Forget nude Kardashians. The Canadian Internet broke 13 months ago when news first leaked that Rogers Media had reached a record-breaking, 12-year deal with the NHL, taking public broadcaster CBC’s biggest money-maker away for a cool $5.2 billion. Few expected the new deal to reach more than double what NBC paid – reportedly $2 billion – back in 2011 for a 10-year run. All eyes were on Hockey Night in Canada and how its Saturday night institution would be affected. More money meant glossier visuals for fans via sky-cams, Q-ball cameras and head-cams on the refs, which are currently on their third prototype; Don Cherry’s shortened, more concentrated Coach’s Corner; and Ron McLean’s slick-haired replacement in George Stroumboulopoulos. How would ratings and advertisers react?
For those orchestrating the deal, though, they had other goals in mind: making Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 go-to channels in the wake of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission talks about pick-and-pay packages, as well as increasing traffic to online Sportsnet properties to give advertisers more options. Fast forward to the end of 2014 and overall ratings have reflected those goals.
As of November, Sportsnet One was up in overall viewers by 60 percent, while Sportsnet 360 was up roughly 50 percent. In terms of advertising, Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet & NHL, said hockey is performing “brilliantly” for them, despite conflicting reports in national papers. “We don’t talk about specific figures, but I will tell you that we are on track for this year,” he said. “Our revenues are on target with potential upside for the playoffs.” As per the deal, Rogers has to shell out $300 million this year, with annual increases until the final year, which is estimated to be worth $500 million. NBC’s bargain with the NHL is estimated at roughly $200 million annually. As for the CBC, when it lost broadcast rights last year, reports surfaced that it could see an annual advertising revenue loss of $225 million – a staggering number that is still less than Rogers’ annual payments. While Rogers is getting some coin from the former hockey host, which has rented studio, office and airspace to the broadcaster on Saturday nights, there’s still production costs and a hefty seven-figure innovation budget for new technologies in 2015. “It’s a 12-year investment,” Moore said. “You don’t expect to blow the doors off in Year 1, but we’re very happy where we are.” Moore also notes that his team has been conservative about budgeting for revenues during playoffs, given how few Canadian teams have actually played in the post-season recently. But if the season was nearing its end, Moore said he’d be “ecstatic” given that six of seven Canadian teams remained in the playoff hunt. In overall performance, Moore feels Rogers has plenty to celebrate. At time of press, sportsnet.ca had jumped to the No. 8 national spot on online ratings site Comscore and is expected to climb. The goal in 2015 is to bring it to No. 5. Television coverage across the board also seems to be up, with Wednesday night games bringing in roughly 30 percent more viewers than last year’s offerings on TSN. Sundays have been a different story, with an average of 664,000 weekly viewers to date, making it the 18th most-watched regular scheduled program that day. According to Moore, that’s still better than what their programming was doing in that spot last year. And it’s all a lot higher than hockey on NBC, where average viewership has remained flat year-over-year, if not slightly down, at 379,000 per game. Meanwhile, NBCSN is up one percent at 344,000. As for that famous institution, Hockey Night in Canada? Rogers’ strategy of branching programming out across a number of channels – CBC, City, Sportsnet, FX and more – has helped bolster viewers slightly (during the first two months of the season the first game averaged 2.2 million viewers, up one percent), but according to Moore that number could have been higher in earlier weeks had viewers actually known where to find the games. Also problematic is the idea of one solid lead in. With so many options, that second West Coast game has been getting lost. Viewership during that same time period dropped roughly 17 percent to 860,000 weekly viewers, something that worries Moore. “Viewers are now finding hockey, and ratings are up on the early game, nine percent over last year’s average,” he said. “The late game is the one area that I’d be somewhat concerned about. We need to do a better job of promoting it.” Something tells us finding the money to do so won’t be a problem.
This feature appears in the Jan. 26 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.
Amber Dowling is a freelance lifestyle/entertainment writer, yoga and wine enthusiast and all-around player of sports. She currently serves as the vice-president of the Television Critics Association and has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows across North America. An advocate for Canadian Television and a lover of the medium in general, Amber founded TheTVJunkies.com as a spot for fellow enthusiasts to connect and collaborate. She previously spent almost eight years as the EIC for TV Guide Canada.