The Sports Network
The Sports Network was launched in 1984 as Canada's first English-language sports network. Originally owned by the Labatt Brewing Company, which was at the time the owner of the Toronto Blue Jays and also a major sponsor of the Montreal Expos, it was broadcast on cable television and showed games from Canada's two major league baseball teams from its inception. Its launch was followed in 1989 by that of a French-language counterpart, le Réseau des sports (RDS). The two networks share some content, but obviously use completely different sets of announcers. The network's early growth was limited by the fact it was a premium channel with a limited audience, but things changed when it became available on basic cable in 1988.
In 1995, Labatt was forced to sell TSN and RDS when it was bought by a foreign company, to avoid running afoul of Canada's laws on foreign ownership of broadcasters. In 2001, the network was bought by Bell Globemedia, a subsidiary of Bell Canada, the country's primary telephone company which was seeking to diversify its activities after losing its long-held monopoly on telephone communications. ESPN has also been a minority stockholder since 1995, and provides some programming, such as its Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts.
TSN did not have a serious rival on the cable landscape until the emergence of Rogers Sportsnet in 2001. Owned by the same company as the Blue Jays (Rogers Communications), Sportsnet cut into TSN's baseball coverage by gradually obtaining the broadcast rights for the majority of Blue Jays games. TSN kept the rights to broadcast a limited number of Blue Jays games until 2009, then traded those to Sportsnet in exchange for the rights to nationally-televized MLB games originally produced by ESPN. Ironically, the two networks shared a broadcasting complex for a number of years, as Sportsnet was an offshoot of CTV (Canadian Television), which was also part of Globemedia's empire. Sportsnet's creation had come about because the parent company had been forced to sell CTV's fledgling cable sports network to Rogers at the request of the Canadian broadcasting regulators, in order to preserve a measure of competition. TSN's baseball coverage also dipped following the relocation of the Expos to Washington, DC after the 2004 season, although the network had already stopped regular broadcasts of Expos games after the 2001 season.
Hockey broadcasts have been TSN's bread and butter from the beginning, as it gradually undermined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)'s hold on National Hockey League telecasts to become the primary broadcaster of Canada's national game. That situation changed dramatically in 2013 when Rogers Communication outbid Bell for the rights to NHL coverage, leading to speculation about the long-term future of the network now that it is missing its key property. The network did manage to retain the regional broadcast rights for some Canadian NHL teams, meaning it is not entirely out of the professional hockey game.