This is an Ottawa Senators fan blog, so we usually stay away from league-wide business developments (unless it’s a lockout and there’s nothing else to write about). But this seems too important to me, and that it will affect Ottawa, along with every other market in the league.
If you haven’t read about it, here’s the story: The NHL and Rogers reached a 12-year broadcast deal worth $5.2 billion that gives Rogers, under their Sportsnet suite of channels, exclusive national rights to all NHL broadcasts, across all platforms. Rogers will sublicense out some Saturday night games to CBC so they can continue their iconic Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts.
My initial gut reaction is that TSN has set the standard for hockey broadcasting in Canada, and it’s a shame to see them rewarded for all their hard work by being frozen out of the hockey picture altogether. I would argue that hockey is the commodity it is in Canada, in part, because of TSN’s effective campaigns to amp up and market international tournaments, league-wide events like trade deadline day and the free agent ‘frenzy,’ and just the general excellent of their broadcasts. Sportsnet’s quality, in my mind, has been lower.
And more importantly, without competition from TSN, it’s hard to see how Sportsnet has any incentive to improve their product now. CBC has always seemed like the fuddy duddy of the bunch, running embarrassing sketches with Don Cherry dressed as the Phantom of the Opera and giving airtime to brute personalities over respected analysts (Elliotte Friedman being the exception), so they probably won’t be the ones driving Sportsnet to new heights. If anything, the low quality broadcasts of Sportsnet will stagnate over time as Rogers tries to control costs and maximize profit on this massive, up-front investment. (In fact, they pay $150 million up front in the deal.)
While this sucks for TSN, and the consumer, I think the bigger story is the consolidation of media services under one umbrella. Rogers now owns a massive chunk of the television and telecom infrastructure and contracts in Canada, is part owner of the Leafs, and has exclusive broadcast rights for hockey. Those who follow media and telecom in Canada will tell you that when the distributors of content also own the content, that’s usually bad news for consumers, who end up paying more for less choice.
I can see the appeal for the league and, frankly, the short term appeal for a poor team like Ottawa. They get a massive infusion of cash to be shared among the league’s teams (hopefully Melnyk doesn’t have to sell any more of his prize horses now), and they partner with a provider who is ideally situated to deliver their content across an array of devices. People are increasingly watching media wherever they are, on tablets and phones as well as televisions. Rogers is in the position to provide those services. Bell, who owns TSN, must have made a less compelling case. Really, the writing should have been on the wall as soon as Rogers became part owner of the Leafs (along with Bell) that market consolidation was coming, and we’d all have to sign lifetime deals with either Rogers or Bell to keep watching hockey. This is good for the league, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for the fans. Make no mistake, this is unprecedented centralization in the Canadian market, and less competition has always meant higher prices and less choice.
I’m hoping that Rogers proves me wrong, but then I’ve been an off-and-on Rogers customer for years – purely because of lack of choice – and they’ve let me down countless times before. We could see more specialty channels requiring additional payments to watch games in your market; additional charges for access across devices; obligations to sign contracts to gain access to the content you want; and a whole lot more Leafs.
I won’t turn this into a blog complaining about the telcos because we’ll be here all day, but Canada has tried to diversify its media and telecom landscape for decades – and it just got that much smaller. I’ll miss TSN, but more than that, I’ll miss a stable of quality broadcasters driving each other to deliver better quality broadcasts, more original content, and better access.