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NFL and Bell Canada successful in the Supreme Court of Canada in overturning the CRTC decision regarding substitution of U.S. ads during the SuperBowl

Date Closed

December 19, 2019

Lead Office


McCarthy Tétrault represented the National Football League, Bell Canada, Bell Media, and their affiliates (collectively the NFL and Bell) in two of the most watched telecommunications/copyright administrative law appeals of the past decade.

In these appeals, the NFL and Bell challenged a decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to ban the practice of “simultaneous substitution”, or the substitution of US television commercials with Canadian commercials, for the Super Bowl beginning in 2017. The appeals were heard by the Supreme Court of Canada for an unprecedented 3 days in December 2019.

The NFL and Bell have an agreement which gives Bell exclusive rights to broadcast the Super Bowl in Canada, and the CRTC ruling to end simultaneous substitution hurt their ability to draw in Canadian advertisers and viewers, costing them millions of dollars.

The Supreme Court released its historic decision on December 19, 2019. The Court overturned the Federal Court of Appeal and quashed the CRTC order, holding that the CRTC did not have the authority to exempt the Super Bowl from long-standing regulations that apply to other programming.

These appeals have garnered widespread attention from the media, academic commentators and the legal profession more generally due to the major impact the decision will have on every type of administrative decision. The appeals raise important issues of administrative and copyright law. It is one of the most anticipated decisions of the past decade. 

McCarthy Tétrault advised the NFL and Bell with a team led by Steven Mason that included Brandon Kain, Grant Buchanan, Richard Lizius, Joanna Nairn, Peter Grant, and James S.S. Holtom.