Sportsnet has good bleeping news for Canadian hockey fans – its documentary series featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings as they prepare for an outdoor showdown will debut in December with only one small modification from the format that made it a hit on HBO.
"We're not going to sanitize it at all," said Scott Moore, president of broadcasting at Rogers Media. "With one exception – we will bleep out the f-bombs. We won't edit anything else out or sanitize it, because viewers these days are used to that type of thing."
The Emmy-winning show – 24/7: Road to the NHL Winter Classic – will run in four parts on Sunday nights starting Dec. 15 with a Monday rerun on City. It provides a behind-the-scenes look into the preparations for an outdoor game on New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium.
One of the highlights of past seasons has been the foul-mouthed players and coaches losing their minds in the dressing room, and some viewers have worried the series would lose its appeal if Rogers Media insisted on changes to make it more palatable for prime time consumption, given that it will now reach 8.8 million subscribers on Sportsnet compared to the 1.1 million that had access when it ran on HBO Canada.
It would appear that will not happen. It ran a similar series last year when the lockout prevented the series from going ahead, but focused on junior hockey and the Saskatoon Blades and didn't hear many complaints about the language from viewers (although the league wasn't particularly pleased with its players conduct).
"If you watched that then you know there's a lot of language in there," Mr. Moore said. "The league basically said 'This is great entertainment but boy we are not all that happy with our players being represented as swearing all the time.' But that's the reality of teenage boys in a locker room."
There will be one other difference – the series will feature advertising for the first time. Sportsnet said it sold out the series quickly, with Molson Canadian, Tim Hortons, Recharge with Milk and Ford F-150 signing on as title sponsors.
Americans will still see the show on HBO, with plenty of swearing and no commercials. That channel isn't available in Canada - HBO Canada does not own the broadcast rights.
The series airs as the future of another key hockey property continues to hang in the balance. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has held exclusive Saturday night rights since 1953, but its deal expires at the end of this season and the NHL is believed to be asking for $200-million a season over a 10-year deal.
The negotiations come as the CBC deals with budget cuts, and could present an opening for rivals CTV and Rogers to outbid the CBC and move the game to another network. The league is also trying to sell exclusive rights to a Sunday night game – something Rogers could be interested in pursuing to bolster its roster of NHL rights that already includes 250 games a season across its Sportsnet channels.
None of the broadcasters would comment on the negotiations.
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