MLSE Sale Has Few Immediate Effects on Broadcasting

Before Bell Canada CEO George Cope and Rogers Communications CEO Nadir Mohamed, the new owners of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, even stepped to the podium on Friday morning the outcry that the two could squeeze CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada out of business was the buzz of social media. “Starting next year CBC can’t show any Leafs games” some would say; others would respond with “But they can still show the other six Canadian teams”. In reality, neither of these are true. The National Hockey League sells television rights for 31 Maple Leafs games; in the current contract (which doesn’t run out until 2014) CBC broadcasts 24 and TSN broadcasts 7. So, for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, at the very least, the CBC will continue showing the Leafs on most Saturday nights to the most of the country. Hockey Night in Canada isn’t going anywhere, at least not for a few seasons.

Come the 2014-15 season the NHL will those 31 games again. This is where Bell Media and Rogers Broadcasting – its important to note the different in name from their parent companies – could squeeze the CBC out of NHL coverage. However, many experts and fans have assumed this since CTV launched an aggressive bid against CBC in the last round of bidding. I don’t think that the Bell and Rogers partnership on the buying shares in the Maple Leafs will affect their decisions on how they approach national NHL rights when bidding begins sometime in late 2012 or 2013. It is still possible that TSN will bid alone, using CTV as an over-the-air network (the NHL would probably require one). Sportsnet, who probably can’t bid alone because Citytv doesn’t reach the entire country over-the-air, could choose to partner with the CBC, essentially taking over what TSN has now. Of course CBC and TSN could bid together (unlikely) or TSN and Sportsnet could bid together. We really don’t know yet.

Keith Pelley and Phil King, the heads of sports broadcasting at Rogers and Bell respectively, have both said that current contracts will continue until they run out for the Maple Leafs and Raptors. Sportsnet and TSN share games for both teams. Rogers sub-licensed ten Leafs games per season to TSN in 2007. They kept 29 games for Sportsnet Ontario. Leafs TV shows 12 games a season. This deal runs out in after the 2014-15 season. It is hard to tell how Bell and Rogers will divide these games beginning in 2014. It might depend on who has national broadcast rights. Assuming TSN and CBC remain the NHL’s national broadcasting partners (yes I know, a big assumption), I could see TSN showing ten games nationally and 15 on “TSN Leafs” regionally, with Sportsnet showing the other 26.

The current Raptors television deal, which is also split between TSN and Sportsnet, doesn’t run out for a few more seasons either. Last season, TSN showed 47 Raptors games while Sportsnet showed 35 Raptors games. I do think Sportsnet and TSN will split Raptors games 41/41 after the current deal runs out.

The bigger basketball related question is where will the NBA Finals air once the current TSN contract is up? As I understand it, the Raptors acquire rights for all NBA games in Canada, which they then sell themselves. So unless TSN and Sportsnet split the NBA Finals too (which won’t make TSN happy), MLSE will have to continue auctioning these off. The new MLSE ownership may also force theScore out of NBA broadcasting after their current contract.

The affects this deal will have on Toronto FC are unclear at this time. GolTV shows all regional games (those not broadcast on TSN). I’m sure Sportsnet would love to pick this package up, but I’m not sure if they can.

Pelley and King have also stated that Leafs TV, NBA TV Canada and GolTV Canada will likely remain in operation until 2015. At that time they will make a decision on what to do with them. NBA TV Canada is a valuable asset because it shows a number of live Raptors games. GolTV Canada is in the same situation, although it may depend on whether GolTV US is still around in 2015.

As you can see, the affects of this deal are more long-term than short-term. The next round of NHL TV bidding was bound to be a bit of a mess anyway. I think this deal just made some realize the might of Bell and Rogers.

9 thoughts on “MLSE Sale Has Few Immediate Effects on Broadcasting

  1. Although I agree that the effects of this deal are more long term than short, honestly I cannot fathom how the CBC could hope to keep the national rights contract in the face of the CTV/TSN side of this deal after the next round of negotiations.

    This is like walking into a gunfight knowing that your opponents have howitzers aimed at you because the CBC is constrained by being a public broadcaster and being accountable to both the government of the day and the taxpayers.

    Rogers/City are as you say hamstrung by not being a “national” broadcaster, which could serve as a source of friction between Bell & Rogers when negotiations begin.

    Conceivably, Bell/CTV/TSN could blow their brains out buying the national rights and the only parties they would have to (eventually) answer to would be the shareholders, who by and large care not a whit as long as the *overall* profit picture of the company overall is good (Raise a fee or two here & there and you can cover such losing contracts easily)

    Things will get interesting, that’s for sure.

    • Well the way I see CBC holding on is by splitting coverage with Sportsnet. It could even end up with a “reverse mirror” type of HNIC. For example

      Leafs on CBC in BC, Alberta, Ontario, Atlantic
      Habs on CBC in Quebec + Sportsnet Ontario
      Jets on CBC in Manitoba/Saskatchewan + Sportsnet West/Pacific
      Sens on CBC in Ottawa + Sportsnet East

      I don’t really see that, but if CBC is really desperate.

      CBC might have to give up other things like opening night or one whole conference final too. I think a CBC/Sportsnet partnership would work better for Rogers than a Bell/Sportsnet partnership.

  2. Hi Josh,

    Why do say Rogers Sportsnet might not be able to air regional TFC games from GOL TV? I and a lot of TFC hope they do. TFC games on GOL TV are crap. Tom Anselmi told me at a TFC season ending town hall meeting they want TFC regional games on Sportsnet, but couldn’t because Sportsnet would not pay MLSE any TV rights fees. When TFC games aired on Sportsnet between 2007-2010 ML:SE did not get any TV rights fees. ZERO.

    I and a lot of TFC fans will have to wait and see.

    • You have better insight than I do, I guess. I thought they might want to keep the games for GolTV as long as it is in operation. The channel gets most of its subscribers from TFC, Real Madrid and Barcelona fans.

  3. I don’t really see how this changes anything for the national (CBC) rights. Local rights and national rights are sold separately. The Leafs get a special deal because so many of their games are aired nationally vs locally, but why would this change that?

    No matter who owns the team, they could never withhold the national TV rights, which are designated by the NHL.

    This could create more incentive for Bell/Rogers to bid higher for the national rights to displace HNIC (and lets face it, they would have had the incentive to do so whether they owned the Leafs or not) but other than that, who owns the team makes no difference.

  4. Pingback: It’s the Linkage! At Long Last & It’s Back!

  5. Why did you write “it may depend on whether GolTV US is still around in 2015.”? Are there any indications that they won’t continue?

    • Referring to the US version, yes. If it loses La Liga to ESPN or Fox it could be in serious trouble. They have Argentine soccer locked up until then, but it sounds like they could lose Colombian and/or Brazilian, which would also hurt their Latin American subscriber base.

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