In spite of published reports to the contrary, the NHL’s Canadian TV rights negotiations were not an effort by hockey’s best league to spread out the love between the three major media groups battling for position. Instead, the NHL went the more traditional business practice of “money talks, and everything else walks”. And although there are some elements of the league’s mammoth new deal with Rogers Sportsnet that are advantageous for hockey fans, the competition to put on a great televised product just took a major hit – and lessened competition isn’t good for just about everybody.
Certainly, the decision to cut TSN out of the rights-holder mix is a knife in the back of what for many hockey fans is the best TV coverage of the game today. TSN personalities such as Bob McKenzie, Ray Ferraro, Gord Miller and others have stark decisions ahead regarding their employment opportunities; and although TSN still owns the rights to the IIHF World Junior championship and won’t abandon hockey coverage in the wake of losing NHL rights, this is clearly a devastating day and will affect many behind-the-scenes people who do their jobs as well as anyone in the industry.
The big winner is Sportsnet, which, in addition to being the league’s national rights holder for the next 12 years (at the whopping cost of $5.2 billion), controls Hockey Night In Canada’s editorial direction as part of the deal. The CBC (and French-language broadcaster TVA) will license HNIC and Stanley Cup Final rights from Rogers, but only for the next four years. Sportsnet also has all rights to satellite and terrestrial radio content, as well as internet streaming, game highlights, mobile platforms and video archives.
The average Canadian fan will still have a phenomenal selection of NHL games – including a new Sunday night property Sportsnet will develop; and the removal of regional blackouts – but the shrinking bubble of hockey media can’t be considered a benefit. There will be fewer stories told and fewer outlets on which to see them.
Just as we saw last year when the NHL’s financial bottom line drove an extended and painful lockout, the league’s TV rights deal is all about the bottom line. Everything else – and everyone else – takes a back seat. Or has no seat at all.