NHL on Sportsnet

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NHL on Sportsnet
NHL Sportsnet Promo Image.png
Also known as
  • Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey
  • Rogers Hometown Hockey
  • Labatt Blue Tuesday Night Hockey (1998-2002)
Genre Sports
Created by Rogers Media/Sportsnet
Starring Various
Opening theme "The Hockey Song"
(1998–2002)
Country of origin Canada
Production
Location(s) Canadian Broadcasting Centre, Toronto
Broadcast
Original channel CBC/Sportsnet/FX/City/Omni
Picture format 480i (SDTV),
1080i (HDTV)
Original run October 9, 1998 (1998-10-09) – present (present)
Chronology
Preceded by NHL on TSN
(national cable broadcaster)
Hockey Night in Canada
(national over-the-air broadcaster)
Related shows

NHL on Sportsnet is the blanket title for presentations of the National Hockey League broadcast by the Canadian television channel Sportsnet and other networks owned by Rogers Media. Sportsnet (then known as CTV Sportsnet) previously held the national cable rights for NHL regular season and playoff games from 1998 to 2002; in November 2013, Rogers reached a 12-year deal to become the exclusive national television and digital rightsholder for the NHL in Canada, succeeding both CBC Sports and TSN.

The first telecasts under the new contract premiered on October 8, 2014—the first night of the 2014–15 NHL season; 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 as part of a time-brokerage agreement, to air a larger number of NHL games nationally than under previous deals with CBC and TSN. Rogers' national contract compliments its existing regional coverage of the NHL, holding partial or exclusive regional rights to five of the league's Canadian franchises.

Rogers publicized plans to broadcast at least 500 games nationally during its first season as rightsholder; a revamped Hockey Night in Canada nationally televises up to seven games on Saturday nights across multiple networks, on Wednesdays, Sportsnet airs its flagship broadcast Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 also air assorted games (particularly those that do not involve Canadian teams), while City airs a newly-introduced Sunday night game of the week known as Rogers Hometown Hockey—which features special segments broadcast from various Canadian communities as part of a nationwide tour.

Rogers hired a number of prominent personalities from CBC to serve as part of its on-air staff, including commentators Jim Hughson and Bob Cole, Coach's Corner hosts Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, and reporters Elliotte Friedman, and Scott Oake. Additionally, Rogers hired George Stroumboulopoulos, who formerly hosted a talk show for CBC, to serve as the main host for Hockey Night in Canada in a bid to attract a younger demographic of viewers.

History[edit]

1998-2002 contract and other previous contracts[edit]

Rogers Media's Sportsnet networks have historically been a prominent broadcaster of the National Hockey League in Canada. 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 feature Canadian teams. The network's first live event was an opening night match between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.[1] Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson served as the lead broadcast team.[2] Kevin Quinn and Ryan Walter served as the secondary team.[3] Darren Dreger as the studio host[2] and Greg Millen (1998-1999),[4] joined by other personalities such as Nick Kypreos (1998-2002),[5] and Mike Keenan (1999-2000).[3]

As reflected by its influence, Fox Sports Net (Fox also held a minority stake in the channel upon its launch),[1] 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, and national cable rights to the league as a whole, were held by the competing network TSN.[6][7][8][9] National broadcast television rights were held by CBC Television, who used its rights to broadcast the iconic Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights, and share coverage of the post-season with TSN (including exclusive rights to the Stanley Cup Finals).[9]

2014-15 contract[edit]

The National Hockey League had aimed for its next round of Canadian broadcast rights deals to total at least $3.2 billion. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recognized the financial difficulties and budget cuts being faced by the CBC, despite the success of its NHL telecasts (which were responsible for at least half of CBC Television's total advertising revenue),[10] by offering a slightly higher-valued contract that would have preserved a national doubleheader on Saturday nights (as opposed to regional games), along with playoff coverage, allowing the advertising-supported public broadcaster to maintain coverage of marquee games that could attract advertising revenue. Rights to the remaining properties not covered under the CBC's contract (including cable and digital rights) would have been offered to other broadcasters.[11] However, CBC Sports' staff, including executive director Jeffrey Orridge, continued to insist that CBC have exclusivity for every Saturday night game involving Canadian teams. The CBC was ultimately unable to reach an agreement; BCE (whose subsidiary Bell Media owns TSN and its sister French network RDS, who had previously held the national cable rights and national French rights respectively) made a bid for sole national rights to the NHL, and attempted to contact the CBC in regards to forming a partnership. However, CBC staff did not respond. In turn, Rogers Communications also made a bid of its own.[11]

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 (national French rights were 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. As part of the deal, Rogers also took over Canadian distribution of the NHL Centre Ice and GameCentre Live services. 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."[9][12][13][14] Also of note was Rogers' plans to maintain the long-running Hockey Night in Canada on CBC through a sub-licensing agreement with the league's previous broadcast television rightsholder, but also extend the brand by airing Hockey Night games across its own networks alongside CBC.[9][12][13][14][10]

Critics considered the deal to be a major coup against Bell Media, showing concerns for how its sports networks, particularly TSN, could sustain themselves without what they considered to be a key sports property. TSN and RDS still retain some NHL coverage as of the 2014-15 season, including TSN's existing rights to the Winnipeg Jets, an extension of French-language rights to the Montreal Canadiens for RDS, along with newly-introduced regional coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs for TSN (which are split with Sportsnet per Bell and Rogers' joint majority ownership of its parent company), and the Ottawa Senators for both TSN and RDS.[7][10][12][15]

On February 4, 2014 at the NHL's upfronts, Rogers unveiled more detailed plans for its NHL coverage.[16][17] In preparation for the transition, Rogers and the NHL sought input from viewers via online surveys and a "listening tour" through locations within Canadian NHL markets, along with Kingston, Sudbury, and Red Deer, Alberta. These efforts focused primarily on gauging how viewers (including "core" fans, younger viewers, and those new to the country) consume NHL content, and help determine how Rogers would present, market, and distribute its overall coverage to these varying demographics.[18] The hiring of George Stroumboulopoulos—the former host of a self-titled CBC talk show and an alumnus of sports radio station CJCL—as the main on-air host of Hockey Night, was intended to help the telecasts appeal to a younger audience.[19][20] Rogers also announced plans to use its multicultural Omni Television stations to broadcast hockey-oriented content in a total of 22 languages, including news segments, Hockey 101—an instructional series explaining the basic rules and concepts of hockey, and a doubleheader of Hockey Night in Canada games with commentary in Punjabi, carrying over from CBC's past digital coverage of games in the language.[21][22]

Rogers sought to increase the prominence of NHL content on digital platforms, such as the internet, smartphones, and tablet computers. The company re-launched the NHL's digital out-of-market sports package GameCentre Live as Rogers NHL GameCentre Live, adding the ability to stream all of Rogers' national NHL telecasts, along with in-market streaming of regional games for teams whose regional rights are held by Sportsnet.[23] GamePlus—an additional mode featuring alternate camera angles intended for a second screen experience, such as angles focusing on certain players, net and referee cameras, and a Skycam in selected venues, was also added exclusively for GameCentre Live subscribers who are subscribed to Rogers' cable, internet, or wireless services.[18][24]

In the lead-up to the 2014-15 season, Rogers began to promote its networks as the new home of the NHL through a multi-platform advertising campaign; the campaign featured television commercials across Rogers-owned channels, along with cross-promotions with other properties such The Shopping Channel, which featured presentations of NHL merchandise, and its parenting magazine Today's Parent, which began to feature hockey-themed stories in its issues. [25] On May 28, 2014, Rogers announced a six-year sponsorship deal with Scotiabank, which saw the bank become the title sponsor of Sportsnet's Wednesday night games and Hockey Day in Canada, and become a sponsor for other segments and initiatives throughout Rogers overall coverage.[26]

Launch[edit]

Sportsnet's coverage premiered on October 8, 2014 with an opening night doubleheader of Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, featuring the Montreal Canadiens at the Toronto Maple Leafs, followed by the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks. The inaugural game was the most-watched program of the night in Canada, and the most-watched telecast in Sportsnet's history, with 2.01 million viewers (beating the previous record of 1.44 million set by the Toronto Blue Jays' home opener in 2013).[27] However, viewership was down from 2013's opening night game, which was televised by CBC.[28]

Coverage[edit]

Sportsnet's NHL broadcasts originate from the Canadian Broadcasting Centre.

In its inaugural season, Rogers plans to air at least 500 games across CBC and Rogers-owned properties. On Wednesday nights, Sportsnet airs Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey; similarly to TSN under the previous contract, the network has an exclusive window 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; Sportsnet One primarily airs NBC Sports Network's Wednesday Night Rivalry games, while 360 airs games on Thursday nights. Sportsnet also expanded its nightly news and highlight program Hockey Central to a full hour daily, and will also air coverage of the NHL All-Star Game, and the entry Draft.[16][17][29] Rogers stated that in combination with its existing regional rights to the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames, it would have an effective monopoly on all NHL telecasts in Western Canada (aside from portions of the Jets' market that are shared with the Flames and Oilers, such as Saskatchewan).[6][30]

Sportsnet's NHL broadcasts, along with its studio show Hockey Central, originate from the Canadian Broadcasting Centre, the headquarters of former rightsholder CBC. Rogers rented Studio 41 of the facility, which is adjacent to Studio 42, the previous home of Hockey Night in Canada,[16] to build an 11,000 square-foot studio for its NHL programming. The $4.5 million set, designed by Jack Morton/PDG, features fourteen cameras, a 38 feet (12 m) wide, 11 feet (3.4 m) high arc-shaped video wall nicknamed the "Goliath", and the ability to produce broadcasts for up to three channels at once using its various cameras and set areas. The studio features 9 distinct set areas that serve various functions; among them include a central, rotating desk, three sets for regional games (one of which is used for Coach's Corner on Hockey Night), a "demo wall" (a video wall with a screen under the floor directly in front of it; virtual ice markings can be projected on the floor for play analysis), an interactive "puck wall" that can display stats for specific teams by placing their corresponding puck prop into a reader, and an informal interview area for George Stroumboulopoulos featuring red armchairs—an element carried over from his previous CBC talk show.[31][32][33]

Sportsnet staff emphasized a focus on storytelling throughout its NHL coverage, with a particular focus on the personal lives of the league's top players. Although Sportsnet executive Scott Moore did explain that Sportsnet's overall goal was to "celebrate" hockey and downplay some of the NHL's recent issues, such as labour disputes, he emphasized that the network would not be the NHL's "cheerleaders", and would still be prepared to discuss issues that affect the game.[34][35] Sportsnet's coverage also places an emphasis on new technology; referees can be equipped with helmet cams for first-person perspectives, and a Skycam was installed at Air Canada Centre for use in aerial shots. Rogers plans to install Skycam units at each Canadian NHL arena for use in its coverage and the GameCentre Live GamePlus features.[24][36]

Hometown Hockey[edit]

During the regular season, City broadcasts a new Sunday night game of the week entitled Rogers Hometown Hockey. The games are hosted on-location by Ron MacLean from various Canadian cities as part of a nationwide tour, and feature a weekend of community activities culminating with the live telecast on Sunday evening. Continuing Sportsnet's focus on storytelling, the pre-game show for Hometown Hockey games feature segments profiling local players and teams.[34][37] London, Ontario hosted the first broadcast of the 2014-15 season on October 12, 2014.[38]

The games and tour contribute to an effort by Rogers to improve its public image, particularly under CEO Guy Laurence, by associating itself with the sport at a local level. MacLean characterized Hometown Hockey as an extension of Hockey Day in Canada and the Kraft Hockeyville competition—highlighting grassroots hockey throughout the country on a weekly basis. He also felt that the Sunday night timeslot was "a good hockey night", believing that it could be "[a] family-forward way of doing the show to get the kids involved. Families can have it on while they get ready for school or work Sunday night. For me, after 27 years, honestly, what’s wrong with doing something different?" The games also seek to emulate the success of NBC's Sunday Night Football—which airs against Hometown Hockey during the National Football League season. Although Hometown Hockey faces a large amount of competition from other popular programs airing on Sunday nights, including the aforementioned Sunday Night Football, Rogers Media president Keith Pelley felt that the games could become "[a] habitual part of Canadians’ lives" over time.[37][34][39]

Hockey Night in Canada[edit]

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean (pictured in 2002) are among the Hockey Night in Canada talent retained by Rogers.

Hockey Night in Canada remains in its traditional Saturday night timeslot, but rather than having games split across CBC Television stations on a regional basis, multiple games are broadcast nationally, split across CBC, City, Sportsnet, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360, and FX Canada. Three to five games air during the early, 7:00 p.m. ET window, and two more air on Sportsnet and CBC for the 10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT west coast window. Rogers estimated a 300% increase in the number of Hockey Night games available nationally under the new arrangement.[6][9][16][17] 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.[13]

Regardless of network, all Hockey Night games are produced by Sportsnet rather than CBC Sports, Rogers sells all advertising during the telecasts, and CBC is provided with advertising time across Sportsnet and City's Hockey Night telecasts to promote its own programming.[17] While CBC did not pay a rights fee to either Rogers or the NHL, the public broadcaster does not receive any revenue from the telecasts, aside from payments by Rogers for its use of certain CBC personalities and ancillary staff, and its rent of studio space.[11][9][10] Some of CBC's personalities and production staff were retained for the new Hockey Night in Canada—certain staff members, such as producers Joel Darling and Sherali Najak, remain employed by the CBC, while some jumped to Rogers entirely.[19] Ron MacLean no longer serves as the host of Hockey Night—being succeeded by George Stroumboulopoulos. However, Ron MacLean and Don Cherry still present the Coach's Corner segment during the first intermission.[19]

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—as Hockey Night had been estimated to provide half of CBC Television's total advertising revenue.[10] 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.[40] In turn, CBC announced in April 2014 that it would cut a total of 657 jobs across its divisions, and no longer pursue broadcast rights to professional sporting events. The loss of Hockey Night was cited as a factor to the budget cuts, but was also credited to the performance of CBC's entertainment programming.[41]

The sub-licensing deal lasts for four years; the fate of NHL coverage on CBC or Hockey Night in Canada as a whole following the conclusion of the agreement is not yet known. CBC staff described the agreement as a means of providing a "structured exit from hockey" in the event that Rogers does not extend the agreement. The deal was also considered a low-cost means of allowing CBC to maintain a level of sports output in the lead-up to future Olympic Games and the 2015 Pan-American Games, whose rights are owned outright by CBC. In the case of the Olympics, CBC's coverage is sub-licensed to Rogers and Bell Media networks under a similar time-brokerage and production subsidization arrangement.[42][13][43]

Regional coverage[edit]

As of the 2014-15 season, Sportsnet's four feeds hold regional broadcast rights to five of the seven Canadian NHL franchises: the Montreal Canadiens on Sportsnet East, the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario (split with TSN4),[30] the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers on Sportsnet West, and the Vancouver Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. The Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets are the only Canadian NHL teams whose non-national games are not broadcast by Rogers' networks, as both teams have regional television deals with TSN.[30] Unlike Sportsnet's national games, these games are subject to blackout outside of the teams' home markets. Due to its ownership of the national contract, Rogers has a monopoly on all English-language telecasts of teams whose regional rights are exclusively owned by Sportsnet.[30]

Regional games on Sportsnet are branded on-air as Canucks Hockey on Sportsnet Pacific, Rogers Oilers Hockey, Telus Flames Hockey, Molson Canadian Leafs Hockey, and Canadiens Hockey on Sportsnet East (although CJNT broadcasts are billed "presented by Rogers") respectively.

Post-season[edit]

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.[13]

Personalities[edit]

While primarily using existing Sportsnet talent, a number of CBC Sports personalities, including the lead Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play crew of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson, along with Bob Cole and Glenn Healy, joined Rogers to participate in Sportsnet's coverage and Hockey Night. These CBC alumni are joined by two former TSN personalities, Dave Randorf and Paul Romanuk.[44][45] Hockey Night reporters Elliotte Friedman and Scott Oake also joined Sportsnet to continue their roles.[46][47]

George Stroumboulopoulos serves as the studio host for Hockey Night in Canada and Hometown Hockey. Daren Millard hosts Wednesday Night Hockey, while Jeff Marek hosts Thursday night games along with Hockey Central Saturday. Ron MacLean no longer hosts Hockey Night in Canada, but is still joined by Don Cherry (who has been termed as "iconic" by Rogers' president Keith Pelley)[48] for Coach's Corner. MacLean serves as the on-location host for Hometown Hockey, accompanied by City Calgary Breakfast Television host Tara Slone.[19] Both MacLean and Cherry are still under contract with the CBC, with Cherry under contract through 2018, and MacLean through at least 2016 for the 2016 Summer Olympics.[48][47][49][50]

Reception[edit]

GamePlus dispute[edit]

The GamePlus features added to the Rogers NHL GameCentre Live service provide additional in-game camera angles for subscribers who also subscribe to Rogers' cable, internet, or wireless services. In October 2014, Bell filed a complaint with the CRTC, arguing that the exclusivity of GamePlus to Rogers subscribers was anti-competitive, and violated the CRTC's rules banning vertically integrated telecommunications companies from being the exclusive distributor of television content on internet and mobile television platforms (a precedent, ironically, set by a complaint over an exclusivity deal between Bell and the National Football League).[51][52]

Rogers objected, arguing that GamePlus was an interactive second screen experience that is separate from the telecast by nature. Rogers CEO Guy Lawrence accused Bell of attempting to "stifle innovation in hockey", and suggested that its actions were in retaliation for TSN's loss of national cable rights to the NHL.[52]

Viewership[edit]

Ratings for Rogers' NHL broadcasts have been mixed in comparison to the previous CBC and TSN deals. During the first two months of its inaugural season, Numeris estimated an increase in average viewership for Wednesday night games and east coast games on Hockey Night, and an 9% increase in the number of viewers who have watched at least part of a game.[53] However, viewership of west coast games during Hockey Night fell by 17%; Moore argued that this was a side effect of the new format for Hockey Night, as the audience is "splintered" by those who do not switch channels to watch the late games (as opposed to the previous arrangement, in which all games were solely aired by CBC).[53]

While considered an improvement over the viewership of entertainment programs formerly broadcast by City on Sunday nights, ratings for the first eight Hometown Hockey games were modest, with only two games (its debut game, and an Ottawa Senators/Toronto Maple Leafs game on November 9, 2014 which had been re-scheduled from a Wednesday night game following the Parliament Hill shootings)[54] surpassing one million viewers, and finishing behind other programs.[53]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "From inspiration to perspiration". Sportsnet.ca. Rogers Media. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Cruyff people's choice to coach Dutch team". Toronto Star. July 25, 1998. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
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  19. ^ a b c d "Cherry’s sidekick Ron MacLean is kicked further aside". The Globe and Mail. October 3, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Rogers betting Stroumboulopoulos can grow HNIC's appeal". The Globe and Mail. March 10, 2014. Retrieved October 5, 2014. 
  21. ^ Sax, David (April 26, 2013). "A Punjabi Broadcast Draws In New Hockey Fans". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
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  33. ^ "10 things to know about Hockey Central studio". Sportsnet.ca. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
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External links[edit]

Preceded by
TSN
NHL English network broadcast partner
in Canada

1998 - 2002
Succeeded by
TSN
Preceded by
TSN and CBC
NHL English network broadcast partner
in Canada

2014 - Present
Succeeded by
none
Preceded by
RDS
NHL French network broadcast partner
in Canada

2014 - present
Succeeded by
none