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NHL on Sportsnet is the blanket title for presentations of the National Hockey League broadcast held by a Canadian media corporation, Rogers Communications airing on its television channel Sportsnet and other networks owned by or affiliated with its Rogers Media division as well as the Sportsnet Radio chain. Sportsnet (then known as CTV Sportsnet) previously held the national cable rights for NHL regular season and playoff games from 1998 to 2002; in November 2013, Rogers reached a 12-year deal to become the exclusive national television and digital rightsholder for the NHL in Canada, succeeding both CBC Sports and TSN.

The first telecasts under the new contract premiered on October 8, 2014—the first night of the 2014–15 NHL season; the deal primarily emphasizes increased access to NHL content in Canada, with plans to leverage Rogers' various broadcast and cable television outlets, along with CBC Television as part of a time-brokerage agreement, to air a larger number of NHL games nationally than under previous deals with CBC and TSN. Rogers' national contract compliments its existing regional coverage of the NHL, holding partial or exclusive regional rights to five of the league's Canadian franchises. Rogers publicized plans to broadcast at least 500 games nationally during its first season as rightsholder.

Sportsnet airs two flagship national games per week, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, and Rogers Hometown Hockey on Sunday nights—which features segments hosted on-location by Ron MacLean from various Canadian cities as part of a nationwide tour. The Sportsnet channels also occasionally air games that exclusively involve teams from the United States. Hockey Night in Canada airs on Saturday nights, airing up to seven national games across Sportsnet, as well as City, CBC Television, and Omni Television. Sportsnet and CBC also share in coverage of the post-season.

Rogers hired a number of prominent personalities from CBC Sports to augment its on-air staff, including commentators Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Bob Cole, and Harry Neale; Coach's Corner hosts Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, and reporters Glenn Healy, Christine Simpson. Dave Randorf, Paul Romanuk, and Mike Johnson also jumped to Sportsnet to join the coverage, and Rogers hired George Stroumboulopoulos, who formerly hosted a talk show for CBC, to serve as the studio host for Hockey Night in Canada and Hometown Hockey in a bid to attract a younger demographic of viewers.

Rogers' inaugural season as sole rightsholder was met with mixed reception; while receiving praise—especially among younger viewers, for its "hipper" production and the increased number of games available on a national basis than under previous rights deals, initial criticism centred primarily upon the quality of George Stroumboulopoulos's hosting and his succession of Ron MacLean on Hockey Night (a move which was later reversed for the 2016–2017 season), along with its use of elements perceived as being gimmicks.

History Edit

1998-2002 contract and other previous contracts Edit

Rogers Media's Sportsnet networks have historically been a prominent broadcaster of the National Hockey League in Canada. By the time the regional sports network first launched on October 9, 1998 as CTV Sportsnet, the network had already wrestled the national cable rights to the NHL from long-time holder TSN. From 1998–99 until 2001–02, Sportsnet aired Labatt Blue Tuesday Night Hockey weekly during the regular season, and covered first-round playoff series that did not feature Canadian teams. The network's first live event was an opening night match between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson served as the lead broadcast team. Kevin Quinn and Ryan Walter served as the secondary team. Darren Dreger as the studio host and Greg Millen (1998-1999), joined by other personalities such as Nick Kypreos (1998-2002), and Mike Keenan (1999-2000).

As reflected by its influence, Fox Sports Net (Fox also held a minority stake in the channel upon its launch), Sportsnet and its four regional feeds also picked up regional broadcast rights to other Canadian NHL teams. As of the 2013–14 NHL season, Sportsnet held regional rights to five of the seven Canadian franchises, including the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs (which are jointly owned by Rogers and Bell Canada through a majority stake in MLSE), Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks. Rights to the remaining two, the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets, and national cable rights to the league as a whole, were held by the competing network TSN. National broadcast television rights were held by CBC Television, who used its rights to broadcast the long-running Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights, and share coverage of the post-season with TSN (including exclusive rights to the Stanley Cup Finals).[9]

2014-15 contract Edit

Negotiations Edit

The National Hockey League had aimed for its next round of Canadian broadcast rights deals to total at least $3.2 billion. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recognized the financial difficulties and budget cuts being faced by the CBC, despite the success of its NHL telecasts (which were responsible for at least half of CBC Television's total advertising revenue),[10] by offering a slightly higher-valued contract that would have preserved a national doubleheader on Saturday nights (as opposed to regional games), along with playoff coverage, allowing the advertising-supported public broadcaster to maintain coverage of marquee games that could attract advertising revenue. Rights to the remaining properties not covered under the CBC's contract (including cable and digital rights) would have been offered to other broadcasters.

CBC Sports' staff, including executive director Jeffrey Orridge, in what was described as a "very aggressive bid", continued to insist that CBC have exclusivity for every Saturday night game involving Canadian teams.[11] The CBC was ultimately unable to reach an agreement,[11] and its exclusive negotiation window expired at the end of August 2013. which led to a bid by Bell Media for sole national rights to the NHL; Bell owns CTV, previous English cable rightsholder TSN, as well as previous French rightsholder RDS.[11] Bell attempted to contact the CBC in regards to forming a partnership, but they did not respond. In turn, Rogers Communications prepared a bid of its own; on November 20, 2013, a group of seven Rogers executives, including then-CEO Nadir Mohamed, Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media, and Rogers Broadcasting president Scott Moore, travelled to the NHL's offices in New York City to deliver a 90-minute presentation to the league and Commissioner Gary Bettman. Rogers would successfully reach a deal to become the exclusive national rightsholder for the National Hockey League in Canada.

The next day, CBC president Hubert Lacroix, who was in Montreal, was invited to an afternoon conference call with Neil McEneaney, Orridge, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHL chief operating officer John Collins, Bettman, and Pelley, in which CBC staff learned of the deal, but also of a proposal by Pelley for them to partner. Pelley, Moore, and senior vice-president of media sales Jack Tomik met with Orridge, McEneany, and CBC lawyer Jacques Gaboury in Toronto to begin negotiating a sub-licensing arrangement for Saturday night games.[11][12] After several additional days of negotiations at a local hotel, a near-final proposal was completed on the Sunday, November 24, for presentation to Lacroix and the CBC's twelve-person board of directors the next day.[12]

Announcement Edit

On November 26, 2013, Rogers Communications publicly announced its 12-year deal to become the exclusive national rightsholder for the National Hockey League beginning in the 2014–15 season. Valued at $5.2 billion over the length of the contract, and covering television and digital rights to the league (national French rights were sub-licensed to Quebecor Media for TVA Sports), the value of the contract surpasses the league's most recent U.S. rights deal with NBC by more than double. Under the contract, Rogers paid $150 million upfront, and will make annual payments beginning at $300 million, escalating to $500 million over the life of the contract. As part of the deal, Rogers also took over Canadian distribution of the NHL Centre Ice and GameCentre Live services. Rogers Media president Keith Pelley emphasized the increased amount and accessibility of NHL content that Rogers planned to offer under the deal, stating that "Canadians will have more games, more content and more choice than they've ever had before."[9][13][14][15] Also of note was Rogers' plans to maintain the long-running Hockey Night in Canada on CBC through a sub-licensing agreement with the league's previous broadcast television rightsholder, but also extend the brand by airing Hockey Night games across its own networks alongside CBC.

Critics considered the deal to be a major coup against Bell Media, showing concerns for how its sports networks, particularly TSN, could sustain themselves without what they considered to be a key sports property in Canada. TSN and RDS still retain some NHL coverage as of the 2014-15 season, including TSN's existing rights to the Winnipeg Jets, an extension of French-language rights to the Montreal Canadiens for RDS, along with newly introduced regional coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs for TSN (which are split with Sportsnet per Bell and Rogers' joint majority ownership of its parent company), and the Ottawa Senators for both TSN and RDS.[7][10][13][16]

On February 4, 2014 at the NHL's upfronts, Rogers unveiled more detailed plans for its NHL coverage.[17][18] In preparation for the transition, Rogers and the NHL sought input from viewers via online surveys and a "listening tour" through locations within Canadian NHL markets, along with Kingston, Sudbury, and Red Deer, Alberta. These efforts focused primarily on gauging how viewers (including "core" fans, younger viewers, and those new to the country) consume NHL content, and help determine how Rogers would present, market, and distribute its overall coverage to these varying demographics.[19] The hiring of George Stroumboulopoulos—the former host of a self-titled CBC talk show and an alumnus of the now-Rogers owned sports radio station CJCL—as the main on-air host of Hockey Night, was intended to help the telecasts appeal to a younger audience.[20] Rogers also announced plans to use its multicultural Omni Television stations to broadcast a doubleheader of Hockey Night in Canada games with commentary in Punjabi (carrying over from CBC's past digital coverage of games in the language), and ancillary hockey content in 22 languages, such as Hockey 101—an instructional series explaining the basic rules and concepts of hockey.[21][22]

Rogers sought to increase the prominence of NHL content on digital platforms by re-launching the NHL's digital out-of-market sports package GameCentre Live as Rogers NHL GameCentre Live, adding the ability to stream all of Rogers' national NHL telecasts, along with in-market streaming of regional games for teams whose regional rights are held by Sportsnet.[23] GamePlus—an additional mode featuring alternate camera angles intended for a second screen experience, such as angles focusing on certain players, net and referee cameras, and a Skycam in selected venues, was also added exclusively for GameCentre Live subscribers who are subscribed to Rogers' cable, internet, or wireless services.[19][24]

In the lead-up to the 2014-15 season, Rogers began to promote its networks as the new home of the NHL through a multi-platform advertising campaign; the campaign featured advertising and cross-promotions across Rogers' properties, such as The Shopping Channel, which began to feature presentations of NHL merchandise, and its parenting magazine Today's Parent, which began to feature hockey-themed stories in its issues.[25] On May 28, 2014, Rogers announced a six-year sponsorship deal with Scotiabank, which saw the bank become the title sponsor for Wednesday Night Hockey and Hockey Day in Canada, and become a sponsor for other segments and initiatives throughout Rogers' NHL coverage.[26]

Launch Edit

Sportsnet's coverage premiered on October 8, 2014 with an opening night doubleheader of Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, featuring the Montreal Canadiens at the Toronto Maple Leafs, followed by the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks. The inaugural game was the most-watched program of the night in Canada, and the most-watched telecast in Sportsnet's history, with 2.01 million viewers (beating the previous record of 1.44 million set by the Toronto Blue Jays' home opener in 2013, but since surpassed by multiple games of the 2015 American League Division Series involving the Blue Jays, which topped out at 4.38 million viewers for game 4).[27][28] However, viewership was down from 2013's opening night game, which was televised by CBC.[29]

Recent developments Edit

Ultra high-definition Edit

On October 5, 2015, Rogers announced that it planned to produce 101 Sportsnet telecasts in 4K ultra-high-definition format in 2016, including "marquee" NHL games.[30]

Beginning with a January 23, 2016 Toronto Maple Leafs/Montreal Canadiens game as part of Hockey Night in Canada, Sportsnet planned to broadcast 8 regular season games in the 2015–16 season in 4K—all of which were hosted by Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa, as well as two playoff games to be determined. At the time, Bell Media and Rogers Media via the joint venture Dome Productions shared the only 4K-capable production unit operating in Canada, which was being used for Toronto Raptors NBA basketball and NHL games being televised by TSN and Sportsnet. Sportsnet chose to upconvert non-4K content to the format in its telecasts, arguing that using only 4K footage would hinder the telecast's ability to provide storytelling.

Coverage Edit

Sportsnet's NHL broadcasts originate from the Canadian Broadcasting Centre.

In its inaugural season, Rogers aired 500 games across CBC and Rogers-owned properties. On Wednesday nights, Sportsnet aired Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey; similarly to TSN under the previous contract, the network has an exclusive window where no other broadcaster may air NHL games in Canada. Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One will air around 100 games involving U.S. teams throughout the season; Sportsnet One primarily airs NBC Sports' Wednesday Night Rivalry games, while 360 airs games on Thursday nights. Sportsnet will also air coverage of the NHL Entry Draft. Rogers stated that in combination with its existing regional rights to the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames, it would have an effective monopoly on all NHL telecasts in Western Canada (aside from portions of the Jets' market that are shared with the Flames and Oilers, such as Saskatchewan).[6][35]

Sportsnet's NHL broadcasts, along with its studio show Hockey Central, originate from the Canadian Broadcasting Centre, the headquarters of former rightsholder CBC. Rogers rented Studio 41 of the facility, which is adjacent to Studio 42, the previous home of Hockey Night in Canada,[17] to build an 11,000 square-foot studio for its NHL programming. The $4.5 million set, designed by Jack Morton/PDG, features fourteen cameras, a 38 feet (12 m) wide, 11 feet (3.4 m) high arc-shaped video wall nicknamed the "Goliath", and 9 distinct set areas that serve various functions. The set areas include a central, rotating desk, three sets for regional games (one of which is used for Coach's Corner on Hockey Night), a "demo wall" (a video wall with a screen under the floor directly in front of it; virtual ice markings can be projected on the floor for play analysis), an interactive "puck wall" that can display stats for specific teams by placing their corresponding puck prop into a reader, and an informal interview area for George Stroumboulopoulos featuring red armchairs—an element carried over from his previous CBC talk show. The studio can produce broadcasts for up to three channels at once using its various cameras and set areas.[36][37][38]

Sportsnet staff emphasized a focus on storytelling throughout its NHL coverage, with a particular focus on the personal lives of the league's top players. Although Sportsnet executive Scott Moore did explain that Sportsnet's overall goal was to "celebrate" hockey and downplay some of the NHL's recent issues, such as labour disputes, he emphasized that the network would not be the NHL's "cheerleaders", and would still be prepared to discuss issues that affect the game.[39][40] Sportsnet's coverage also places an emphasis on new technology; referees can be equipped with helmet cams for first-person perspectives, and a Skycam was installed at Air Canada Centre for use in aerial shots. Rogers plans to install Skycam units at each Canadian NHL arena for use in its coverage and the GameCentre Live GamePlus features.[24][41]

Hometown Hockey Edit

Sportsnet Mobile Studio truck at the Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour in Regina, Saskatchewan.

During the regular season, Sportsnet broadcasts a Sunday game of the week entitled Rogers Hometown Hockey. The games are co-hosted on-location by Ron MacLean and Tara Slone from various Canadian cities as part of a nationwide tour: each tour stop features a weekend festival with community activities culminating with the live telecast on Sunday evening. Continuing Sportsnet's focus on storytelling, the Hometown Hockey games feature segments profiling local players and teams from each city.[39][42] London, Ontario hosted the first broadcast of the 2014-15 season on October 12, 2014.[43]

The games and tour contribute to an effort by Rogers to improve its public image, particularly under CEO Guy Laurence, by associating itself with the sport of hockey at a local level. MacLean characterized Hometown Hockey as an extension of Hockey Day in Canada and the Kraft Hockeyville competition—highlighting grassroots hockey throughout the country on a weekly basis. He also felt that the Sunday night timeslot was "a good hockey night", believing that it could be "[a] family-forward way of doing the show to get the kids involved. Families can have it on while they get ready for school or work Sunday night. For me, after 27 years, honestly, what’s wrong with doing something different?" The games also seek to emulate the success of NBC's Sunday Night Football—which airs against Hometown Hockey during the National Football League season.[39][42][44]

Most Hometown Hockey games are aired in primetime, although it has infrequently aired afternoon games—such as in 2015, the Sunday half of the Montreal Canadiens' traditional pair of home games on Super Bowl weekend.[45][46] At least one Canadian-based franchise is featured on Hometown Hockey, although it may also air a game between two American-based teams, provided that there are no scheduled games involving Canadian teams on a Sunday.[47] The games were carried by City during its inaugural season, although infrequently moved to Sportsnet in the event of scheduling conflicts.[48][49] Beginning in the 2015-16 season, Hometown Hockey was moved exclusively to Sportsnet; Moore explained that introducing Hometown Hockey on City was intended to incubate the brand, but that airing it on Sportsnet made sense from an economic standpoint due to its status as a pay channel, and enabled City to return to entertainment programming on Sundays.[50][51]

Hometown Hockey Tour Stops

Season Stop City Province Year 1 1 London Ontario 2014
1 2 Selkirk Manitoba 2014
1 3 Saskatoon Saskatchewan 2014
1 4 Red Deer Alberta 2014
1 5 Burnaby British Columbia 2014
1 6 Kelowna British Columbia 2014
1 7 Fort McMurray Alberta 2014
1 8 Brandon Manitoba 2014
1 9 Sudbury Ontario 2014
1 10 St. Catharines Ontario 2014
1 11 Kingston Ontario 2014
1 12 Peterborough Ontario 2014
1 13 Owen Sound Ontario 2015
1 14 Moncton New Brunswick 2015
1 15 Charlottetown Prince Edward Island 2015
1 16 Dollard-des-Ormeaux Quebec 2015
1 17 St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador 2015
1 18 Cole Harbour Nova Scotia 2015
1 19 Boischatel Quebec 2015
1 20 Sault Ste. Marie Ontario 2015
1 21 Thompson Manitoba 2015
1 22 Regina Saskatchewan 2015
1 23 Prince George British Columbia 2015
1 24 Lethbridge Alberta 2015
1 25 Kanata Ontario 2015
2 26 Kitchener Ontario 2015
2 27 North Bay Ontario 2015
2 28 Gatineau Quebec 2015
2 29 Sherbrooke Quebec 2015
2 30 Fredericton New Brunswick 2015
2 31 Sydney Nova Scotia 2015
2 32 Corner Brook Newfoundland and Labrador 2015
2 33 Wolfville Nova Scotia 2015
2 34 Brantford Ontario 2015
2 35 Summerside Prince Edward Island 2015
2 36 Sarnia Ontario 2015
2 37 Oshawa Ontario 2015
2 38 Thunder Bay Ontario 2016
2 39 Swift Current Saskatchewan 2016
2 40 Grande Prairie Alberta 2016
2 41 Whitehorse Yukon 2016
2 42 New Westminster British Columbia 2016
2 43 Abbotsford British Columbia 2016
2 44 Victoria British Columbia 2016
2 45 St. Albert Alberta 2016
2 46 Penticton British Columbia 2016
2 47 Calgary Alberta 2016
2 48 Prince Albert Saskatchewan 2016
2 49 Winnipeg Manitoba 2016
3 50 Newmarket Ontario 2016
3 51 Saint John New Brunswick 2016
3 52 Grand Falls-Windsor Newfoundland & Labrador 2016
3 53 Halifax Nova Scotia 2016
4 54 Montreal Quebec 2016
3 55 Windsor Ontario 2016
3 56 Timmins Ontario 2016
3 57 Barrie Ontario 2016
3 58 Stratford Ontario 2016
3 59 Milton Ontario 2016
3 60 Petawawa Ontario 2016
3 61 Moose Jaw Saskatchewan 2017
3 62 Vancouver British Columbia 2017
3 63 Vernon British Columbia 2017
3 64 Edmonton Alberta 2017
3 65 Cochrane Alberta 2017
3 66 Cranbrook British Columbia 2017
3 67 Nanaimo British Columbia 2017
3 68 Medicine Hat Alberta 2017
3 69 Lloydminster Saskatchewan 2017
3 70 Ottawa Ontario 2017
3 71 Portage La Prairie Manitoba 2017
3 72 Guelph Ontario 2017
3 73 Hamilton Ontario 2017

Hockey Night in Canada Edit

Hockey Night in Canada remains in its traditional Saturday night timeslot, but rather than having games split across CBC Television stations on a regional basis, multiple games are broadcast nationally, split across CBC, City, Sportsnet, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360, and FX. Three to five games air during the early, 7:00 p.m. ET window, and two more air on Sportsnet and CBC for the 10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT west coast window. Rogers estimated a 300% increase in the number of Hockey Night games available nationally under the new arrangement.[6][9][17][18] Though split national/regional broadcasts are possible, arrangements will be made to ensure that viewers have on-air access to any games affected, ensuring that no Saturday night game will be unavailable to viewers on a regional basis.[14] Alongside HNIC, CBC also broadcast the NHL Winter Classic and All-Star Game during the 2014-15 season.[54][55] The Winter Classic was removed from CBC's package and moved to Sportsnet for 2016.[56]

CBC's games are no longer produced by CBC Sports and Rogers sells all advertising during the telecasts, but CBC is still provided with advertising time for its own programming.[18] While CBC did not pay a rights fee to either Rogers or the NHL, the public broadcaster does not receive any revenue from the telecasts, aside from payments by Rogers for its use of certain CBC personalities and ancillary staff, and its rent of studio space.[9][10][11] In order to assign responsibility for the content of the telecasts, compliance with regulatory guidelines, and advertising to Rogers, its NHL telecasts on CBC are legally considered to be broadcast by a part-time television network owned by the Sportsnet subsidiary, which is affiliated with CBC's English-language television stations. A license for this arrangement was approved by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in April 2015.[57]

Some of CBC's personalities and production staff were retained for the new Hockey Night in Canada—certain staff members, such as producers Joel Darling and Sherali Najak, remain employed by the CBC, while some jumped to Rogers entirely.[58] From 2014 through the 2015-16 season, Ron MacLean was replaced as host by George Stroumboulopoulos. Ron MacLean and Don Cherry continue to present their traditional Coach's Corner segment during the first intermission of Hockey Night games.[58][59]

CBC President Hubert T. Lacroix, in notifying CBC employees of the deal in an internal memo, noted that the new sub-licensing arrangement with Rogers "may not be the ideal scenario [for the CBC] but, it is the right outcome for Canadian hockey fans", as it allowed the NHL and the Hockey Night in Canada brand to remain on CBC and be made available to a wider audience with minimal cost to the public broadcaster, which has gone through reductions in funding in recent years.[10] Lacroix, in his memo, believed that CBC's non-hockey content would remain well-promoted on the new Hockey Night, and that being shut out of the package entirely would have been a major blow to the CBC's prestige.[60] In turn, CBC announced in April 2014 that it would cut a total of 657 jobs across its divisions, and no longer pursue broadcast rights to professional sporting events. The loss of Hockey Night was cited as a factor to the budget cuts, but was also credited to the performance of CBC's entertainment programming.

The sub-licensing deal lasts for four years; the fate of NHL coverage on CBC or Hockey Night in Canada as a whole following the conclusion of the agreement is not yet known. CBC staff described the agreement as a means of providing a "structured exit from hockey" in the event that Rogers does not extend the agreement. The deal was also considered a low-cost means of allowing CBC to maintain a level of major sports output in the lead-up to future Olympic Games and the 2015 Pan-American Games, whose rights are owned outright by CBC. In the case of the Olympics, CBC's coverage is sub-licensed to Rogers and Bell Media networks under a similar time-brokerage and production subsidization arrangement.[14][62][63]

Regional coverage Edit

As of the 2014-15 season, Sportsnet's four feeds hold regional broadcast rights to five of the seven Canadian NHL franchises: the Montreal Canadiens on Sportsnet East, the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario (split with TSN4),[35] the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers on Sportsnet West, and the Vancouver Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. The Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets are the only Canadian NHL teams whose non-national games are not exclusively broadcast by Rogers' networks, as both teams have regional television deals with TSN.[35]

Unlike Sportsnet's national games, these games are subject to blackout outside of the teams' home markets. These games can be watched out of market on NHL Centre Ice or Rogers NHL GameCentre Live. In-market streaming of regional games on Sportsnet is also available on GameCentre Live. Due to its ownership of the national contract, Rogers has a monopoly on all English-language telecasts of teams whose regional rights are exclusively owned by Sportsnet.

Post-season Edit

The Sportsnet networks and CBC share in coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Selected games are simulcast with Punjabi-language commentary on Omni Television. All games from the conference finals onward are exclusively broadcast by CBC.

Like in the previous national deal with CBC and TSN, the league still gives U.S. rightsholder NBC Sports the first choice of games and times during the playoffs. As NBC prefers afternoon playoff games on the weekends, there were at least two Saturdays in May 2015 that did not.

Personalities Edit

Main article: List of NHL on Sportsnet commentators

While primarily using existing Sportsnet talent, a number of CBC Sports personalities, including the lead play-by-play crew of Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, and Glenn Healy, veteran commentators Bob Cole and Harry Neale, rinkside reporter Scott Russell, and studio analyst Elliotte Friedman, joined Rogers to participate in Sportsnet's coverage and Hockey Night. These CBC alumni are joined by two former TSN personalities, Dave Randorf and Paul Romanuk.

George Stroumboulopoulos serves as the studio host for Hockey Night in Canada and Hometown Hockey. Daren Millard hosts Wednesday Night Hockey, while Jeff Marek hosts Thursday night games along with Hockey Central Saturday. Ron MacLean no longer hosts Hockey Night in Canada, but is still joined by Don Cherry (who has been termed as "iconic" by Rogers' president Keith Pelley)[77] for Coach's Corner. MacLean also serves as the on-location host for Hometown Hockey, accompanied by City Calgary Breakfast Television host Tara Slone. MacLean, Cherry and Oake are still under contract with the CBC, with Cherry under contract through 2018, and MacLean through at least 2016 for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Reception Edit

Raju Mudhar of the Toronto Star felt that, especially during intermission segments, Rogers' broadcasts had a faster pace and were relatively "busier" than those of CBC, explaining that "[they] spent $4.5 million on a new set, and it feels like they want to show off every bit so they get their money’s worth, with George Stroumboulopoulos walking around and the puck wall in particular feeling gimmicky."[80]

In a November 2014 poll by the Angus Reid Institute, 60% of 1,504 adults surveyed felt that George Stroumboulopoulos was not a "credible replacement" for Ron MacLean on Hockey Night in Canada, and 74% of those surveyed felt that Rogers' moves to reduce his role on Hockey Night had hurt its brand.[81] MacLean compared the reaction to Stroumboulopoulos on Hockey Night to his own introduction in 1987 following the firing of Dave Hodge, and presumed that the reaction then may have been just as bad, if not worse, than the reaction to Stroumboulopoulos. However, MacLean credited the work of his colleagues Bob Cole, Dick Irvin, Jr., and Don Cherry for helping maintain the integrity of Hockey Night in Canada under his tenure as host, and felt that "George will be fine."[81]

During a survey conducted in December 2014 in which participants were asked to rate the quality of Rogers' NHL coverage on a scale of 1 to 10, those surveyed gave the telecasts an average score of 6.1 out of 10. Reviews were more positive among younger demographics (such as teens and millennials who gave an average score of 6.5 out of 10), citing the expanded availability of games, the "hipper" feel of the telecasts and how they are produced, but were lower among older viewers.[82]Criticism was directed primarily towards how the contract affected the availability of Montreal Canadiens games and other French-language broadcasts, the "gimmicky" feel of their production, and the presence of George Stroumboulopoulos—who received an average rating of 5.7 out of 10 on the survey and, again, received relatively better reception among younger viewers with an average score of 6.2 out of 10.[82][83]

Rogers' use of CBC's television stations as part of the deal also received criticism from other broadcasters and advocacy groups. They argued that Rogers' sub-licensing deal would harm the broadcaster's viability due to its inability to collect further advertising revenue from its most popular program. The Globe and Mail wrote that CBC's sub-licensing deal also effectively "handcuffs" the public broadcaster during the playoffs, as CBC would not have significant ad revenue of its own for several weeks due to the almost nightly games being played. During Rogers' request for a separate network license for Hockey Night in Canada, the CRTC received interventions asking them to require that Rogers provide additional financial compensation to the CBC for airing its content. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Council of Senior Citizens' Organizations of British Columbia also argued that the agreement was not in the public interest, as it meant only to leverage the Hockey Night brand and legacy as part of the transition to Rogers as the national rightsholder. The CRTC ruled against these interventions, arguing that the agreement allowed CBC to continue filling a large portion of its schedule with programming that would have been otherwise displaced by the complete loss of NHL content, at little to no cost.[57][84]

On June 19, 2016, the Toronto Star reported that Rogers planned to reinstate Ron MacLean as host of Hockey Night in Canada for the 2016-17 season.[85] On July 27, 2016, Sportsnet confirmed the changes, announcing that MacLean would host both the early-window games and Hometown Hockey beginning in the 2016-17 season. David Amber took over as host of the west coast games.[86]

Inaugural season performance Edit

Ratings for Rogers' inaugural season of NHL broadcasts were mixed in comparison to the previous CBC and TSN arrangements. Rogers had aimed for a 20% increase in overall viewership for national NHL broadcasts during its first season as rightsholder.[87] During the first two months of its inaugural season, Numeris estimated an increase in average viewership for Wednesday night games and east coast games on Hockey Night (with the latter averaging 2.18 million viewers),[54] and a 9% increase in the number of viewers who have watched at least part of a game.[87] However, viewership of west coast games during Hockey Night fell by 17%; Moore argued that this was a side effect of the new format for Hockey Night, as the audience is "splintered" by those who do not switch channels to watch the late games (as opposed to the previous arrangement, in which all games were solely aired by CBC, thus all the early games would lead into the late game). In total, these numbers were behind Rogers' expectations.[87]

Although a 67% improvement over the entertainment programs formerly broadcast by City on Sunday nights, ratings for the first eight Hometown Hockey games were modest and lower than expected by Rogers, with only two games (its debut game, and an Ottawa Senators/Toronto Maple Leafs game on November 9, 2014 which had been re-scheduled from a Wednesday night game following the Parliament Hill shootings)[88] surpassing one million viewers.[87][89] Moore admitted that the Sunday primetime games were a new concept that still needed time to establish, again drawing comparisons to Sunday Night Football, but that they were succeeding in their goal of attracting more viewership to City.[89]

By January 2015, average viewership for Hockey Night east-coast games fell to 1.69 million viewers, in comparison to the average 1.8 million that CBC brought at the same point in the previous season; the poor performance of the heavily-viewed Toronto Maple Leafs was partially blamed for the decline. Ratings for the 2015 NHL All-Star Game also fell sharply, losing over half its viewers in comparison to the 2012 edition. Moore disputed the accuracy of Numeris's numbers, arguing that they did not properly account for multi-platform viewership, and that its ratings panel did not cover enough sports-oriented demographics. Numeris acknowledged that it would look into Rogers' complaints, but noted that its ratings panels were meant to represent a wide array of Canadian demographics, and that, although they are not yet reported separately, its ratings did account for viewership on digital platforms.[54] The Maple Leafs' ratings would fall as low as 743,000 viewers. Aggregate ratings began to recover by March; the March 21 east coast games (which saw the Maple Leafs' game moved to Sportsnet in favor of a Montreal Canadiens game on CBC) drew aggregate ratings of around 2.2 million viewers across CBC, City, and Sportsnet, with the Canadiens bringing 922,000 viewers.[90]

Viewership rebounded for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with five Canadian teams involved in the first round; average viewership of first-round games increased over the previous season, with one of the games in the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens' first round series on CBC seen by 3.76 million viewers.[50][91] However, following the elimination of all Canadian teams from contention, ratings dropped significantly, with Numeris estimating an overall decrease of 8% in average viewership on CBC, and a 14% decrease in average viewership for Sportsnet in comparison to TSN's 2014 playoff coverage. With 2.62 million viewers, Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final was the lowest-rated deciding game since Game 7 in 2003; the game competed against a match of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup involving Team Canada on CTV and TSN (1.8 million), and a Toronto Blue Jays/New York Mets game on Sportsnet (782,000; the team was in the midst of a major winning streak).[92]

GamePlus dispute Edit

The GamePlus features added to the Rogers NHL GameCentre Live service provide additional in-game camera angles for subscribers who also subscribe to Rogers' cable, internet, or wireless services. In October 2014, Bell filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), arguing that the exclusivity of GamePlus to Rogers subscribers was anti-competitive and showed undue preference. Bell felt that the exclusivity violated a CRTC ruling banning vertically integrated telecommunications companies from being the exclusive distributor of television content on internet and mobile television platforms, as footage from these additional angles are occasionally incorporated into the linear telecast.[93][94][95]

Rogers objected, arguing that GamePlus was an interactive second screen experience that is separate from the telecast by nature. Rogers' CEO Guy Lawrence also accused Bell of attempting to "stifle innovation in hockey", and suggested that its actions were in retaliation for TSN's loss of national cable rights to the NHL.[94] On March 17, 2015, the CRTC dismissed the complaint and ruled in favour of Rogers, affirming that the GamePlus content was not "mainly" intended for television, and thus not subject to the non-exclusivity rules.

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