No matter if the point of delivery is smartphone, tablet, streaming over a computer or – the old-fashioned way – a TV, beginning next season, there will be no shutouts for fans when it comes to watching their favourite NHL teams, the new Canadian broadcast-rights holder says.
“It’s a game changer for sports broadcasting,” Rogers Communications Inc. president and chief executive officer Nadir Mohamed said Tuesday, when details of the 12-year, $5.2-billion partnership with the NHL were unveiled during a news conference at the company’s downtown Toronto head office.
All the big players were on hand for the announcement, including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media Inc.
Bettman was seated on a raised stage beside a gleaming Stanley Cup, where it was noted how good the optics looked.
“And I didn’t get booed,” Bettman retorted, obviously enjoying the moment, having put his stamp on what is the largest media-rights deal in NHL history.
It marks the first time a premium North American-wide sports league has granted all of its national (Canadian) rights to one company on a long-term basis. (The deal, which would take effect for the 2014-15 season, must still be approved by the NHL board of governors when it next meets Dec. 9-10.)
The move makes sense, Bettman says, given the number of options the public has when it comes to watching live sporting events.
“We want a relationship where we and our partner will have the flexibility to move among platforms, because people, particularly of varying ages, are consuming their entertainment differently than they ever did before, and differently by age.” the commissioner said. “People my age [Bettman is 61] still rely on a big-screen TV. Our kids, my grandkids, are watching on tablets and phones.
“And 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.”
What will change most for a Canadian fan whose favourite NHL team is one of the seven Canadian franchises will be the ability to watch their team no matter where they live.
Under the new deal, Rogers will have exclusive national broadcasting rights for all games involving a Canadian team on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
All the games will be carried live, from coast to coast, with no regional blackouts – utilizing the media giant’s stable of broadcasting assets, which includes up to nine cable TV channels, plus digital and radio on any given night.
Those games that begin around the same time will go head-to-head for national viewership. That means, for example, on a Saturday when a Toronto Maple Leafs home game would often be the only option for viewers in Southern Ontario, a Habs fan would be able to switch channels and watch the Montreal Canadiens play.
“If there are four or five games on, on Saturday night at the same time, no matter where you are in Canada you can flip between games. You can stay on the game that you’re most interested in,” Bettman said. “If one game gets out of hand and another game is going into overtime, you can watch that.
“That’s why we’ve been saying this is so pro fan, because we’re going to give the fan more options than they’ve ever had to consume NHL hockey.”
And for those who love the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada brand that has dominated hockey’s landscape on Saturday nights for 60 years, fear not. The brand will live on, only now it will be expanded across the Rogers platform.
Rogers has agreed to multiyear sub-licensing agreements with both the CBC and Quebecor Inc.’s TVA Sports, which will oversee all national, French-language NHL multimedia rights.
“Hockey Night in Canada is an iconic brand and it was important to us that it will continue,” Pelley said. “And that’s the reason we chose CBC as a partner. As part of a multiyear deal, CBC will continue airing Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights, as well as the playoffs. But in addition, the Hockey Night in Canada brand will also live on Rogers channels and platforms every Saturday, including City and Sportsnet.”
“It will be the NHL like never before.”
The CBC will get to broadcast games into the playoffs and continue to show the Stanley Cup final, Pelley says, however, it might have to share some of the limelight.
“If, in fact, a Canadian team was to make it to the Stanley Cup finals it wouldn’t be out of the question” the series was also covered by one of Rogers other channels, Pelley said.
It would be a situation similar to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, when the gold-medal men’s hockey game between Canada and the United States was simulcast on 11 different networks and broadcast in 22 languages.
“We would certainly look at that option,” Pelley said. “But our plan is to have the finals on CBC.”
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