Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) sports properties executive director, Jeffrey Orridge, relishes challenges. At a time when the network sports television is undergoing major changes and the future is uncertain, the Harvard-trained lawyer and sports executive is not fazed by working for a federally subsidized broadcaster in fiscally challenging economic times.
While Hockey Night in Canada remains the network’s strongest sports property, CBC lost the Canadian Football League and Major League Baseball rights and was outbid by CTV and Rogers Communications for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and this summer’s Olympics in London. That alliance coughed up nearly $153 million which was almost a 110 per cent increase on the $73 million that CBC forked out for the Canadian broadcasting rights for the 2006 and 2008 Olympics.
A few weeks ago, CBC and Bell Media abandoned a joint effort to land the media rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympics after the International Olympic Committee had earlier rejected their joint bids for the package.
While cognizant of the role that sport plays in moulding a society, Orridge also understands it’s just not feasible to spend taxpayers’ dollars on the escalating financial packages now required to secure broadcast rights to major sports events.
“There is always a relationship between the cost and the value one derives,” Orridge, who graduated cum laude from Amherst College, told Share. “So as a modern-day public broadcaster utilizing taxpayers’ dollars, we always have to be conscious of the fiscal responsibilities and be market competitive. So there is always that balance. We are particularly rigorous in our analysis of what the value of the property is and the affordability of the property. It may call for some new and interesting paradigms in terms of business modelling and it may call for partnerships that years ago would not have been thought about in order to acquire and entertain these types of rights because rights fees are growing exponentially in cost. At what point will it become irrational, we will see. We have about 35 million shareholders in this corporation which is very different from our private competitors.”
New York-born Orridge said CBC’s main focus is on sports that are engaging, entertaining and nation-building.
“Hockey Night in Canada brings a nation together and that’s not just the 18-45 male demographics,” the 1992 Sports Marketer of the Year said. “I think the other thing is we are focused on amateur sport as well and we have a commitment to that unlike anyone else in the sports landscape. Those types of events that showcase Canadians in international competitions are the kinds of things we will try to pursue and retain.”
Two decades ago, Orridge was head of legal and business affairs for the United States Olympic basketball team that won a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics. The roster included some of the games legends, including Michael Jordan, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.
“That was just an invaluable experience,” Orridge said. “When I started with USA Basketball in 1991, there were no such words as Dream Team. It was a work in progress and the ultimate goal was to assemble the best team imaginable to represent the United States in the Olympics because that was the first time ever that the professionals were going to play. So it was an incredible experience in terms of having to manage relationships between and among the U.S. Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee, our national basketball association and USA Basketball.
“It had never been done before so I think the fact that it was a first time thing and it was pioneering meant that it required entrepreneurial skills and a lot of people management. That was really what prepared me for the job with CBC Sports because it’s a highly dynamic sports landscape and environment now in Canada.”
Orridge first came to the Greater Toronto Area in 1970 with his parents to visit family. He later spent considerable time here in the early 1990s while working with USA Basketball preparing for the 1994 Toronto world championships that the Americans won.
“I got a chance to get a feel for this city back then and really engage the people who were warm and welcoming,” he said. “I also found this to be a clean city and the crime rate was relatively low given its size. I have lived in many different places in the U.S., but there is a real sense of community here. That’s why I felt comfortable moving my family here and I thought it was a viable option when I was looking at job opportunities.”
The sports executive served as chief operating officer and head of global business development for the Toronto-based Right to Play International before joining CBC. He also worked for Mattel Inc. as vice-president of worldwide licensing & entertainment and new business development.
Orridge and ESPN senior vice-president, Rob King, are among a small group of Blacks who hold influential positions with major North American media networks.
“There is still the challenge of equity and being able to break into a system that has not necessarily had a history of cultivating these kinds of relationships,” he said. “Part of it is because select jobs have been for the most part introduced to those in certain networks. Breaking into the network is the first step. Decision makers have to feel comfortable with diverse cultures, ideas and perspectives. It’s still a challenge because people gravitate to those who they feel most comfortable with when it comes to any kind of work environment and interpersonal relationships.
“I was very fortunate because I went to an elite school which led to an elite college education and law school education. So I had exposure and access to those channels where most people of colour are excluded. It’s incumbent on me to educate those people in decision-making positions and expose them to a broader applicant pool. Society benefits from being able to cull the best possible talent no matter where it lies.”
The married father of two young children, Orridge is the son of a Jamaican-born dad, who died a few years ago, and an 88-year-old American mother – a registered nurse and retired social worker – who lives in New York.
He said his father was his role model.
“My dad instilled in his children discipline and teamwork and he placed a very high importance on education,” said Orridge, who also worked at Reebok International where he managed the multi-level partnership with the NBA. “My mom was the backbone. Everything my father espoused, she supported and made them happen…I learned very early on that no matter what success you have in life, it’s not attributed solely to you. It has to do with the strength and support of the people around you.”
By RON FANFAIR