The Bell Centre in Montreal will play host to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
MONTREAL – Let’s see here. Hockey Night in Canada pays the NHL $110 million a year. Meanwhile, NBC pays, well, bupkis.
So you’d think, wouldn’t you, that would mean the NHL might just once in a while throw a bone to the CBC and the people who actually watch the games. But as is almost always the case with the NHL, you’d be wrong.
If there were ever any doubt the NHL has almost no regard for Canadians and the network that broadcasts games to them, let there be doubt no more. The league’s decision to cater to NBC by having Game 4 of the Montreal-Philadelphia Eastern Conference final at 3 p.m. Saturday is nothing short of an outrage.
You see, the Saturday night slot for Hockey Night in Canada is sacrosanct. The last time the league pulled this, in Game 2 of the first round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Canadiens, CBC lost 800,000 viewers. There are those at CBC who reckon that number will be up well over one million for this one. That’s because Canadiens aren’t hard-wired to watch hockey on a Saturday afternoon and, as it turns out, they won’t all watch it regardless of what time it’s on.
Nice, eh? The league gives priority times to a network that would probably draw about the same numbers as it would if it showed old strongman competitions or tractor pulls at the same time. Meanwhile, people in British Columbia get treated to Hockey Morning in Canada, all in the name of catering to American viewers. To add insult to injury, NBC had apparently originally planned to not air any of the games in Montreal during the playoffs, but has since backtracked on that decision.
And don’t think the people at the CBC aren’t incensed at how they’ve essentially been told by the NHL they’re second-class citizens. You’d think the NHL would realize the CBC recoups that $110 million it gives the league with ad revenues, but again, you’d be wrong. Cutting out that many viewers by putting the game on in the afternoon puts a serious dent in the rates CBC can charge advertisers, so it makes far less money. And if you think the NHL will make that up with increased revenues from advertisers on NBC, you’re dreaming.
And when it comes to league-wide hockey-related revenues, something that should get the league’s attention, just how many more $10 beers does the NHL think it’s going to sell by putting a game on at 3 p.m. as opposed to 7 p.m.?
When games are played in Montreal, traditionally Reseau des Sports gets first priority in terms of camera positioning, intermission guests and access to the teams. CBC is second and NBC is third. In all other Canadian cities, CBC gets top priority and in all American cities, top priority goes to NBC, with CBC second in the pecking order.
Some at CBC are anxious to see what the pecking order will be for Saturday’s game. Chances are, though, they’ll show up at the rink on Saturday to find out the league is rolling out a red carpet and hiring a marching band for NBC and they’ll have to be pleased with getting Ryan O’Byrne as an intermission guest.
After all, the NHL has already established with which network it wants to get into bed. And it’s not the CBC, which has only been its broadcast partner since the days of radio.
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