More junior hockey, more football, more darts?
TSN has no shortage of sports to air after losing the Canada-wide rights to National Hockey League games. But it's hard to replace the weekly audiences and advertising revenues of the coast-to-coast NHL hockey games it broadcasts on Wednesday nights.
The network, which is majority owned by BCE Inc.'s Bell Media division, is trying to fill a big hole in next season's schedule after Rogers Communications Inc. won a 12-year, $5.2-billion deal for television and digital rights with the NHL, elevating its Sportsnet channels to the country's leading hockey broadcaster.
TSN lost the right, beginning next season, to nationally broadcast about 70 NHL games a year, in addition to several playoff games.
Hockey isn't the only game for TSN, the country's most-watched specialty channel. Its broadcast rights include the National Football League, Canadian Football League, Toronto Raptors and U.S. college basketball's championship tournament, known as March Madness, in addition to big-league soccer, golf, tennis and car racing.
Media industry observers say the network could bid for expanded or new rights to all these events, but hockey is still the cash cow of Canadian sports – and it will be hard to make up for the loss of so many NHL games over a full season.
"There are other things and there's other content that will require them to regroup and repackage and refocus," said Gord Hendren, president of Charlton Strategic Research.
Scott Henderson, a Bell Media spokesman, said he would not comment for competitive reasons on how TSN would replace its NHL broadcasts. The network draws an average 482,000 viewers for national NHL games it shows on TSN and TSN2, he said.
A typical day of TSN programming includes several hours of morning replays of Sportscentre, its daily news and highlights show, followed by darts or fishing shows, then more panel shows and at least two hockey-focused news programs. There is a live game each night: this week's roster included the Grey Cup, NFL, Raptors basketball and boxing. This week's hockey broadcast featured Toronto against Pittsburgh, followed by Chicago versus Calgary.
Sports marketing consultant Bob Stellick said TSN should take a big stab at winning the rights to more regional NHL games, given hockey is the "crown jewel" of Canadian sports. Unaffected by the Rogers deal were TSN's regional rights to broadcast games by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets.
Mr. Stellick said local broadcasts would not generate enough revenue to pay for all the talent TSN currently has, but the network would still be viable.
"If I were TSN I would be contacting each of the Canadian NHL teams' presidents and saying, 'I want to make sure you understand how seriously we're in the mix when your local rights come up. … We're going to be bidding extremely actively,'" Mr. Stellick said.
Mr. Stellick compared TSN's predicament to that of Labatt, the beer maker that lost the NHL sponsorship rights to Molson almost three years ago. Since then, Labatt has managed to win smaller ad deals and local sponsorship with teams, and has maintained the ties to hockey that are seen as key to selling beer.
Mr. Henderson said the company would consider paying Rogers for the NHL playoff games it lost. "We've worked successfully with other broadcasters in delivering hockey, Olympics and other sports content and would be open to doing so here," he said.
BCE is a minority owner of The Globe and Mail.
TSN's average audience per game
1. World Juniors hockey – 1.4 million
2. CFL – 704,000
3. Curling – 516,000
4. NFL – 495,000
5. NHL – 482,000
6. NASCAR – 333,000
7. U.S. college football – 321,000
8. Golf Majors – 290,000
TSN biggest broadcasts by audience
1. 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship: Gold Medal Game - 6.1 Million
2. 201 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship: Gold Medal Game - 5.4 million
3. 100th Grey Cup - 5.4 million
4. 98th Grey Cup - 5.1 million
5. 97th Grey Cup - 5 million
6. 101st Grey Cup – 4.5 million
7. 99th Grey Cup - 4.3 million
8. 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship: Semi-Final Game - 4 million
9. 2009 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship Gold Medal Game – 3.7 million
10. 2009 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship: Preliminary Game - 3.4 million
Source: Bell Media