, and that the ban contravenes the Copyright Act.

Moore wouldn't divulge how much the contract is worth, but said it's had a negative impact on advertising in Canada.

I think they have to question the lack of business certainty in Canada.- Jocelyn Moore, NFL vice-president

Besides alerting the new administration, the NFL has also written to David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the U.S. And before handing in his keys, outgoing U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland urging the Canadian government to overturn the ban, pointing to a section of the Broadcasting Act allowing the governor-in-council to overturn a decision of the CRTC.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly has said the Liberal government will respect the CRTC's independence.

U.S. senators pushing for reversal

The legal battle threatens to poke Canada-U.S. relations in the first few weeks of Trump's presidency.  

"It's a real big question mark and a real challenge to businesses like ours who are already in Canada, but certainly businesses looking to do business with Canada. I think it's a real problem," said Moore.

The move has already attracted attention from other U.S. lawmakers.

Former Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and fellow Republican Senator Ron Johnson sent their own letter to MacNaughton, warning that the policy could undermine Canada-U.S. relations.

The policy "sends a troubling signal about the value Canada places on its largest trading partner, best customer and close friend," Rubio and Johnson wrote in the letter dated Dec. 20.

Two Liberal MPs, Bob Nault and Wayne Easter, have also asked the CRTC to back down, warning the decision is costing the Canadian economy tens of millions of dollars.

On Jan. 12 the CRTC posted on its site that "for a number of years Canadians have complained to the CRTC that they want to see the American ads during the Super Bowl.…The CRTC has taken action to resolve the issue."

Trump has public ties with the NFL: he's friends with Patriot's quarterback Tom Brady and recently picked New York Jets owner Woody Johnson as the ambassador to Britain.

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