NHL on Sportsnet
NHL on Sportsnet is an upcoming presentation of National Hockey League games to be broadcast by Sportsnet and other networks owned by Rogers Media, to debut at the beginning of the 2014–15 NHL season. The arrangement will supersede the league's previous Canadian broadcast television and cable rights deals with CBC and TSN, that expired at the end of the 2013–14 NHL season, and accompany its existing regional deals with four of Canada's NHL teams.
The deal primarily emphasizes increased access to NHL content in Canada, with plans to leverage Rogers' various broadcast and cable television outlets, along with CBC Television, to air a larger number of NHL games nationally than under existing deals, with plans to nationally televise at least 7 games weekly on Saturday nights through a revised Hockey Night in Canada, along with a new primetime, Sunday night game of the week on City, and exclusivity for games on Sportsnet on Wednesday nights.
First NHL contract
Rogers Media's Sportsnet networks have historically been a prominent broadcaster of the NHL. By the time the regional sports network first launched on October 9, 1998 as CTV Sportsnet, the network had already wrestled the national cable rights to the NHL from long-time holder TSN. From 1998–99 until 2001–02, Sportsnet aired Labatt Blue Tuesday Night Hockey weekly during the regular season, and covered first-round playoff series that did not featue Canadian teams. The network's first live event was an opening night match between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson served as the lead broadcast team. Kevin Quinn and Ryan Walter served as the secondary team. Darren Dreger was as the studio host and Greg Millen (1998-1999), joined by other personalities such as Nick Kypreos (1998-2002), and Mike Keenan (1999-2000).
As reflected by its influence, the Fox Sports Networks (Fox Sports held a minority stake in the channel on launch), Sportsnet and its four regional feeds also picked up regional broadcast rights to other Canadian NHL teams. As of the 2013–14 NHL season, Sportsnet held regional rights to five of the seven Canadian franchises, including the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs (which are jointly owned by Rogers and Bell Canada through a majority stake in MLSE), Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks. Rights to the remaining two, the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets (along with the Ottawa Senators beginning in the 2014–15 season), and national cable rights to the NHL, were held by the competing network TSN. National broadcast television rights were held by CBC Television, who used its rights to broadcast the iconic Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights.
On November 26, 2013, Rogers Communications announced that it had reached a 12-year deal to become the exclusive national rightsholder for the National Hockey League beginning in the 2014–15 season. Valued at $5.2 billion over the length of the contract, and covering television and digital rights to the league in both English and French (French rights will be sub-licensed to Quebecor Media for TVA and TVA Sports), the value of the contract surpasses the league's most recent U.S. rights deal with NBC by more than double. Under the contract, Rogers paid $150 million upfront, and will make annual payments beginning at $300 million, escalating to $500 million over the life of the contract. Rogers will also take over Canadian distribution of the NHL Centre Ice and Game Centre Live services, and exclusive coverage of the NHL All-Star Game and NHL Entry Draft. Rogers Media president Keith Pelley emphasized the increased amount and accessibility of NHL content that Rogers planned to offer under the deal, stating that "Canadians will have more games, more content and more choice than they've ever had before."
Critics considered the deal to be a major blow to Bell Media, owner of TSN and its sister network RDS, who had previously held the national cable rights to the league. The network still has existing broadcast rights deals with Hockey Canada, and exclusive regional rights to the Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, and new for the 2014–15 season, the Ottawa Senators. Also of note was Rogers' plans to maintain the long-running Hockey Night in Canada, by reaching a deal to sub-license a package of Saturday night games to CBC Television—while CBC will still air the long-running series and not pay a rights fee, Rogers will produce the telecasts and sell all advertising during the games. Rogers will rent studio space from the CBC for its NHL broadcasts, which will be broadcast from Studio 41 of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre. On February 4, 2014 at the NHL's upfronts, Rogers unveiled more detailed plans for its NHL coverage, incorporating its over-the-air City network, FX Canada, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360, and Sportsnet One.
In its inaugural season, Rogers plans to air at least 500 games across CBC and Rogers-owned properties. Sportsnet will have an exclusive window on Wednesday nights where no other broadcaster may air NHL games in Canada. Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One will air around 100 games involving U.S. teams throughout the season. A new Sunday-night game will be aired on City during the regular season; known as Hometown Hockey, the games will include special features originating from communities across Canada. Sportsnet will also expand its nightly news and highlight program Hockey Central to a full hour daily, and add a two-hour pre-game show preceding Hockey Night in Canada.
Hockey Night in Canada will maintain its traditional Saturday night window, but will no longer air games on a regional basis split across CBC affiliates. Instead, games will be split across CBC and other Rogers and Quebecor channels (including City, Sportsnet, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360, and FX Canada), and will all be aired nationally. Three to five games will air during the early, 7:00 p.m. ET window, and a two more will air on Sportsnet and CBC for the 10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT west coast window. Rogers touted a 300% increase in the number of Hockey Night games available nationally under the new arrangement. Though split national/regional broadcasts are possible, arrangements will be made to ensure that viewers have on-air access to any games affected, ensuring that no Saturday night game will be unavailable to viewers on a regional basis.
Rogers will handle the production of all Hockey Night games, and sell all advertising time, though it will give CBC advertising time for its own programming across its networks during the games. As for the on-air makeup of the Hockey Night broadcasts, Rogers management has said that reviews of content and production would take place in the months leading up to the launch of the consortium. The review will include retaining and sharing of personnel (including announcers) and ancillary content. In announcing the deal, Rogers Media's president Keith Pelley considered CBC's staff to be "legendary" (and considered Don Cherry to be an "iconic Canadian", inferring that Ron MacLean and Don Cherry's Coach's Corner segment could be retained, and theoretically stated that under the arrangement, Hockey Night personalities "could appear on seven different networks". The arrangement will not be the first time Cherry has done work for Rogers, as its Sportsnet Radio Network produces Grapeline, a syndicated radio segment with himself and fellow sportscaster Brian Williams (who, ironically, works for rival channel TSN).
CBC President Hubert T. Lacroix, in notifying CBC employees of the deal in an internal memo, noted that the new sub-licensing arrangement with Rogers "may not be the ideal scenario [for the CBC] but, it is the right outcome for Canadian hockey fans" as it allows NHL hockey and the Hockey Night brand to remain on CBC and be made available to a wider audience with minimal cost to the public broadcaster, which has gone through reductions in funding in recent years and will likely face reductions in staffing and revenue as a result of its agreement with Rogers (Hockey Night has been estimated to provide half of CBC Television's total advertising revenue). Lacroix, in his memo, believed that CBC's non-hockey content would remain well-promoted on the new Hockey Night, and that being shut out of the package entirely would have been a major blow to the CBC's prestige.
Sportsnet and CBC will share in coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and CBC will retain coverage of the Stanley Cup Final, though it may be possible for Finals coverage to be simulcast on a Rogers network (similarly to the mass simulcast of the Men's hockey gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics) if needed.
On March 10, 2014, Rogers officially announced that George Stroumboulopoulos (who himself previously worked as a host on CJCL in Toronto) would serve as the main host of its NHL coverage; he will be joined by Sportsnet's Daren Millard and Jeff Marek. Ron MacLean will no longer host Hockey Night in Canada, but will still be joined by Don Cherry for their traditional Coach's Corner segment. Concurrently, CBC announced that Stroumboulopoulos's talk show, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, would end after a 10-year run. Ron MacLean will serve as the on-location host for the Sunday night Hometown Hockey games (with Stroumboulopoulos serving as studio host). Daren Millard will primarily host Wednesday Night Hockey, while Jeff Marek will primarily host Thursday Night Hockey along with the Hockey Night pre-game show.
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