NHL Makes Landmark TV Distribution Deal With Canadian Networks, Leaving TSN and RDS In Their Dust

 
 
November 26th is a very important day for the National Hockey League, and not only because it's professional hockey's 96th birthday. On Tuesday, the league announced a new deal with five Canadian broadcasters, changing the landscape of televised hockey distribution in the country for the next 12 years.
 
The deal, worth $5.2 billion and one of the biggest media rights deals in Canadian history, will strip hockey coverage away from Bell Media-owned TSN and RDS, instead distributing English-language coverage of games between the publicly funded CBC -- retaining its iconic Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday nights but losing certain privileged like the All-Star Game and some playoff coverage, and expected to pay $175 million a season -- and the Rogers Communications-owned Sportsnet networks.
 
French-language coverage in the province of Quebec, meanwhile, will transfer over to TVA -- which will reportedly pay $50 million a year to the league for the broadcast rights, up from RDS's $30 million under the current arrangement -- owned by Quebecor (which also runs the province's cable and internet distributor, Videotron), starting in the 2014-15 season, all the way through 2025-26, long after the apocalypse will have doused the planet's shores with fiery brimstone. {Edit: It appears as if RDS will retain about 60 Canadiens games as part of their local coverage, with the other 22 going to TVA Sports. TSN will also retain all the regional coverage that it has).
 
At a press conference, Gary Bettman also promised that regional blackouts will also no longer be an issue, but we'll have to wait and see how they end up consolidating that with the new deal, which still has to be ratified by the NHL's Board of Governors.
 
The deal certainly makes sense financially. It comes only a day after Forbes released its annual list of the NHL's most valuable teams, which made a point of mentioning how Canadian hockey is at an all time high. The Toronto Maple Leafs once again topped the list with a $1.15 billion valuation, and the top five included the Montreal Canadians ($775 million) and Vancouver Canucks ($700), with the rest of the seven Canadian teams all falling within the top 16. Moreover, six of the seven teams charged average ticket prices well over the league-average, and still mostly sold out their arenas, proving that people in Canada are still very much hockey-obsessed, and that $5.2 billion is a justified expenditure for the country's national sport.
 
The problem instead lies with who the rights ended up going to. Instant fan polling on Twitter suggests that people are rather upset that TSN, the top sports broadcaster in the country and Canada's go-to source for 24-hour sports, wouldn't be retaining the rights to the sport which they invigorated over the last decade, and even moreso with the news that their French-language sister station RDS would also be losing their place as the comprehensive destination for the Habs in the province.
 
But blame shouldn't be placed on the NHL for going to where the money was. News quickly surfaced stating that Bell Media didn't want to fork over what would likely exceed the $40 million that TSN pays now for its coverage of the sport. 
 
As for CBC, hockey may be one of their only selling points as a publicly-funded network, and losing the NHL would have certainly led to their eventual demise. For Rogers and Quebecor, it was a matter of establishing themselves as forces to be reckoned with in a sports market dominated by TSN for years. 
 
So if you're not a fan of these developments, your anger shouldn't be placed on the NHL, but for Bell's stinginess. Because this certainly doesn't mean that your phone and cable wills with the communications giants will be $40 million lighter next year. If anything it means that you'll likely pay more if you have any telecom services through Rogers and Videotron, and that your tax bill might be higher thanks tot he CBC. 
 
But that raises another question. If TSN wasn't willing to shell out the necessary funds, does that mean that they're unconcerned about what this will mean for their sports-only network? They still have exclusive rights to the CFL and shared NFL rights with ESPN, which still owns a stake in the network. Curling is surprisingly popular in Canada, and it's also one of the staples of their programming. And there's still tennis, Formula One and NASCAR, and of course golf and soccer. There's no lack of sports to cover, nor lack of interest from Canadian viewers, but hockey is definitely a staple of their programming and a big hit to their bottom line going forward
 
They won't lose all hockey coverage, however. They'll still have the rights to the popular World Junior tournament for the next decade, and are expected to be a part of CBC's Sochi Olympic coverage as well next year.
 
On top of that they'll likely keep much of their studio coverage, as well as the day-long free agency and deadline events which they pioneered, but it certainly raises questions about some of their broadcasters, as a few of them will certainly have to be let loose. So what will happen to the likes of Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger and James Duthie remains to be seen, although it would probably be safe to assume that there are warm seats waiting for them at any of the other networks or even in the US, with NBC's coverage still rolling.
 
One way or another, the future of hockey viewing in Canada is both clearer and a little fuzzy right now among viewers in this country. People had settled for a long time into their cozy nest of TSN and RDS viewing, with the occasional CBC broadcast. Of course, Rogers still had plenty of hockey coverage as well, but with an array of over half a dozen networks, it's unclear how they will balance the coverage going into next season, particularly if it means that many people will have to fork over more money to acquire all those stations for the complete NHL experience. 
 
If anything, the biggest loser out of all of this, other than potentially the consumer, might be RDS, who will certainly see a drastic drop in subscription rates as people make the switch to TVA Sports.
 
Either way, we shouldn't be blaming CBC or Rogers for pouncing on very lucrative hockey coverage, nor the NHL for making the deal that made the most financial sense. If anyone is at fault for the inconvenience that this might cause next season, it's most definitely Bell Media.
 
In reality, it might be crazy that companies are still paying this many billions for television rights, when all of this will most certainly turn digital in the coming years. And if these networks want to mitigate the problems that might be caused by promises of no blackouts on nights with multiple games, some of that coverage, at the very least, will most certainly have to find its way online in the very near future, although that might be easier said than done, as once again, many of the networks which own these rights have major stakes in the cable and satellite business.
 
For now, you'll have to reassess your cable situation over the next coming months, and that could end up being an even bigger story if that affects some telecom companies more than others.
 
Partial Source: Puck Daddy