The National Hockey League plans to stretch out its playoff season through to the end of June to make up for a shortened season, broadcast executives have been told, posing challenges for networks who usually shift their programming away from hockey as the weather warms.
The regular season is set to end at the beginning of May, and the last playoff game could be played on June 25th under the scheduling being considered by the league. The late playoff run is particularly challenging for Rogers Media, which is fielding its most potentially competitive Toronto Blue Jays in years and will have trouble fitting both NHL games and baseball games onto its collection of sports channels.
The company has five regional Sportsnet channels it uses to show NHL games in local markets, and each has a smaller “feeder” station associated with it that can be used to broadcast overflow programming and meet its contractual obligations to show a set number of games. Rogers may also be able to move some games to its recently acquired Score channel, if the deal is approved as expected early this year by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. But it is limited in what it can show on the score – roughly one live broadcast a day, and it must be interrupted every 15 minutes for sports updates.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which has exclusive rights on Saturday nights with Hockey Night In Canada, is also considering adding a number of games to its schedule in order to make up for the games it lost in the first half of the season and meet its contractual obligations.
In a normal year, the public broadcaster orders enough comedy and drama series to take it up to the start of the playoffs in the second week of April. That means it could find itself forced to run repeats on the six nights a week it had planned to show playoff hockey – so it may opt to run additional regular season games rather than reruns.
TSN, which has exclusive rights for Wednesday night, said it will have to wait until the schedule is released before commenting.