*This article was contributed by guest columnist Sundeep Malhi
The National Hockey League (NHL) announced yesterday an unprecedented 12 year deal, worth $5.232B CAD with Rogers Communications Inc. for the exclusive broadcast and multimedia rights. For the hockey community, the update was met with disbelief and surprise. Most expected Bell media to not only extend its existing NHL rights that they held since 2002, but possibly carve into the Saturday night slots currently held by CBC – the iconic Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC).
1. Rogers will “sublicense” broadcasts to CBC to continue to preserve HNIC for at least the next 4 years. I put that in quotations, because in an interesting twist, Rogers will receive all the revenues from the broadcasts, but there will be no cost to CBC. In essence, Rogers will bear all the risks and rewards of the HNIC broadcasting on CBC. This development may be warmly greeted by taxpayers who have argued that CBC was not in a position to spend taxpayers’ money, competing with media giants in Rogers Communications Inc. and Bell Media. For CBC, this partnership allows it to promote other CBC content and shows during what has historically been, one of its highest rated shows. One could reasonably argue that Scott Moore, president of broadcast at Rogers Media, played a role in retaining HNIC to be broadcasted on CBC – at least so for the next four years. Scott Moore has previously served as a former director of CBC sports and as the head of production at Rogers Sportsnet.
2. One could reasonably assert this deal was made with Rogers strong motivation to efforts to push its subsidiary, Rogers Media Inc., as the leading sports network in the nation, ahead of TSN. The two channels combined for revenues north of $500M CAD in the previous year, generating $55M in profits. Rogers has aggressively pursued expansion in recent years – with the launch of Sportsnet One, the $172M CAD acquisition of Score Media Inc. (rebranded as Sportsnet 360), the launch of Sportsnet magazine, and the development of sponsorship relationships with NHL teams such as Vancouver and Edmonton. With Rogers Broadcasting Ltd., a division of Rogers Communications, also owning City TV and OMNI television, along with the six Sportsnet channels, the Corporation will have a high level of flexibility in the broadcasting of NHL games – a luxury that was largely unavailable to Bell Media. Fiscal considerations aside, one could reasonably argue this luxury contributed to the NHL’s decision to terminate a twelve year relationship with Bell Media Inc.
3. For TSN, this development is undoubtedly troubling. While it airs a diverse range of sports, the NHL was it’s bread and butter. With Rogers expected to significantly upsurge the number of broadcasts and related hockey content (see illustration below that exemplifies a possible weekend), it is plausible to assume they will poach off quality personnel from TSN to fulfill the expected needs.
On the contrary, TSN may find it difficult to justify keeping higher paid hockey analysts on their payroll without having national broadcast rights – and instead develop strategic plans to divert attention (or at least minimize it) away from the NHL. American demographics are/were different, but ESPN did engage in similar behavior after it terminated its broadcasting relationship with the NHL.
In theory, one could make a case it would be prudent to divert attention away from the NHL, at least from its current promotional state. After all, promoting a product that your rival network owns exclusively for the next twelve years can be viewed as doing yourself a disservice. In practice, however, TSN can only artificially manufacture interest in other leagues or sports to a limited extent. At the end of the day, they will be obliged to supply the product the customer (viewer) wants and undoubtedly hockey is, and will remain king, for the foreseeable future. The challenge will be striking a balance.
4. So where does TSN go from here? TSN was without NHL rights from 1998-2002. At that time, Sportsnet was in its infancy, and had a significant broadcasting rights to both the Blue Jays and Raptors. Fast forward to 2013; both the Jays and Raptors are owned (or partially owned) by Rogers Communications Inc., and Sportsnet has undergone significant expansion. Attracting enough quality content to fill slots for not only TSN, but TSN2 as well.
Negotiations with the NHL must have been entered with a contingent plan. Evidently, the NHL lockout in 2012 demonstrated that broadcasting the likes of classic games from the 1987 Canada Cup, or Rocky I, II, III, IV, and V, isn’t a long-run sustainable model for captivating a strong market share. Without knowing TSN’s strategic plans, plausible guesses surrounding what content TSN will allocate more resources towards could include:
a. NBA – with increased presence of young, talented Canadians set to make a mark in the league, an opportunity exists for TSN to captivate it while their rival, Sportsnet, focuses on the NHL. TSN may have already commenced this process, when it recently declared intentions to broadcast all Kansas Jayhawks games (NCAA) – a team where top prospect Canadian Andrew Wiggins currently plays.
b. Curling – despite being routinely mocked, curling still transmits value for broadcasters. The broadcasting rights are relatively cheap, and television ratings are climbing. Sportsnet currently has rights to several grand slam events – this could change sooner, rather than later.
c. Soccer – With Canada now boasting three MLS squads, all in its largest markets, this again opens an opportunity to TSN to market and grow viewership. Television rights, relatively cheap, allow opportunity for generate value for dollar spent.
d. Junior hockey – building on the strength of strong World Junior television ratings, and another avenue for relatively cheap broadcasting rights, could be factors that see TSN tap into this market.
5. Cable providers likely met this engagement with a roar of applause. Live sports is one of the biggest factors keeping cable alive, according to an 2013 report by Deloitte, a well-known international professional services firm. The heavy investment for the next twelve years, and increased coverage of games channeled through its subsidiaries, will provide incentive for sports fans to continue their cable subscriptions.
Putting It All Together
At the end of the day, there are three big winners from this development.
1. NHL – not only do owners realize a significant increase in guaranteed revenues, but also will see capital appreciation in their teams’ values. Both the term and dollar of the contract brings along a healthy dose of credibility to the NHL.
2. Players – The players will receive approximately 50% of every marginal dollar from the new television contract.
3. Joe Hockey Fan – ultimately, this is a good day for a hockey fan:
a. It is expected a new Sunday night feature broadcast game will be aired. This will provide an alternative for the fans that are not into the NFL, on an otherwise quiet sports evening.
b. Significantly increased coverage on Saturday broadcasts – the graphic earlier in this article illustrates a sizable increase from the current two games a week restricted on CBC.
c. With nearly one-half of Canadians owning a smartphone and Rogers desire to invest in mobile streaming, fans seeking mobility will surely applaud at this contract. A significant alteration from CBC/TSN’s current state of form surrounding mobile streams.
d. Games broadcasted on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday will not be regionally blacked out, as in the present state. This will provide a break to fans who do not wish to invest in NHL Center Ice.
Ultimately, this agreement illustrates the healthy benefits of competition to the consumer.