Off the Record: Profits of puck possession

While skating on the frozen surface of Lake Windermere last weekend...

While skating on the frozen surface of Lake Windermere last weekend, I took a break from comparing myself to Pavel Bure and reflected on the biggest sports broadcasting deal in Canadian history.

The $5.2 billion, 12-year deal announced just over a week ago will give Rogers Communications a stranglehold over the broadcast rights for our unofficial national game on several Sportsnet channels. Starting next season, Rogers will have the rights to all NHL games, including the playoffs.

Many wonder what this means for the CBC, who will now be conscripted to co-broadcast Rogers’ hockey games for the next four years.

While I doubt that rug will be obviously pulled from under the feet of our public broadcaster, it’s going to be a different colour entirely. It won’t take a media expert to tell the difference, and you can expect the cross-promotion of other Rogers’ sports broadcasts to be worked in with all the subtlety of a Scott Stevens open ice hit.

That’s not a bad thing. The CBC is great, but this move doesn’t mean the network’s integrity will disappear. Hockey Night in Canada is the network’s cash cow, which has led to the inclusion of more advertiser shout-outs over the last decade. Any semblance of dedication to a nearly advertising-free viewing experience was gone years ago.

While it’s in some ways sad to see Hockey Night in Canada will no longer be the standard by which all other hockey broadcasts are measured, it was good the CBC didn’t even contemplate spending that amount of taxpayer money.

As someone who watches a lot of hockey, I’ll be glad to see regionalization and local blackouts more or less eliminated under the new deal, as Rogers will be able to cherry pick the best games to broadcast. Speaking of which, we could be seeing a lot more of Don Cherry: a Rogers executive confirmed the loud-mouthed Coach’s Corner host could appear on seven different channels across the country.

But with the deal to give Rogers ownership of the “Hockey Night in Canada” brand and control over the on-air talent, we may be seeing a kinder, gentler Mr. Cherry. Characters aside, most people agree the CBC has the best broadcasters in the businesses. Hopefully Rogers recognizes this and gets those voices on board, rather than replacing them with their own, sub-par talent.

As someone who finds little value in the increasingly reality TV-saturated world of cable TV, I like the fact that Rogers is boasting an aggressive strategy to grow the game on new, non-cable TV platforms, such as Internet and cell phone feeds. In its most recent Throne Speech, the federal government indicated it’s hoping to see less bundling of channels and more opportunities for TV viewers to “pick and pay” for the channels they actually want to watch.

This deal is potentially a death blow for Bell Media’s TSN, whose share of the games will be whittled down to a select few NHL games in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg. It’s also likely to spell some layoffs at CBC, which loses the right to advertise during Hockey Night in Canada’s commercial breaks.

So far, it’s not clear how the Friends of the Canadian Broadcasting group feels about this, though they weren’t too happy about the government plan to unbundle cable TV packages.

That’s a win for those who, like me, care mainly about hockey, and not the rest of the garbage on TV.

Greg Amos is the editor of The Valley Echo and can be reached at editor@invermerevalleyecho.com

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