NHL strikes blockbuster Canadian rights deal with Rogers

Rogers-CommunicationsRogers to sublicense games to CBC; TVA gets exclusive French-language rights; Bell Media’s TSN shut out

In one of the biggest TV deals in North American history, Canadian cable giant Rogers Communications – which was founded as a vacuum tube company in 1925 and pioneered FM Broadcasting in Canada in the 1960s, reached a 12-year, $5.25 billion pact with the National Hockey League, acquiring all broadcast and cable rights, starting in October 2014.

Rogers is the equivalent of Comcast, the U.S. cable giant who owns NHL rights-holder NBCUniversal, whose deals are not affected by today’s announcements.

The deal shuts out rival conglomerate Bell Media, owner of cable sports network TSN (The Sports Network), its French-language equivalent (Reseau De Sports, or RDS) and private broadcaster CTV. TSN had been carrying NHL Hockey since its inception.

The broadcast rights are also changing. While the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will continue to air Hockey Night In Canada, several playoff games, and the Stanley Cup Finals as its done since 1952, those productions will now be taken over by Rogers SportsNet and sub licensed to the CBC. In addition, Rogers can now air games opposite HNIC on SportsNet and its over-the-air CityTV channels, which would likely depress ratings for the Canadian institution.

The CBC won’t get anything from the deal – Rogers produces, sells the ad time, and pockets all the revenue. CBC at least gets the games for free in a four-year deal – in other words, this deal mirrors those the NBA and NCAA Basketball made in recent years – shifting most of the games to cable since it provides a dual revenue stream – one from advertising; the other from subscription fees and enables teams (or in the NCAA’s case, the schools) to receive a revenue windfall, while maintaining a minimal over-the-air presence.

Rogers also gets control of all streaming rights to NHL games in Canada, meaning CBC would no longer stream games over CBC.ca. Rogers also gets control of NHL Centre Ice, its package of out-of-market games, and becomes the Canadian national ad rep for NHL.com.

It is not known where HNIC icon Don Cherry (who hosts the popular Coach’s Corner during the first intermission of the first game) would end up (even he doesn’t know.) But he would have to be hired by Rogers if he wants to stay on HNIC.

All rights to Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks games in Canada are now held by Rogers.
All rights to Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks games in Canada are now held by Rogers. (Flames.com)

On the French side of things, Rogers picked TVA to take over national telecasts from Bell’s RDS, which includes a minimum of 22 Montreal Canadiens games, special-event programming, and digital and streaming rights. The rights to the rest of those Canadiens games – now held by RDS, are up in the air. But its likely those games will eventually migrate to TVA.

It is not known if TVA would air any of their games on its OTA French-language network, or over TVA Sports, a new specialty cable sports channel expected to launch in 2014. Canadiens games had not been available over-the-air in French since 2002 when SRC (Radio-Canada) last held the rights and did so for 50 years.

The deal was made official on Tuesday in a press conference in Toronto. From Rogers’ press release: “Our fans always want to explore deeper and more emotional connections to NHL hockey, and that is precisely what Rogers has promised to deliver over the next 12 years… channeling the reach of its platforms and the intensity of its passion for the game into an unparalleled viewing experience,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.”The NHL is extremely excited about the power and potential of this groundbreaking partnership.”

This comes as a huge blow to Bell Media, who recently expanded its portfolio by acquiring Astral Communications, owners of Teletoon (Canada’s Cartoon Network) and several radio stations. But despite today’s loss, TSN still has regional rights to Winnipeg Jets games in Manitoba.

TSN also still has national rights to the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and CFL Football, plus MLS soccer and curling.

Edited at 11:22  a.m. on  2013-11-27.