Games on more channels, Don Cherry on more channels

Ryan Kennedy

CBC has the reputation, Rogers has the money. While that may be a simplification of hockey’s new TV landscape in Canada, it is the biggest takeaway from today’s huge news that Rogers Communications has paid $5.2 billion in exchange for the NHL’s broadcasting rights in Canada for the next 12 years. CBC will still televise games for at least the next four years, but will gain no revenue from the airings of games.

As Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio Canada noted, the crown corporation also won’t be paying for NHL rights now, but it still seems like a big loss for the network.

“To speak candidly,” Lacroix said, “CBC was not in a position to spend the taxpayers’ money in this high-stakes game. This is how we needed to go forward.”

Considering many in the industry thought CBC would lose hockey altogether when its deal came up this summer, this is a sort of callow victory.

For fans of the game, the future is cloudy, but full of options, according to both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and several Rogers execs.

“We wanted the most options for viewing in the future,” Bettman said. “Nobody’s exactly sure what the world is going to look like in the next few years. I still watch games on a big-screen TV, but my grandchildren watch on tablets and their phones.”

The biggest development is that the days of regional Saturday night games are dead. Now, fans can watch those marquee matchups on different channels no matter where they live. Maybe Ottawa is on CBC, but Toronto is playing on CityTV, while Calgary is playing Pittsburgh on Sportsnet.

TVA will take over French-Canadian rights from RDS and will show at least 22 Montreal Canadiens games per year, if not more. Rogers also takes over the NHL’s Centre Ice and Game Centre Live packages for out-of-market games, though execs were cagey on what that will look like moving forward. Internet streaming and radio rights are also part of the deal.

“Pay-per-view, a la carte, pick and pay; they will all evolve over time,” said Nadir Mohamed, president and CEO of Rogers.

As for the iconic Hockey Night in Canada program, you may be seeing its brand on several different channels now, though the plan for the first four years is to have the Stanley Cup final on CBC in order to maximize national reach.

This flexibility also means you could be seeing Don Cherry on Sportsnet or CityTV, not just CBC. Though the group did not speculate on roster decisions, the future of ‘Grapes’ did not look to be in jeopardy.

“He is a great talent and a great friend,” Bettman said. “There is no Sword of Damocles hanging above him.”

Much is yet to be determined about the future of hockey on Canadian TV, but the landscape is definitely changing. TSN has been shockingly cut out of the NHL broadcast game completely, while CBC is now a figurehead. Can the Sportsnet crew and Rogers step up their game now that they’ve finally won that spotlight?