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
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
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
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
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.