Free Trade

NAFTA Rewrite Means No More American Super Bowl Commericals for Canadians

A little reminder of the complexities of international trade deals.


John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports/Newscom

In February, Canadian viewers who tuned in to the Super Bowl got to see more than just the Philadelphia Eagles upsetting the New England Patriots. They also got to see the high-dollar commercials that draw as much attention, if not more, than the game itself.

Thanks to the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), that won't be happening again.

Part of the USMCA overturns a 2017 ruling by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)—basically the Canuck equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission—banning the use of so-called "simultaneous substitution" to plug local ads into American broadcasts of the big game. Canadian networks use simultaneous substitution to plug their own ads into American sporting events, shows, and other programs all the time, but Canadians had been complaining to the commission for years about not being able to enjoy the American Super Bowl ads.

During the 2017 Super Bowl—which was broadcast not only on a Canadian network with Canadian ads but also via Fox with American ads—Canadians voted with their remotes and CTV lost 40 percent of it's usual Super Bowl audience, The Economist reported earlier this year.

The CRTC ruling might have pleased Canadian football fans, but it left the National Football League unhappy. The league sells broadcast rights to its annual championship game, and those broadcasts are less valuable if they don't include the Canadian ads. For this year's game, the Canadian broadcaster that owns the rights to carry the Super Bowl lost an estimated $11 million because it couldn't sell domestic ads, according to the CBC.

Under the terms of the new trade deal, "Canada may not accord the program treatment less favorable than the treatment accorded to other programs originating in the United States retransmitted in Canada." Trade officials from the United States, Canada, and Mexico agreed to the new trade deal on Sunday night, though it will not become official until it receives additional rounds of approvals from the governments of all three countries.

If the USMCA is approved, both the NFL and the Canadian network broadcasting the Super Bowl will make more money, but Canadians won't get to watch (frankly awesome) American ads for beers, trucks, and all things 'Murica during next year's game. Perhaps they'll instead be stuck with re-runs of ads for Tim Horton's and…I don't know, snowmobiles?

The NFL is pleased about the new trade deal. Roger Goodell, the league's commissioner (and frequent target of President Donald Trump's football rage) even praised the American president for negotiating the change.

Of course, the Canadian network that broadcasts the Super Bowl should have the right to show whatever ads it wants—the idea that it's "in the public interest" to have American ads during the Super Bowl, as the CRTC ruled in 2017, is pretty absurd.

But the fact that it took a rewrite of NAFTA to settle this dispute is a reminder of both importance and scope of trade agreements. While deals like the USMCA and NAFTA contribute to the easier movement of goods across national borders, they also take into account various type of protectionism filtered through the complexities of both domestic and international politics.

Deadspin's Chris Thompson sums it up: "The commissioner of an American sports league thanked the American president for helping to overturn a Canadian regulatory rule that forced a Canadian broadcaster to show American advertisements during the Super Bowl, which is the signature American sporting event."