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The Globe and Mail

U.S. broadcasters have assumed risk of losing prime markets

Any discount for the potential loss of NHL teams in Phoenix and Atlanta to Canadian markets has already been built into the league's 10-year, $2-billion (U.S.) television deal with NBC and American cable giant Comcast Corp.

According to sources, NBC/Comcast has no recourse for compensation should the Phoenix Coyotes, Atlanta Thrashers or any other troubled franchise decamp. The possibility of losing Phoenix (No. 12 media market in the U.S.) or Atlanta (No. 7) is an assumed risk in the deal.

That means the need to placate U.S. network TV should not be a consideration as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tries one final time to locate an investor with $170-million burning a hole in his/her pocket to save the bankrupt Coyotes.

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Of greater concern to Bettman is the impatience of large markets in his league for funding perennial sink holes such as Phoenix.

While owners are content, if not ecstatic, over the broadcast deal brokered by Bettman, some of the teams paying (via revenue sharing) to prop up any one of a half-dozen troubled franchises are telling the commissioner it's time to take the game to markets where there's some expectation of profit.

That includes Southern Ontario, where the Toronto Maple Leafs are battling to keep competition out of their territory.


Initial criticism of the broadcast deal was the NHL gave away too much for too long (10 years) at too low a price ($6.6-million per team annually). The sale of digital rights, in particular, seemed to be too dear a price, according to some.

But most broadcast-rights deals being written these days are for longer terms to accommodate deals with network affiliates. The NHL's broadcast partners, meanwhile, were willing to pay a premium for a longer deal as well as for exclusivity, particularly at playoff time.

As for the digital side, all TV rights deals now are including game rights across all forms of media so new technologies won't dilute the value of the rights over time. The NHL followed the trend.

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It's going to be interesting in the next Major League Baseball TV contract negotiations to see whether commissioner Bud Selig can hang onto the sport's lucrative digital package or if he has to cede it to a broadcaster to get a deal done.

Finally, an unreported aspect of the deal announced last Tuesday is the NHL gets international media and streaming rights back.

Comcast held those rights in the previous contract. That revenue could amount to as much as $15-million annually for the league.


Missing from the teleconference to announce the deal last Tuesday was any discussion of NHL participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. NBC has had the broadcast rights to every Olympics with NHL participation since 1998, but the U.S. rights to Sochi are still up for bid.

There are rumours NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol is having trouble convincing his new partners at Comcast to shell out for the 2014 Games after losing money in 2010 at Vancouver. If NBC does get the TV rights, assume the NHL will follow with a commitment to participate.

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An ongoing problem remains the inability of NHL executives to articulate their controversial policies without blowing a gasket. Commissioner Gary Bettman regularly does this with Ron MacLean on Hockey Night in Canada. Director of hockey operations Colin Campbell went with a tired harangue on Wednesday, about TSN Radio 1050 hosts James Cybulski and Dave Feschuk of not watching enough hockey.

Bettman, asked on Sportsnet Fan 590 on Wednesday about the possible move to Winnipeg, snapped that Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos knows nothing and that Phoenix's Goldwater Institute effectively killed Glendale's bond issue - that was news, coming from his lips. Meanwhile, Campbell, asked about the suspension policy, parenthetically revealed that left wing David Steckel's employers, the Washington Capitals, think he's soft and doesn't hit enough - not an opinion a league exec would normally express.

Both Bettman and Campbell did their cause no good with their quarrelsome, put-upon tone in the radio hits.

Campbell, in particular, picked fights unprofessionally with Cybulski and Feschuk, saying he is "pissed off" with the know-nothings who criticize him. TSN, Sportsnet and the CBC pay millions to league for broadcast rights only to have Campbell and Bettman treat them like imbeciles.

Instead of kvetching about anonymous general managers, nettlesome reporters or players' goofball comments, NHL officials need to ask why the media and public are still confused over their judgments. Maybe, just maybe, the problem is the messenger.

Watch NBA commissioner David Stern play his media like a Stradivarius. It can be done.


Maybe Campbell needs to adopt Mike Bossy's laid-back attitude. The Hall of Famer and New York Islanders legend tweeted he was taking a one-night pass this week. "I'm a huge hockey fan but Wednesday is American Idol … yes I'm an Idol fan."

Because of his stance, Bossy missed country music star Vince Gill leading the Nashville crowd in chanting "[Anaheim Ducks forward Corey]Perry is a sissy," after Carrie Underwood (Predators forward Mike Fisher's wife) performed a song at the Bridgestone Arena.


What was CBC thinking at the conclusion of the Phoenix-Detroit series? With the demise of the Coyotes the overriding story, you'd have thought the network would milk the crowd, catch the emotion of the players as they saluted the fans. Instead, the producers went to a rote interview with Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who had better story sense than the Corp., waiting for the Coyotes to finish their crowd salute before continuing with the "How does it feel?" interview. Talk about burying the lead and the Coyotes at the same time.


Three times within the last couple of days Toronto-based reporters referred to New York's arena as "Madison Square Gardens." Singular, please. Maple Leaf Gardens. Madison Square Garden. Boston Garden. Rose Garden (Portland). Thank you.

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