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December 4, 2013 | 3:08pm ET

Long Live the King
 The new NHL television deal creates a big opportunity at the home of the deposed monarch.

LOS ANGELES, CA -- Last week a shocking development in the hockey television landscape was dropped on us all. The NHL chose to give Rogers Communications an early Christmas present by granting them the television rights for national telecasts for the next dozen years.

To the victors at Sportsnet went the spoils, including a nationally televised love-fest/press conference that had the tone of a Civil War victory after party.

We've seen glimpses of the rivalry between Sportsnet and TSN and it's got nothing on Habs-Leafs. From a misplaced Twitter direct message by Nick Kypreos to Darren Millard sprouting his peacock feathers when the deal was made official, there couldn't be a sweeter victory for Rogers.

Though the deal doesn't go into effect until next season, there have been some immediate surface changes, specifically with hockey's crown jewel, CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.

In the seconds after the deal was announced, speculation started about the destiny of iconic Donald S. Cherry and his Coach's Corner. Whether or not you like his bombastic style, if you're more than a casual hockey fan, you're lying if you say you've never watched the 10 minutes of television gold he produced weekly.

With Rogers soon making talent decisions, Cherry is at risk and the rest of the analyst roster couldn't have been cheered by the presence of Kypreos in the game's second intermission. His appearance had little to do with breaking news; it was a smart gesture to the new bosses soon to arrive.

That's what $5.2 billion CDN gets you.

There's no doubt that Sportsnet will have to raise its game if they are going to live up to the company line that this deal will be great for the fans. There's a reason they've run second to TSN for so long, their production values are inferior and pound-for-pound their analysts don't match up with the likes of Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Aaron Ward and the rest of the crew.

I doubt the bad feelings the long-standing rivalry created will be helpful if Rogers chooses to recruit the large majority of the analysts that are on one-year deals (McKenzie and Dreger have long term deals). There's even a question if there are any loonies left in the Rogers corporate piggy bank to make any upgrades.

It's not like TSN will fold up their hockey nets and solely concentrate on curling. Maybe James Duthie gets recruited to sports host oblivion like his former running mates Jay O'Toole and Jay Onrait in sunny Southern California to form the television version of Rush. Maybe Ward comes out of retirement and plays a year in the KHL for $5 million. Maybe the Quizmaster becomes a guest lecturer at Ryerson.

I'm betting they don't, because I see a huge opportunity for TSN in the aftermath of the NHL-Rogers boardroom dealing.

The talent and resources the network possesses is its strength and with the possibility of picking up regional broadcasts of the Habs long-term (along with its RDS network) and Senators (Rogers' deal with the Sens expires after this season) in addition to their current deals with the Jets and Leafs (roughly 24-30 games per year) means there will be plenty of puck being broadcast to the masses.

If I'm running Bell Media, I take a page of out of the ESPN NFL playbook. The "Worldwide Leader in Sports" is leveraged heavily on NFL, the unquestioned American pastime in the 21st century. They provide hours upon hours of content despite airing one (1) NFL game a week and half the games on Monday Night Football are dogs (key matchup between 5-7 Giants and 3-9 Redskins as Exhibit A). The lack of live games doesn't prevent them from producing a four-hour pregame show every Sunday with five panelists. It's no barrier to producing NFL Matchup, NFL Live or likely sometime in the future NFL Sumo Wrestling.

That's because ESPN understands it's not about the games, it's about THE GAME.

If TSN produced a four-hour pre-game show on Saturdays from 3-7PM would viewers watch? It already happens in the U.S. on Sunday mornings with not one but two networks. Neither ESPN nor the NFL Network offer live games, yet the majority of fans flip back-and-forth regularly and both outlets get a three hour jump on the FOX and CBS pre-game offering.

TSN could steal a page from ESPN College Football coverage by taking the show on the road on selected Saturdays a la College Game Day. They could create both new programming and an event opportunity by taking their cast on the road monthly, football season is far shorter than hockey so it's not cost effective to do it every week.

The play here is to go in harder with the team TSN has -- re-up Ward, Mike Johnson, Ray Ferraro and Darren Pang, and while they're at it maybe call Elliotte Friedman's agent.

The loss of the national deal is a call to action for TSN to take the lead in a space that's been underdeveloped -- non-game hockey content. Both Sportsnet and TSN have been so locked in on providing game analysis, they've ignored the entertainment aspect of this great game.

With holes in the programming schedules, TSN can bring forward original programming on the nights where a national game is a less then compelling matchup. In a league that plays to near capacity in most arenas every night, the key to the growth of the game is fan engagement. The NHL holds people captive for three hours a night on a couple of nights a week with the world's best sport, but the only way to get that salary cap pushing $80 million is to get fans to buy those Winter Classic and Stadium Series authentic sweaters at $250 a pop.

The masses want more of everything when it comes to hockey, but they want variety. There are only so many ways to analyze a two-on-one odd rush (hello, NHL Network) and Tim Gleason trade rumors in early December don't fill the void, either.

HBO's 24/7 was successful not because we got to see Bruce Boudreau dropping locker room F-bombs, but because we got to see the kookiness of Ilya Bryzgalov. The Universe was must-watch TV and the HBO treatment and production values enhanced the uniqueness of his personality.

Part of the reason you haven't seen more personality is politics; the NHL wants you to care more about the logo on the front than the name on the back of the sweater. It's another reminder that sport is big business and its smart corporate strategy for the league to place the focus on the team, the NHLPA's feelings notwithstanding.

We've seen the great stories the 700 best hockey players bring along with them to the big show firsthand and there are endless storylines to develop from a programming standpoint. These players are thoughtful, articulate, and funny and most would be eager participants in storytelling that would benefit all connected to the game.

If TSN gets out in front on this space, they may be grateful down the line they lost the Civil War.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him onTwitter.




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