TORONTO — Canada’s hockey TV landscape underwent a seismic shift Tuesday as Rogers Communications wrested control of NHL multimedia rights with a blockbuster 12-year, $5.2-billion agreement that will preserve Hockey Night in Canada but limit CBC’s role in the iconic broadcast.
The deal, the largest in NHL history, gives Rogers national rights to all NHL games, including the playoffs and Stanley Cup final, on all of its platforms in all languages.
“It will be the NHL like never before,” Rogers Media president Keith Pelley promised at a packed news conference Tuesday, touting a “transformational day” for the industry, as well as Rogers’ position as a sports broadcasting titan.
A sub-licensing agreement with CBC allows the public broadcaster to continue airing Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights for four years, while TVA in Quebec earned all of the Canadian French-language multi-media rights. But the Rogers coup includes rights to the venerable Hockey Night in Canada brand, allowing Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) to air the weekly staple across all of its platforms, including City and Sportsnet.
“Sometimes it’s almost surreal — acquiring the most coveted content in all of Canada, and there is nothing even close, which is the national rights to Hockey Night in Canada,” Pelley told reporters after the news conference.
“And that’s pretty exciting but it’s daunting and overwhelming at the same time.”
The agreement guarantees that there will be no further regionalization of games or local blackouts. Rogers has three exclusive windows to broadcast any game involving a Canadian team — Wednesday nights, Saturday nights (including the weekly match-ups on CBC) and Sunday nights.
The deal is a devastating blow to rival sports network TSN and to the beleaguered CBC, which gives up lucrative hockey revenues that have traditionally subsidized its slate of original Canadian programming.
And even though Hockey Night in Canada will continue to be a staple, it’s likely to undergo a radical new look.
“From next year on, the content of that show, whatever features are being done, that’s a Rogers responsibility and you know what, it’s kind of fair, they just paid $5.2 billion for 12 years for that,” CBC president Hubert Lacroix said following the announcement.
He outlined the shift in an internal memo to staff, noting that “starting next year, Rogers will assume all editorial control (all editorial decisions with respect to the content, on-air talent and the creative direction of HNIC — we have the right to be consulted and there is a commitment to excellence) under the new agreement.”
He added that it wasn’t “the outcome we had hoped for,” confirming there will be job losses, though not as many as there would have been had they lost the NHL altogether.
Lacroix said at the news conference that the NHL had high financial expectations and the CBC was “not in a position to spend taxpayers money on this game of high stakes.”
While CBC will no longer make money from Hockey Night in Canada, Lacroix said airing the games will still be good for the public broadcaster.
“We think the ability to still have Hockey Night in Canada is something important to us . . . and that’s what we get out of this,” he said.
He notes the deal allows CBC to promote its programming in primetime across all Rogers networks, giving homegrown series unprecedented profile to reach new audiences.
“So when you’re going to see a minute promoting ’Cracked’ or promoting ’Arctic Air’ or the ’Dragons’ it’s going to be something that’s not only going to be on our network but it’s going to be on all the other networks,” he said.
Nevertheless, Lacroix acknowledged that lucrative hockey profits will no longer be available to help fund original series such as Republic of Doyle and Mr. D.
He said discussions were underway to possibly generate income in other ways, should CBC partner up with Rogers in the production of Hockey Night in Canada.
“Then if they use some of our resources — and we have different agreements going on right now — it will be something that will either be paid in kind or in services or in cash.”
The ramifications of the deal are myriad and ongoing. For example, Pelley floated the possibility of CBC newscasts airing on City, for example, after a game.
The deal also is raising questions about the future of CBC’s talent, especially Don Cherry. Pelley said it was too soon to answer those questions.
“Over the next months and years, we will evaluate all facets of our production and our programming, certainly in consultation with CBC regarding ’Hockey Night in Canada,”’ said Pelley.
In his internal memo, Lacroix said the CBC had been in conversation with the league for several months.
TSN will be severely impacted by the blockbuster agreement, although it still has some regional deals.
“We congratulate the NHL on this announcement,” said Bell Media vice-president of communications Scott Henderson.
“We submitted a bid we believed was valuable for the NHL and appropriate for our business, but were ultimately outbid.”
Henderson said TSN would have 10 Leafs games next season under a regional agreement and that, starting in 2015, the network would have 26 regional Leafs games. TSN also has a deal for over 60 regional Jets games through 2021.
The deal could put the iconic “Hockey Night in Canada” theme song in limbo. TSN has owned the rights to the jingle since 2008. Pelley said he couldn’t comment on the song except to say it’s not part of the deal “for obvious reasons.”
Rogers CEO and president Nadir Mohamed said the new agreement makes sense for Rogers, which has made sports investments a priority.
“We’ve had a focus on sports for the last few years,” he said. “I talked about the investments we’ve made, whether it’s the Jays, the MLSE, investment, The Score, regional rights to hockey. So really, in some ways, this is the icing on the cake.”
“Categorically this is positive for shareholders at Rogers,” he added. “It’s a financially good deal for us.”
The deal is subject to approval by the NHL board of governors, which meets Dec. 9 and 10 in Pebble Beach, Calif.
Rogers, NHL insist deal will be good for hockey fans but benefits not clear
TORONTO — Rogers and the NHL insist their new 12-year deal for Canadian TV and digital rights will be good for hockey fans, although the details of how exactly consumers will benefit isn’t yet clear.
While it’s assumed Rogers outbid its rivals by paying $5.2 billion in the agreement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the decision also hinged on the media powerhouse’s wide-ranging plans to broadcast NHL content.
TV subscribers could get access to more games without having to pay for the premium Centre Ice package, while even so-called cord cutters — who have cancelled their TV plans and rely on free over-the-air signals or streamed content — will be well served by Rogers, suggested Bettman.
“What we tried to do with this arrangement was ensure that our games would be carried — into the future as technology is changing — with the most number of options: whether or not it’s over-the-air TV, whether or not it’s cable, whether or not it’s streaming, whether or not it’s on mobile,” Bettman said.
“We wanted to ensure that our fans would have access to our games no matter what platform they were interested in, or what platform may develop. We may be looking at things in the course of this deal that don’t currently exist.”
A provision of the deal will see CBC-TV’s iconic Hockey Night in Canada show stay with the public broadcaster for at least four years, which means it will continue to be available for free over the air and with even the most basic cable and satellite TV plans.
But a Rogers spokeswoman said the arrangement with the CBC doesn’t include digital rights, so Hockey Night in Canada will no longer be streamed on cbc.ca starting with the 2014-15 season. And CBC’s mobile apps for Hockey Night in Canada will be transferred to Rogers’ ownership.
Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media, said hockey fans will likely have more viewing options on Saturday nights as a number of Rogers channels will carry NHL games.
Even over-the-air viewers may end up getting access to more games.
City, which is available over the air in some cities, may carry NHL action on Saturdays, along with Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360.
“The goal will be to carry all the games on Saturday,” said Pelley.
“You can see the plethora of outlets we have to give consumers just an unbelievable offering on Saturdays.”
Nadir Mohamed, the outgoing CEO of Rogers Communications, hinted that with TV providers being pressured to offer unbundled channels to consumers on an a la carte basis, the company will be well positioned with several channels regularly carrying NHL games.
“I think it’s a little premature to think about how exactly that world will shape up but it’s a world that ultimately consumers will define and we hope we can do this in a way that supports that desire,” Mohamed said.
“I think if you look at the world going forward, and remember this is a 12-year deal, it’s really important that we don’t get caught up with legacy kinds of thoughts, the way pricing (currently) works. Pay per view, a la carte, pick and pay, those will evolve over time and I think the key thing to go back to is to offer more Canadians more choice.”
Rogers gets insurance policy against losing TV, wireless customers with NHL deal
MONTREAL — Rogers Communications’ exclusive $5.2-billion deal with the National Hockey League is seen as a “strategic coup” in the fight by telecom companies to stop the drift of customers away from traditional wireless and cable TV providers.
In a deal that stretches for the next 12 years, the Toronto-based telecom company received national rights to all games, including the playoffs and Stanley Cup final, on all its platforms in all languages.
Macquarie Securities Group analyst Greg MacDonald called it a “strategic coup,” saying it’s like an insurance policy for Rogers as it becomes more difficult to pull in cable TV and wireless subscribers. “But more importantly it ensures control of the most valuable live content in the Canadian market for the long term, which benefits wireless economics,” MacDonald said in a research note.
Sports marketing instructor Vijay Setlur said the deal is aimed at the mobile device customers.
“For the sports fan who has got the full ensemble of television packages like digital cable, it’s fine, they’ll get everything,” he said. “But with Rogers controlling everything, perhaps, many people will have to restore their cable service to get that content on their mobile devices given that Rogers controls all of that.” said Setlur,
The deal begins with the 2014-2015 hockey season and leaves Bell’s sports channel TSN out of the mix.
“We submitted a bid we believed was valuable for the NHL and appropriate for our business, but were ultimately outbid,” Bell Media spokesman Scott Henderson said.
Henderson wouldn’t say if there will be job losses at TSN as a result of the deal, but added Bell is open to Rogers selling some rights to broadcast playoff games.
“We’ve worked successfully with other broadcasters in the past in delivering hockey, Olympics and other sports content and would be open to doing so here,” Henderson said.
Rogers’ deal to acquire NHL hockey content comes about six months after competitor Bell won regulatory approval to buy up a number of Astral’s Media’s TV and radio stations in a $3.4-billion acquisition.
TSN says it has no plans to give up rights to theme
TORONTO — TSN has been largely shut out of the blockbuster deal on NHL hockey broadcast rights, but it says it’s hanging on to the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme.
The specialty sports TV channel says it has no plans to relinquish rights to the famous jingle, which it has been using to usher in its hockey broadcasts since 2008. TSN still has regional rights to air some Toronto Maple Leafs games through 2015 and Winnipeg Jets matches through 2021.
TSN spokesman Greg McIsaac says the network plans to keep using the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme song moving forward. TSN bought the song from the composer in 2008.
Not much known about fate of HNIC personalities
TORONTO — Now that Rogers is taking control of Hockey Night in Canada, NHL fans may be wondering what the new arrangement means for Don Cherry.
CBC’s iconic hockey broadcast will remain on TV for at least the next four years, despite a new agreement between Rogers Communications and the NHL. But CBC will not have editorial control, which raises questions about the future of CBC personalities like Cherry and his Coach’s Corner sidekick Ron MacLean.
MacLean said he wasn’t sure how the agreement may impact him, but he thinks the new agreement is good for hockey.
“I was happy for whoever happens to be working on the show, even if it isn’t me,” he said. “I think that’s great and I think the $5.2-billion deal is tremendous for the league and the players. It just shows what hockey in Canada has meant. It’s a great day.”
Rogers president Keith Pelley said it was too early to discuss the future of Cherry and other faces of “Hockey Night in Canada.”
Pelley said that whoever appears on the flagship Saturday night show will be available to appear on all the channels that are currently part of the new Rogers deal, including any CBC personalities who stay on.
“Don is an iconic Canadian, and the CBC personalities that they have, from Jim Hughson to Bob Cole, are all legends,” Pelley said.
“We haven’t even started the discussion regarding editorial with CBC.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman later clarified Pelley’s statement, acknowledging that Cherry is a popular figure in Canadian hockey and that his part in the new landscape of Canadian hockey broadcasting will be considered seriously.
“Don Cherry is a great talent and a good friend, and obviously it’s somebody who we take very seriously as part of the game, and ultimately it’s something we’ll discuss,” he said. “But I didn’t want anybody to take Keith’s very well said comment to somehow represent the sword of Damocles, because I don’t think it was that.”
MacLean noted that the show has been produced in the past by a series of outside companies, even though it aired on the CBC.
And while he doesn’t know what role he will have going forward, if any, the arrangement that will see it air on CBC is similar to those that existed previously.
“Really it will be like that, obviously it’s Rogers, they will now take on the role, but it’s sort of back to square one for me from the 1980s when the show was produced by an outside entity and ran on CBC.”
MacLean even joked that he had earlier offered one suggestion to the Rogers executives who will be taking control. He said he told them if they ever had “Hockey Night in Canada” they should insist on sartorial control, not editorial control, referring to Cherry’s colourful wardrobe.
Cherry joined “Hockey Night in Canada” full-time in 1981 and CBC started the “Coach’s Corner” segment shortly after his arrival.