For the past eight years, Sportsnet has been the home of Ultimate Fighting Championship in Canada. When Rogers acquired The Score, the renamed Sportsnet 360 became the landing place for all UFC live programming such as pay-per-view pre-fights, UFC Fight Night, The Ultimate Fighter and the only Canadian MMA studio program being made, UFC Central. If recent events and speculation are any indication, UFC may be looking for a new broadcaster in Canada.
Sportsnet’s current contract runs out at the end of this year and thus far, no new deal has been signed. When the current contract was signed, UFC was considerably more popular than it is now, with general interest and ratings waning in North American as UFC purchased their competition, diluted their product with more and more live events and finding it difficult to replace big household names that have left the organisation.
Four years ago, Rogers also hadn’t just spent $5.2-billion on 12 years of NHL rights. One of the affects of this deal — one of many more to come, no doubt — on the Sportsnet budget was evident at the beginning of this month when, without warning, Sportsnet’s UFC insider and host “Showdown” Joe Ferraro announced via Facebook that UFC Central has been cancelled after more than five years on the air. He states that the removal of UFC Central was a business decision made by the network and one that he fully supports. Ferraro continues to write for sportsnet.ca and host UFC Central Radio on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
A different take on the Sportsnet/UFC situation comes from In The Cage and theorizes that UFC switched September’s pay-per-view event UFC 178 from Toronto to Las Vegas as a negotiation tactic against Sportsnet. UFC President Dana White stated “Vegas just wanted it more”, which apparently involved the MGM Grand forcing out previously booked act King of Leon. UFC has also pulled out of a planned live event in Montreal in December.
So, what are the odds UFC and Sportsnet sign a new deal? Rogers just spent a shit-ton of money on hockey and may not want to pay the asking price for a product that has been gradually going down in the ratings for the past few years. A large majority of UFC fight events occur on Saturday nights, a night that now features hockey on every Sportsnet channel (bar whatever one is currently showing the MLB postseason). With the recent addition of three feeds, TSN could certainly be in the market to get extra programming, even though they seem to have shown little interest in UFC/MMA in the past. They could certainly use some mid-week programming such as The Ultimate Fighter and possibly a studio show to prevent the endless canned programming that has featured strongly, particularly this week. Personally, I vote for slim.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 16
8:25pm — New York Jets at New England Patriots
• CBS, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Jim Nantz, Phil Simms & Tracy Wolfson
SUNDAY OCTOBER 19
1pm — Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams
• CTV BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan
• Fox Spokane, Tacoma
Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
1pm — Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
• CTV Ontario, Winnipeg
• Fox Buffalo, Rochester, Minnesota
Tim Brando, Brendon Ayanbadejo & Peter Schrager
1pm — Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers
• CTV Montreal, Atlantic
• Fox Boston, Burlington
Sam Rosen, John Lynch & Pam Oliver
1pm — Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
• CTV Two Nationwide
• CBS Boston, Burlington, Watertown, Rochester
Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts & Jenny Dell
1pm — New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions
• Fox Detroit
Chris Myers, Ronde Barber & Jennifer Hale
1pm — Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars
• CBS Cleveland
Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein
4:05pm — Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
• CTV Two (except Atlantic)
• CBS Buffalo, Detroit, Minnesota, Spokane, Seattle
Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
4:25pm — New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
• CTV Nationwide, CTV Two Atlantic, RDS
• Fox Nationwide
Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman & Charissa Thompson
8:15pm — San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
• NBC, TSN1/3/4/5, RDS
Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth & Michelle Tafoya
MONDAY OCTOBER 20
8:30pm — Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers
• TSN1/3/4/5, RDS
Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden & Lisa Salters
BYE: Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When Rogers purchased NHL televisions rights for the next 12 seasons last November, everything was promised to be different. As Sportsnet rolled out its new flagship broadcasts, Wednesday Night Hockey, a reinvigorated Hockey Night in Canada and Hometown Hockey over the past week, the broadcasts felt remarkably similar to what we have watched on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central, HNIC and TSN in the past.
On Wednesday, Sportsnet signed on to show their first Wednesday Night Hockey telecast. In the studio were Hockey Central stalwarts Darren Millard, Doug MacLean, Nick Kypreos, joined by new recruit and former TSN analyst Darren Pang. While the studio itself was large, expansive and impressive, the on-air talent was the same as many regional broadcasts last season. But one can hardly really expect Sportsnet to compete with TSN’s James Duthie, Bob McKenzie and Aaron Ward regardless of how hard they try. What was more impressive, however, was Sportsnet in-game production. It felt very similar to a CBC broadcast, with CBC’s former lead broadcast crew of Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Glenn Healy and reporter Scott Oake still intact. The Canadiens-Leafs matchup gave us our first glimpse of the best innovation Sportsnet has offered thus far, the sky cam they installed at the ACC.
Something that I thought worked better than the Wednesday night broadcast was the debut of Hockey Night in Canada. Having the games spread out across CBC, City, Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One was fantastic. Almost too much to keep track of. George Stroumboulopoulos exceeded my expectations as the new host. My only complaint is he seemed rushed at times during Sportsnet’s fast-paced pregame show. It was strange seeing Sportsnet microphone flags on CBC, but the broadcasts still felt very-CBC for a Sportsnet-produced broadcast. Again, Hughson, Simpson, Healy and Oake were at the helm in the primary 7:00pm ET broadcast on the CBC. Elsewhere former CBC personalities were equally well represented. Rick Ball and Kelly Hrudey were in St. Louis, Bob Cole and Greg Millen were in Tampa Bay, Garry Galley and reporter David Amber was in Philadelphia.
Elsewhere on Saturday night, Don Cherry was cut down to a 5 minute segment in the first intermission. I think in a small dose, his continuing presence on Hockey Night will be fine. But where Sportsnet really missed the mark was the second intermission. Officially the Hotstove has been axed, but Sportsnet has kept a lighter version of it. With insiders Cox, Friedman and Kypreos in studio, Sportsnet has the opportunity to return the Hotstove to its former glory. I know Scott Moore has been clear that he wants to shift the focus away from off-ice stories (which I think is a mistake, but that’s a different matter) to on-ice, but devoting one segment a week to trade rumours seems important, regardless.
While the broadcasts on Wednesday and Saturday were really more of the same, City’s Sunday night broadcast of Hometown Hockey was new and innovative. Unfortunately, it didn’t really appeal to me. Sportsnet seemed to want to capture a family audience, which is fine for a Sunday evening broadcast, but it could come at the risk of alienating fans. It doesn’t seem like a weekly must-watch for me. The studio panel, with George, Healy and Cox, looked very casual with no ties, in a style similar to many English soccer broadcasts in Sky and the BBC. It was an interesting, and noticeable differentiation from just about every other sports broadcast in North America.
All early ratings were slightly down from last year. The Wednesday night games averaged 2 million (MTL-TOR) and 1 million (VAN-CGY) viewers. Canadiens-Leafs is now the most watched broadcast in Sportsnet history though. Saturday numbers were also slightly down. The early games averaged 2.25 million viewers, with TOR-PIT leading the way at 1.57 million. The late games averaged 1.31 million viewers.
8pm: Calgary Flames at Chicago Blackhawks (SN)
Dave Randorf, Mike Johnson, Scott Oake
8pm: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings (SN 1, TVA Sports)
Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire
10:30pm: Edmonton Oilers at Arizona Coyotes (SN West*)
Thursday October 16
7pm: Dallas Stars at Pittsburgh Penguins (TVA Sports 2)
7:30pm: Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens (SN 360, RDS*)
John Bartlett, Jason York, Chantal Desjardins
7:30pm: Colorado Avalanche at Ottawa Senators (TSN5*, RDS2*)
Friday October 17
7pm: Florida Panthers at Buffalo Sabres (Sabres TV*)
7pm: Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets (SN Flames*)
7:30pm: Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs (SN Ontario*)
8pm: Nashville Predators at Winnipeg Jets (TSN3*)
9:30pm: Vancouver Canucks at Edmonton Oilers (SN Canucks*, SN Oilers*)
Saturday October 18
7pm: Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings (CBC)
Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Glenn Healy, Christine Simpson
7pm: Colorado Avalanche at Montreal Canadiens (City, TVA Sports)
Paul Romanuk, Mike Johnson, Scott Oake
7pm: Columbus Blue Jackets at Ottawa Senators (SN 1)
Bob Cole, Greg Millen, David Amber
7pm: Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres (FX Canada)
8:30pm: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks (WGN)
10pm: Tampa Bay Lightning at Vancouver Canucks (CBC, TVA Sports 2)
Dave Randorf, Gary Galley, Cassie Campbell-Pascal
Sunday October 19
5pm: San Jose Sharks at New York Rangers (TVA Sports)
7pm: Calgary Flames at Winnipeg Jets (City)
Paul Romanuk, Mike Johnson, Scott Oake
Monday October 20
9:30pm: Tampa Bay Lightning at Edmonton Oilers (SN West*, TVA Sports)
Tuesday October 21
7pm: Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Islanders (TSN4*)
7pm: San Jose Sharks at Boston Bruins (TVA Sports)
7:30pm: Detroit Red Wings at Montreal Canadiens (City Montreal*, RDS*)
8pm: Carolina Hurricanes at Winnipeg Jets (TSN3*)
8:30pm: Vancouver Canucks at Dallas Stars (SN Canucks*)
9pm: Tampa Bay Lightning at Calgary Flames (SN Flames*)
Announcers courtesy of Awful Announcing.
Rogers seems to have gotten through their first week of 12 years of full-time NHL broadcasting without any major disasters. Personally, I haven’t seen a second of their national Wednesday night or Saturday night broadcasts due to work commitments, so I can’t comment of the television product. I have however been using GameCentre Live, so I hope to get up a post reviewing that sometime this week. Plenty of others have commented on the broadcast coverage after the weekend though:
- Steve Buffery / Toronto Sun: Lots of hyperbole, but Sportsnet’s first hockey telecast was impressive
- Scott Stinson / National Post: How did Rogers fare in its opening NHL broadcast? A diary of the Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens game
- Bill Brioux / Canadian Press: First game of Rogers era some slick TV
- Chris Zelkovich / Yahoo Sports: Hockey Night in Rogersland: Now for something sort of different
- Chris Zelkovich / Yahoo Sports: Reworked Hockey Night In Canada almost a Cherry-free zone
- Cathal Kelly / The Globe & Mail: Stroumboulopoulos brings personality to Sportsnet’s hockey coverage
- Chris Curtis / Montreal Gazette: Cameras mounted everywhere in Rogers’ NHL debut
- Steve Lepore / Awful Announcing: The “New” Hockey Night In Canada: Much of the same, for better and worse
With less work now at TSN, two of their biggest names will be making frequent trips south of the border in a major pickup for NBC. Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger have joined NBC Sports as contributors for this season according to Sports Illustrated. McKenzie will be a full-time contributor, flying down to NBC’s Connecticut studios each week for their Wednesday Night Rivalry broadcasts, as well as travelling on-site for NBC’s All-Star, Stanley Cup and Draft shows. Dreger will also appear, but the details of when and how often weren’t elaborated on. Both will continue to appear on TSN.
TSN Radio will debut a new nationwide hockey analytics shows entitled TSN Hockey Analytics. Catchy, I know. The weekly show will explore the latest on advanced statistics in hockey, which is all the rage these days, in case you haven’t heard. The show will air Saturday afternoons on TSN Radio stations across the country, as well as live streamed online at TSN.ca, via the TSN GO app and available as a podcast download. Hosted by Andy McNamara, it will feature regular appearances by the TSN Hockey team as well as Globe and Mail hockey writer James Mirtle, stats writer Travis Yost, analysts Jamie McLennan and TSN’s statman Scott Cullen.
Telus Optik TV customers are now the latest Canadians to have access to TSN GO website and mobile streaming service. The list of providers that can now use the service include: Bell TV, FibreOp TV (Bell Aliant), NorthernTel, Rogers, Shaw Cable, Shaw Direct, and Source Cable.
ICYMI: FX Canada Now Available On Bell Just In Time For Hockey
ICYMI: Sportsnet Boasts Huge Numbers For NHL Opener, Though Down From CBC Last Year
ICYMI: 2014 MLB Postseason: ALCS and NLCS on Sportsnet and Fox
Dan — @SportsOnCdnTV
Bell Fibe and Bell Satellite TV customers finally had FX Canada and FXX Canada added to their programming lineup yesterday morning after hearing and seeing “NOT AVAILABLE ON BELL” since the channel launched in October 2011. The addition came on the eve of FX Canada’s first Saturday night showing NHL as part of the 12-year contract Rogers signed earlier this year. FX and FXX Canada are owned by Rogers.
FX Canada will show a US-vs-US matchup each Saturday night during the regular season. Tonight is Washington at Boston, followed by Boston at Buffalo, Chicago at St. Louis, and Washington at Tampa Bay over the coming weeks.
It could be coincidence or maybe Bell finally caved and realized they could potentially be fielding hundreds if not thousands of complaints every weekend for the next six months from upset hockey fans. There is no confirmed information on why Bell had held out for the past two years, but the speculation is that Rogers wanted the channels in a package and Bell wanted to offer it a la carte. I guess hockey trumps all.
FX Canada can be found on channel 1331 on Bell Fibe and 1290 on Bell Satellite. It is on free preview until November 13 with no details on pricing after that date available yet.
Despite setting a new Sportsnet viewing record, Sportsnet’s coverage of the opening game of the 2014–15 NHL season between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens was actually down 14% from last year’s CBC broadcast of the same game.
Last year, CBC recorded 2.33 million viewers for the mid-week Leafs-Habs opener, while this year’s broadcast this past Wednesday managed an average of 2.01 million viewers with 8 million English-speaking Canadian tuning in to at least part of Wednesday Night Hockey. This is a record for a hockey broadcast on Sportsnet and it was also the number one program viewed across Canada on Wednesday night according to Numeris. The previous record for Sportsnet viewership was the 2013 Blue Jays home opener which got an audience of 1.44 million.
On the French-language side, TVA Sports got 952,000 viewers for the Habs-Leafs which makes a total of 2.7 million Canadians that watched the game, down from CBC’s and RDS’s combined total of 3.31 million last season.
The Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks game that followed the early game received an average audience of 1 million – also down from CBC’s home opener late game broadcast of 1.05 million which was Oilers-Jets. The pre-game show earlier in the night averaged 377,000 viewers.
One entirely possible explanation is that 32,000-viewer difference can be attributed to over-the-air CBC being available in more homes than the cable-based Sportsnet (CBC is available in about 4 million more homes than Sportsnet). Another could be that Canadians were watching digitally. Sportsnet also recorded huge numbers for their brand new NHL GameCentre Live. 55,000 people watched the Leafs-Habs game online, with 75% watching on their desktop computer and 25% on a tablet or smartphone, and over 80,000 minutes of on-demand replays from the game was streamed by fans.
Look for a review on Sportsnet’s television coverage and GameCentre Live over the weekend.