For the last few years now the spectre of CBC losing Hockey Night in Canada broadcast rights has been in the air. Inevitably, it was thought, TSN would swoop in and massively outbid CBC for the rights and transform the Canadian television landscape.
Today, that nightmare scenario for CBC became reality as Bell announced a 10-year, $5.2 billion deal to acquire Canadian NHL TV rights and hand them over to their sports juggernaut TSN.
Wait what? Sportsnet won? Holy shit, didn’t see that coming.
Although nearly all the other pieces lined up perfectly, I don’t think anyone saw Rogers as the front-runner to pull off this massive deal. Now the company that everyone loves to hate is the undisputed kingpin in Canadian hockey. The deal is so massively embarrassing for CBC that Rogers even gets to keep Hockey Night in Canada on the public broadcaster for four more years as a zombie trojan horse before ultimately driving a rusty stake through their brain.
So practically overnight we have what used to be the third place NHL broadcaster in Canada leapfrog to first. So, is it time for Sens fans to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside?
While Rogers Sportsnet has clearly the worst TV production values, least on-air talent and most ridiculously cheesy programming, there is a lot of optimism to be taken from this deal as a Sens fan.
First, and most important, this massive deal is a huge cash influx for every Canadian NHL team. While I’m still skeptical that the Sens, not Eugene Melnyk the business man, but the Ottawa Senators as a separate entity, lose money, the extra cash definitely helps. This massive deal reiterates just how healthy the Canadian market is, and although the Sens in their current corporate structure may lose money, Ottawa as an NHL market is very stable. The NHL wants more teams in Canada, not less. Although half the money must be returned to the players in the form of salaries, the influx certainly helps to cover those bills and provides a little extra breathing room. Also keep in mmd that the Sens regional rights are up for renegotiation soon as well. Surely today’s deal makes regional TV rights hotter than ever.
Second, many are concerned about what this means for Sens representation on Hockey Night in Canada and other national broadcasting properties. This new deal has the potential to massively increase the Sens marketability as Sportsnet, being a Sens regional partner, has incentive to promote the team nationally. The CBC, in their short-sighted, GTA-centric view, never sought to increase the Sens visibility outside the Ottawa Valley. However, when you have a broadcaster that is both a regional and national partner, they have incentive to think bigger. For the same reason that every NFL team gets a shot at Monday Night Football, a smart, strategic thinking broadcaster would understand that putting all your eggs in one basket, particularly one as full of holes as the Leafs, is not good business.
Add in the fact that Rogers will have seven separate networks to choose from when broadcasting games, and we may finally see the return of Saturday night Sens hockey on a regular basis. If Sportsnet can currently produce and distribute a Sens regional afternoon game profitably, it stands to reason that they could do the same, and even better, at night. Rogers put forward a fictional sample schedule for what a typical Saturday night schedule could look like and it featured Ottawa vs. Detroit on on City TV. While City may not be a traditional hockey broadcaster, at the end of the day what matters most is that the Sens get better scheduling and placement to bring in more eyeballs, butts in seats and revenue. Having more options means Sens fans won’t feel so much like second class citizens anymore, having Ottawa games as leftovers on the schedule while the Leafs get all the prime spots. While most reasonable fans understand that the Leafs will always get more coverage, and better placement, the extreme inequity over the past couple of seasons at HNIC was over the top ridiculous, to the point of messing with the Sens schedule, revenue and attendance.
Finally, there is a lot of concern over the Rogers 22 quality of Sportsnet hockey broadcasts. Sportsnet has clearly the worst production values and weakest broadcast talent of the major hockey broadcasters, including NBC. The thought of Nick Kypreos having anything resembling authoritative status on hockey in Canada sends chills down my spine. However, even on this front there is hope. Basic economics dictates that the third place network is going to have third-rate talent. It’s hard to imagine this new Rogers Canadian hockey powerhouse launching without a major rebranding and retooling. With the money, power and status that comes with being the nation’s top dog for hockey broadcasting for the next decade, inevitably the best talent will start migrating to Sportsnet. Great talents like James Duthie, Elliotte Friedman and Bob Mackenzie, so long as they can get out of their contracts, will be in high demand, and marginal hacks, like pretty much the rest of the Hot Stove panel will quickly find themselves on their way out. It’s unlikely that the community access television nature of Sportsnet will endure with a $5.2 billion bet being placed on the property.
The most shocking aspect of the whole deal is the utter defeat of Bell and TSN. How such a seemingly powerful player in the Canadian sports landscape could let this deal get away is mind-boggling. Sure they still have CFL football and regional NHL rights, but they had been aggressively building a national hockey brand that was thought to be inevitably leading towards this moment. Rogers is clearly putting all those exorbitantly high cellphone profits to good use here. Add in the fact that they own the Blue Jays, and have been known to be sniffing around the NFL in Toronto, and you have a potentially massive sports behemoth on the horizon. In a world of Netflix, mobile devices and timeshifting, broadcast sports is the media property of the next 25 years. While there is some uncertainty now, the situation for Sens fans is clearly more positive than it has been in a while. More choice, more options, more revenue and more attention for a team that has been the ugly stepsister at CBC for too long.