Details of Sportsnet’s New NHL Broadcast Agreement

Sportsnet officially announced their new broadcast contract with the National Hockey League this morning. And the scope of the new deal is much wider than I could have imagined when news of it first broke 12 hours ago. Sportsnet has bought rights to all nationally-broadcast NHL games for 12 seasons beginning next fall. Sportsnet also picks up rights to the NHL All Star Game and Entry Draft. Rogers will also take over operation of NHL Centre Ice and GameCentre Live in Canada. Rogers is paying $5.2 billion for rights to every game for 12 seasons. The NHL will receive approximately $300 million next season, with fees raising to $500 million by the end of the contract.

Coverage on Saturdays and Sundays will begin at 4pm Eastern. Sportsnet has exclusive national coverage on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. Sportsnet will also launch a new studio that will host all NHL on Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts. As part of the deal Rogers will sub-license some Saturday night coverage to the CBC. Two games every Saturday will air on CBC, with the rest airing on Citytv and Sportsnet. This eliminates the need for regional broadcasting. Sportsnet will assume complete creative control over all Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts. This means the future for CBC’s hockey talent is uncertain. It also means that Sportsnet will have the pick of all on-air personalities at TSN and CBC for their new broadcasts. Games will air on CBC, Sportsnet, SN1, SN360, TVA, TVA Sports, TVA Sports 2, as well as other potential channels on Saturday nights.

Keith Pelley, who was key in the plans for how Sportsnet will cover the NHL, was also the head of the Olympic Broadcast Consortium’s Vancouver 2010 coverage. Sportsnet will aim to offer Hockey Night in Canada in a similar fashion with all networks pooling resources and cross-promoting. Pelley set a new standard for Olympic broadcasting in Canada and is looking to do the same for hockey. Since the Sportsnet deal with CBC only came together in the past few days the broadcasters haven’t decided which CBC on-air personalities will transfer over to Sportsnet.

Sportsnet will get to show 30 Leafs games nationally (some could air on CBC) as part of the new agreement. Sportsnet will retain 26 for regional consumption beginning in 2016, with the other 26 airing on TSN regionally.  Since TSN has regional rights to 60 Jets games, the Jets will appear on Sportsnet a maximum of 22 times. It is unclear how many games for each of Canada’s other five teams will air on Sportsnet. TVA will pick up rights to 22 Montreal Canadiens games, most of which will air on their over-the-air channel on Saturday nights.

The sub-licensing deal with the CBC is one of the most intriguing aspects of the deal. The CBC will have around 320 hours of primetime hockey. That probably equates to around 50 regular season games and 50 playoff games. There is no word yet on how CBC and Sportsnet will split-up the playoffs, except that the Stanley Cup Final will air on CBC. The sub-license will last for four years; however, in a news conference Rogers Media President Keith Pelley said that he hopes the deal with CBC can extend beyond four years. The CBC and Sportsnet will also work together to acquire and broadcast other major sports properties. Sub-licensing deals are already in place for the two networks to split the Grand Slam of Curling and 2014 FIFA World Cup.

In a letter to CBC employees President Hubert Lacroix outlined what the four-year deal means for the public broadcaster. CBC will no longer assume any control over production or content, although Sportsnet will consult with them. CBC also will not make any advertising revenue from the broadcasts; however, they also are not paying Rogers or the NHL a cent to show the games. Lacroix also notes that the loss of advertising revenue will mean job losses at the CBC. These additional cuts come on the heels of CBC Sports cutting costs just two years ago due to a lack of funding.

This is a very complex deal and there are many questions that still need asked and answered. It is a complete game-changer in Canadian sports broadcasting and will result in many changes at CBC and TSN. I’ll leave the speculation, and there is lots of it, for a later date (and the comments section). I do plan to look into the effects this deal will have on all networks, but especially the CBC, in the coming weeks.

Onrait and O’Toole A Good Hire for Fox

Onrait and O'Toole with the Prime Minister at last November's Grey Cup (credit: PMO/Jason Ransom)

Onrait and O’Toole with the Prime Minister at last November’s Grey Cup (credit: PMO/Jason Ransom)

Fox aims to do the unthinkable when it launches Fox Sports 1 this August, overtake ESPN as the most watched sports channel in America. And it certainly has a chance. At launch it has MLB (beginning in 2014), NASCAR (including Sprint Cup races in 2015), college football and hoops, just like ESPN. Fox Sports also has UEFA Champions League and FIFA tournaments beginning in 2015. All Fox is missing out on are the big events (minus the World Cup) that ESPN and Turner’s TNT have. ESPN has the BCS, Turner has March Madness. ESPN has weekday coverage of three of golf’s majors, TNT has the other. ESPN also has all four tennis Grand Slams.

Due to the long-term nature of broadcast contracts, there isn’t a lot more Fox can do to compete with ESPN. They can compete with ESPN’s highlight programs though. Late Friday news came that the faces of TSN’s SportsCentre, Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, were leaving TSN for new jobs in Los Angeles along with “Producer Tim”. It was quickly confirmed, as I initially speculated, that these jobs were at Fox for the new nightly news show “Fox Sports Live”, which will air weeknights from from 11pm until 2am Eastern. The new program will compete directly with ESPN’s SportsCenter, something that sports channels in the US are usually reluctant to do.

While SportsCenter is incredibly popular, it does have its faults. There is certainly a base in American looking for something new and refreshing. Fox is known for going against the establishment and trying new things, and gimmicks, in sports broadcasting. Some, like the FoxBox, have stuck. Others, like the glowing puck, not so much. Onrait and O’Toole certainly fit the Fox ideal of different, and yes, at times gimmicky. Not that it usually detracts from their broadcasts. After Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, who also called their SportsCenter “The Big Show”, ESPN would never go for a duo potentially bigger than the network like Onrait and O’Toole.

Last year The Wall Street Journal wrote an article on Onrait and O’Toole asking “Why Can’t We Have Canada’s SportsCentre?”. Now you do, America. And before anyone asks, no I do not know if Fox Sports 1 will be available in Canada.

theScore to Rogers… Last Tuesday the CRTC finalized the sale of theScore Television Network to Rogers. Sportsnet immediately took control of it, although it will go by theScore until a rebrand on Canada Day. Live @ theScore and the Footy Show both ended Monday, without so much as a goodbye. You can read Kristian Jack and James Sharman’s final thoughts on the Footy Show here. A new “Hockey Central Xtra” replaced Live @, airing from 5-6pm Eastern on weeknights with a mix of theScore and Sportsnet on-air talent. Tim and Sid returned to theScore with a simulcast of their Fan 590 radio show on Wednesday. In other immediate changes Monday Night Raw is now live and theScore will have 8 Toronto FC matches this season.

Rogers valued the transaction at $172 million, while Rogers will contribute $17.1 million to a tangible-benefits package for amateur sports in Canada. The CRTC did deny Rogers’ idea of using the tangible benefits package to create a Canadian version of the X Games. The CRTC’s main problem is that in the broadcasting community, Rogers would exclusively benefit from the “Sportsnet Winter Games”. I agree. What’s the point in a required investment to improve amateur sports and broadcasting in Canada if the company paying is the lone company to benefit? As a result, Rogers must submit an alternative plan by the end of the month.

What interests me are the interventions put forward by other media companies. Eastlink asked the CRTC to reclassify theScore as a “mainstream sports service”, similar to TSN, TSN2 or Sportsnet ONE. The CRTC opened up this sector to Canadian competition a few years ago. Previously TSN had protection. theScore enjoys similar protection as a sports news service. Unless Eastlink plans on launching a sports news channel, which seems unlikely, I find this is an odd intervention. Bell’s intervention was also interesting. Bell wanted the new license to include a condition to prevent theScore from tape-delaying programming by 15 minutes to get around live-programming rules imposed on it. theScore has previously done this with Serie A soccer and WWE.

I expect theScore will continue to air mostly basketball, soccer, WWE and college/university/amateur sports. The channel has found a niche with these sports, and I think for the most part Rogers will continue this. Rogers has already bought rights to FIBA basketball tournaments for theScore. Sportsnet has rights to CIS football and basketball games that air on Fox and Fox Sports 1 in the US. The CIS Hockey Championship would also make sense for theScore. There’s also always more room for UEFA Champions League group stage matches. WWE will continue to anchor theScore’s line-up on Monday and Friday. Regardless of whether it’s a sport, it is theScore’s highest-rated program. It consistently competes with Monday Night Football for the best cable ratings on Mondays in the fall. Limitations on the amount of live sports broadcasts will limit how many live games can air on theScore.

One thing I think Sportsnet really needs to capitalize on is the Footy Show’s popularity, even if it is gone. James Sharman, Kristian Jack, Brendan Dunlop, John Molinaro, and Thomas Dobby are all working for the same company again. The best time period for the podcast is when they were on it, in my opinion. Either a podcast or radio show would be great.

Late Starts… Anyone reading this live in St. Louis, Chicago or Minnesota? I hate the idea of 8:30pm local starts in the playoffs just for TV. The NBA does it regularly, but the NHL only started this year. I think one reason for this, aside from pleasing CBC and NBC, is to test the waters for next season when the divisional playoff format begins. One or two series in next year’s first round will feature two Central Time teams. That will create headaches for the NHL with three-quarters of all playoff games in the Eastern or Central time zones. Moving to an NBA-style schedule is one way to fix it. In other news, puckdrop of game 5 of the Kings-Blues series will be at 9pm Eastern, which means CBC will have to miss the first period since it conflicts with the Leafs-Bruins game. No word if cable/satellite providers will make this game available on an alternate channel yet.

Dowbiggin GoneToronto Sports Media is reporting that the Globe & Mail will not re-new Bruce Dowbiggin’s contract. I have heard the same thing. While Bruce could, at times, write a good piece on sports media, I thought his columns took a sharp dive when he began writing mostly about hockey and sports in general. Since Dowbiggin does love to include Tweets in his columns, here’s one to prove my point:

Now before I get into a rant defending Gryba (not on the hit, but in general), I just want to say he had a +28 rating in the minors this year. He was -3 logging 20 minutes a game for the Senators during the regular season. He blocked more than a shot a game, good enough for tenth among rookies. As this Ottawa Citizen article points out, you can’t judge Gryba (or many other defensemen) by their offensive output. Seems obvious, but isn’t to everyone I guess.

The Globe will have other writers write about sports media when needed. Media columnist Steve Ladurantaye already writes about sports media from time to time, while soccer columnist John Doyle has written about Fox Soccer Report and (the lack of) beIN Sport in Canada. While it is sad to see the last regular sports media in a mainstream paper, it wasn’t the same since Bill Houston retired and the Star axed Chris Zelkovich’s column anyway.

New Details on Rogers Takeover of theScore

The CRTC has released new details of the Rogers takeover of the Rogers takeover of theScore Television Network from Score Media. Rogers has petitioned a few changes to the channel’s license to the CRTC. theScore now has to break for sports highlights every 15 minutes (which soccer fans know is awkward). Rogers proposes to change this restriction to an hour during live sports, especially when there is no natural break in action. Rogers is also asking the CRTC to allow 15% of theScore’s quarterly broadcast schedule (or just over 100 hours a month, on average) to come from the “analysis and interpretation” and “long form documentary” categories. This is an increase of 5% from theScore’s current license. This would allow theScore to broadcast more talk shows (such as Live @ theScore) than it can now.

Rogers is also promising to create a “Sportsnet Winter Games”, which will apparently be similar to the Winter X Games. My opinion, if they put this in the right venue, it could become massive. Canada is a force in freestyle skiing and snowboardcross. If they can get more high-profile athletes than FIS World Cup and the Canadian Open halfpipe events, then it could easily become the top skiing/snowboarding event in Canada. This is just another example of networks creating and managing their own original programming. Both TSN (Skins Game) and Sportsnet (Grand Slam) have already done this with curling.

Rogers Applies to Allow MLB Network to Broadcast in Canada

MLB Network’s expansive (and expensive) state-of-the-art studios have garnered critical acclaim in America.

Every once in a while something comes across the wire that just makes you think, “Huh. That’s… interesting”. That statement couldn’t be more true than when I heard that Rogers Communications has applied to allow MLB Network into Canada. Why is it odd? MLB Network almost directly competes against Rogers’ owned Sportsnet from April through October. Both show live games almost every day (sometimes the same games are on both channels). Not to mention that Rogers has a contract with MLB Network to broadcast six hours of MLB Network’s original programming every week on Sportsnet. Currently those programs are Fast Pitch (Monday through Friday) and the Best of Intentional Talk on the weekend. Rogers also once wanted to launch it’s own Canadian version of MLB Network. That was before the CRTC opened up the sports section of Canadian broadcasting, making the launch of Sportsnet One possible in 2010.

The license for the Canadian “Baseball TV” quietly ran out almost a year ago. Even with increased baseball on Sportsnet since the launch of Sportsnet One two summers ago, many baseball fans still want a channel devoted to their favourite sport. Hockey fans get NHL Network (make jokes about TSN also being devoted to only hockey here), basketball fans get NBA TV, soccer fans get GolTV and football fans get NFL Network. Hell, there are even American imports Golf Channel and Speed for even more niche sports. There was always the thought that a Canadian media corporation would sponsor MLB Network in Canada; however, there was no chance for approval without the support of Rogers, who control baseball content in Canada. Now with Rogers backing, and a sure carriage agreement with Canada’s biggest cable TV provider, it doesn’t seem like anything will stop this application from going through.

One thing that does make me wonder though, what is in this for Rogers? Surely MLB Network will only take away viewers from Sportsnet baseball broadcasts. Maybe not a significant number, but I can’t see MLB Network resulting in more baseball fans. If anything large amounts of baseball on Sportsnet will result in more MLB Network subscribers. Surely it has more to do with the cozy relationship between MLB International and Rogers Communications. Rogers owns all English-language MLB broadcast rights in Canada (Sunday Night Baseball is sub-licensed to TSN). The 2009 World Baseball Classic, distributed by MLB International, was also on Sportsnet. Both Major League Baseball and Rogers have a vested interest in the growth of baseball in Canada. I think this is one of the underlying factors in this decision by Rogers.

Here are some quotes from the “MLB Network Application for Addition to the List of Non-Canadian Programming Services Authorized for Distribution” document. I have only posted key points, and I have bolded a few key remarks within those points. The full document is available at the bottom of this article.

It is worth nothing that MLB Network will show 150 live MLB games per season in Canada, if approved. This is different from NFL Network, which has a special Canadian feed with no live games due to rights restrictions.

MLB International understands that, should MLB Network be added to the List, the service would be available to all distribution undertakings in Canada.

MLB Network telecasts up to 150 live Major League Baseball regular-season games as well as a collection of spring training Major League Baseball games. These programs will support and enhance Canadians’ ability to watch Major League Baseball content.

With all these various original programs, MLB Network will complement and promote the Major League Baseball games that are currently telecast on Canadian services, as well as other MLB Network programming offered while satisfying the Canadian demand for more baseball content and coverage of Major League Baseball in Canada.

MLB International submits that a decision to add MLB Network to the List will comply with the Commission’s general policy that non-Canadian services on the List not compete with existing licensed Canadian specialty or pay television services. The programming offered on MLB Network is dedicated solely to Major League Baseball. No pay or specialty television service operating in Canada today dedicates its entire schedule (or even a majority of its schedule) to programming relating to baseball. MLB Network will not be directly competitive, in whole or in part, with any Canadian programming service.

The niche offering and target audience of the MLB Network is comparable to the niche offerings and target audiences of other non-Canadian services devoted to a single sport that have been added to the List. These include the NFL Network, the Golf Channel, and Speed.

There is no significant overlap between the programming distributed on MLB Network and the baseball programming broadcast on Canada’s pay and specialty services.

Currently, some MLB live games are offered by Canadian specialty services. Rogers Sportsnet broadcasts the most live MLB games in English. TSN broadcasts live MLB games in English, and RDS offers some live games in French. MLB International understands that Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., the licensing entity of Major League Baseball, will continue to license MLB games to these distributors if MLB Network is added to the List.

As noted above, of the 2,430 live regular-season games in Major League Baseball, MLB Network only features up to 150. In other words, the percentage of live games offered on MLB Network is minimal compared to the number of live games that are available through Canadian specialty services like Rogers’ Sportsnet. Any overlap in programming is insignificant to consumers today.

To the small extent that there is program overlap in that MLB Network will also provide some live games, it is MLB International’s submission that MLB Network will complement and supplement existing baseball coverage and grow interest in the sport of baseball in Canada.

Between now and July 13 you can submit comments to the CRTC on whether MLB Network should be approved for carriage in Canada or not. You can do so by agreeing to the terms and filling out the submission form here.

You can read the entire MLB Network submission to the CRTC here (note: it is in PDF format).