Last year, Nancy Lee forged the largest sports-rights contract in Canadian broadcast history
Nancy Lee (BA 1982 VIC) is fed up with people dwelling on her status as a woman in the so-called man’s world of televised sports. Since becoming the first female executive director of CBC-TV Sports in 2000, she has commented many times on how sad it is that women in sports broadcasting – on the air or behind the scenes – are still a big story. Will it ever become the norm? “I hope so,” says Lee, who was a valued member of the Varsity Blues swim team and is now on a U of T athletics advisory board. “This is just one area of business that’s a bit slower than others to catch on.”
After landing her first job with CBC Sports as a radio reporter in 1987, Lee reported and produced her way to head of radio sports in 1994 and then deputy head of TV network sports in 1996. She now spends much of her time negotiating major sports properties like the Olympics, football and baseball, and last year forged the largest sports-rights contract – between the CBC and the NHL – in Canadian broadcast history. These deals are usually hammered out in private, but in the fall she found herself in a highly publicized contract dispute between the network and Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean.
Lee enjoys these business transactions, but she’s also passionate about making CBC Sports programming accessible to all Canadians. Sports commentary shouldn’t be cliquish and replete with jargon, she says, and viewers should be able to watch their favourite sports even if they’re table-tennis aficionados instead of hockey fans. “You don’t want to tune anybody out,” she says – whether they’re women, immigrants or viewers who simply don’t know a quarterback from a goalie.