NHL on Sportsnet is the blanket title for presentations of the National Hockey League broadcast held by a Canadian media corporation, Rogers Communications airing on its television channel Sportsnet and other networks owned by or affiliated with its Rogers Media division as well as the Sportsnet Radio chain. Sportsnet (then known as CTV Sportsnet) previously held the national cable rights for NHL regular season and playoff games from 1998 to 2002; in November 2013, Rogers reached a 12-year deal to become the exclusive national television and digital rightsholder for the NHL in Canada, succeeding both CBC Sports and TSN.
The first telecasts under the new contract premiered on October 8, 2014—the first night of the 2014–15 NHL season; the deal primarily emphasizes increased access to NHL content in Canada, with plans to leverage Rogers' various broadcast and cable television outlets, along with CBC Television as part of a time-brokerage agreement, to air a larger number of NHL games nationally than under previous deals with CBC and TSN. Rogers' national contract compliments its existing regional coverage of the NHL, holding partial or exclusive regional rights to five of the league's Canadian franchises. Rogers publicized plans to broadcast at least 500 games nationally during its first season as rightsholder.
Sportsnet airs two flagship national games per week, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, and Rogers Hometown Hockey on Sunday nights—which features segments hosted on-location by Ron MacLean from various Canadian cities as part of a nationwide tour. The Sportsnet channels also occasionally air games that exclusively involve teams from the United States. Hockey Night in Canada airs on Saturday nights, airing up to seven national games across Sportsnet, as well as City, CBC Television, and Omni Television. Sportsnet and CBC also share in coverage of the post-season.
Rogers hired a number of prominent personalities from CBC Sports to augment its on-air staff, including commentators Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Bob Cole, and Harry Neale, Coach's Corner hosts Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, and reporters Elliotte Friedman, and Scott Oake. Dave Randorf, Paul Romanuk, and Mike Johnson also jumped to Sportsnet from TSN to join the coverage, and Rogers hired George Stroumboulopoulos, who formerly hosted a talk show for CBC, to serve as the studio host for Hockey Night in Canada and Hometown Hockey in a bid to attract a younger demographic of viewers.
Rogers' inaugural season as sole rightsholder was met with mixed reception; while receiving praise—especially among younger viewers, for its "hipper" production and the increased number of games available on a national basis than under previous rights deals, initial criticism centred primarily upon the quality of George Stroumboulopoulos's hosting and his succession of Ron MacLean on Hockey Night (a move which was later reversed for the 2016–2017 season), along with its use of elements perceived as being gimmicks.
First NHL ContractEdit
Rogers Media's Sportsnet networks have historically been a prominent broadcaster of the NHL. By the time the regional sports network first launched on October 9, 1998 as CTV Sportsnet. The network had already wrestled the national cable rights to the NHL from long-time holder TSN. From 1998–99 until 2001–02, Sportsnet aired Labatt Blue Tuesday Night Hockey weekly during the regular season and covered first-round playoff series not involving Canadian teams. The network's first live event was an opening night match between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson served as the lead broadcast team. Kevin Quinn and Ryan Walter served as the #2 team. Darren Dreger was the studio host, while studio analysts varied such as Greg Millen (1998–1999) and Nick Kypreos (1998–2002).
As reflected by its influence, the Fox Sports Networks (Fox Sports held a minority stake in the channel on launch), Sportsnet and its four regional feeds also picked up regional broadcast rights to other Canadian NHL teams. As of the 2013–14 NHL season, Sportsnet held regional rights to five of the seven Canadian franchises, including the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs (which are jointly owned by Rogers and Bell Canada through a majority stake in MLSE), Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks. Rights to the remaining two, the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets (along with the Ottawa Senators beginning in the 2014–15 season) and national cable rights to the NHL, were held by the competing network TSN. National broadcast television rights were held by CBC Television, who used its rights to broadcast the iconic Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights.
On November 26, 2013, Rogers Communications announced that it had reached a 12-year deal to become the exclusive national rightsholder for the NHL beginning in the 2014–15 season. Valued at $5.2 billion over the length of the contract, and covering television and digital rights to the league in both English and French. French rights will be sub-licensed to Quebecor Media for TVA and TVA Sports. The value of the contract surpasses the league's most recent U.S. rights deal with NBC by more than double. Under the contract, Rogers paid $150 million upfront, and will make annual payments beginning at $300 million, escalating to $500 million over the life of the contract. Rogers will also take over Canadian distribution of the NHL Centre Ice and Game Centre Live services, and exclusive coverage of the NHL All-Star Game and NHL Entry Draft. Rogers Media president Keith Pelley emphasized the increased amount and accessibility of NHL content that Rogers planned to offer under the deal, stating that "Canadians will have more games, more content and more choice than they've ever had before."
Critics considered the deal to be a major blow to Bell Media, owner of TSN and its sister network RDS, who had previously held the national cable rights to the league. The network still has existing broadcast rights deals with Hockey Canada, and exclusive regional rights to the Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, and new for the 2014–15 season, the Ottawa Senators. Also of note was Rogers' plans to maintain the long-running Hockey Night in Canada by reaching a deal to sub-license a package of Saturday night games to CBC Television while CBC will still air the long-running series and not pay a rights fee, Rogers will produce the telecasts and sell all advertising during the games. Rogers will rent studio space from the CBC for its NHL broadcasts, which will be broadcast from Studio 41 of the Canadian Broadcasting Centre.
On February 4, 2014 at the NHL's upfronts, Rogers unveiled more detailed plans for its NHL coverage, incorporating its over-the-air City network, FX Canada, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360, and Sportsnet One.
In its inaugural season, Rogers aired 500 games across CBC and Rogers-owned properties. On Wednesday nights, Sportsnet aired Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey; similarly to TSN under the previous contract, the network has an exclusive window where no other broadcaster may air NHL games in Canada. Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One will air around 100 games involving U.S. teams throughout the season; Sportsnet One primarily airs NBC Sports' Wednesday Night Rivalry games, while 360 airs games on Thursday nights. Sportsnet will also air coverage of the entry Draft. Rogers stated that in combination with its existing regional rights to the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames, it would have an effective monopoly on all NHL telecasts in Western Canada (aside from portions of the Jets' market that are shared with the Flames and Oilers, such as Saskatchewan).
Sportsnet's NHL broadcasts, along with its studio show Hockey Central, originate from the Canadian Broadcasting Centre, the headquarters of former rightsholder CBC. Rogers rented Studio 41 of the facility, which is adjacent to Studio 42, the previous home of Hockey Night in Canada, to build an 11,000 square-foot studio for its NHL programming. The $4.5 million set, designed by Jack Morton/PDG, features fourteen cameras, a 38 feet (12 m) wide, 11 feet (3.4 m) high arc-shaped video wall nicknamed the "Goliath", and 9 distinct set areas that serve various functions. The set areas include a central, rotating desk, three sets for regional games (one of which is used for Coach's Corner on Hockey Night), a "demo wall" (a video wall with a screen under the floor directly in front of it; virtual ice markings can be projected on the floor for play analysis), an interactive "puck wall" that can display stats for specific teams by placing their corresponding puck prop into a reader, and an informal interview area for George Stroumboulopoulos featuring red armchairs—an element carried over from his previous CBC talk show. The studio can produce broadcasts for up to three channels at once using its various cameras and set areas.
Sportsnet staff emphasized a focus on storytelling throughout its NHL coverage, with a particular focus on the personal lives of the league's top players. Although Sportsnet executive Scott Moore did explain that Sportsnet's overall goal was to "celebrate" hockey and downplay some of the NHL's recent issues, such as labour disputes, he emphasized that the network would not be the NHL's "cheerleaders", and would still be prepared to discuss issues that affect the game. Sportsnet's coverage also places an emphasis on new technology; referees can be equipped with helmet cams for first-person perspectives, and a Skycam was installed at Air Canada Centre for use in aerial shots. Rogers plans to install Skycam units at each Canadian NHL arena for use in its coverage and the GameCentre Live GamePlus features.
Hockey Night in Canada Edit
Hockey Night in Canada remains in its traditional Saturday night timeslot, but rather than having games split across CBC Television stations on a regional basis, multiple games are broadcast nationally, split across CBC, City, Sportsnet, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360, and FX. Three to five games air during the early, 7:00 p.m. ET window, and two more air on Sportsnet and CBC for the 10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT west coast window. Rogers estimated a 300% increase in the number of Hockey Night games available nationally under the new arrangement. Though split national/regional broadcasts are possible, arrangements will be made to ensure that viewers have on-air access to any games affected, ensuring that no Saturday night game will be unavailable to viewers on a regional basis. Alongside HNIC, CBC also broadcast the NHL Winter Classic and All-Star Game during the 2014-15 season. The Winter Classic was removed from CBC's package and moved to Sportsnet for 2016.
CBC's games are no longer produced by CBC Sports and Rogers sells all advertising during the telecasts, but CBC is still provided with advertising time for its own programming. While CBC did not pay a rights fee to either Rogers or the NHL, the public broadcaster does not receive any revenue from the telecasts, aside from payments by Rogers for its use of certain CBC personalities and ancillary staff, and its rent of studio space. In order to assign responsibility for the content of the telecasts, compliance with regulatory guidelines, and advertising to Rogers, its NHL telecasts on CBC are legally considered to be broadcast by a part-time television network owned by the Sportsnet subsidiary, which is affiliated with CBC's English-language television stations. A license for this arrangement was approved by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in April 2015.
Some of CBC's personalities and production staff were retained for the new Hockey Night in Canada—certain staff members, such as producers Joel Darling and Sherali Najak, remain employed by the CBC, while some jumped to Rogers entirely. From 2014 through the 2015-16 season, Ron MacLean was replaced as host by George Stroumboulopoulos. Ron MacLean and Don Cherry continue to present their traditional Coach's Corner segment during the first intermission of Hockey Night games.
CBC President Hubert T. Lacroix, in notifying CBC employees of the deal in an internal memo, noted that the new sub-licensing arrangement with Rogers "may not be the ideal scenario [for the CBC] but, it is the right outcome for Canadian hockey fans", as it allowed the NHL and the Hockey Night in Canada brand to remain on CBC and be made available to a wider audience with minimal cost to the public broadcaster, which has gone through reductions in funding in recent years. Lacroix, in his memo, believed that CBC's non-hockey content would remain well-promoted on the new Hockey Night, and that being shut out of the package entirely would have been a major blow to the CBC's prestige. In turn, CBC announced in April 2014 that it would cut a total of 657 jobs across its divisions, and no longer pursue broadcast rights to professional sporting events. The loss of Hockey Night was cited as a factor to the budget cuts, but was also credited to the performance of CBC's entertainment programming.
The sub-licensing deal was initially announced as lasting for four years; CBC staff described the agreement as a means of providing a "structured exit from hockey" in the event that Rogers does not extend the agreement. The deal was also considered a low-cost means of allowing CBC to maintain a level of major sports output in the lead-up to future Olympic Games and the 2015 Pan-American Games, whose rights are owned outright by CBC. In the case of the Olympics, CBC's coverage is sub-licensed to Rogers and Bell Media networks under a similar time-brokerage and production subsidization arrangement. In 2017, The Globe and Mail reported that the CBC and Rogers had quietly invoked an option to extend the agreement into a fifth season, while Moore stated that he wished to extend the partnership further.
Regional coverage Edit
As of the 2014-15 season, Sportsnet's four feeds hold regional broadcast rights to five of the seven Canadian NHL franchises: the Montreal Canadiens on Sportsnet East, the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario (split with TSN4), the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers on Sportsnet West, and the Vancouver Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. The Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets are the only Canadian NHL teams whose non-national games are not exclusively broadcast by Rogers' networks, as both teams have regional television deals with TSN.
Unlike Sportsnet's national games, these games are subject to blackout outside of the teams' home markets. These games can be watched out of market on NHL Centre Ice or Rogers NHL GameCentre Live. In-market streaming of regional games on Sportsnet is also available on GameCentre Live. Due to its ownership of the national contract, Rogers has a monopoly on all English-language telecasts of teams whose regional rights are exclusively owned by Sportsnet.
The Sportsnet networks and CBC share in coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Selected games are simulcast with Punjabi-language commentary on Omni Television. All games from the conference finals onward are exclusively broadcast by CBC.
Like in the previous national deal with CBC and TSN, the league still gives U.S. rightsholder NBC Sports the first choice of games and times during the playoffs. As NBC prefers afternoon and primetime playoff games on the weekends, there were at least 2 Saturdays in May 2015 that did not have a post-season night game.
World Cup of Hockey Edit
Sportsnet and TVA Sports held broadcast rights to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, organized by the NHL and the NHL Players Association. Although it was initially reported that Rogers was allowed to match competing bids for the rights per its NHL rights contract, blocking a competing bid by TSN, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman denied that there was such a stipulation, and that the bidding process was "competitive". Similarly to HNIC, CBC aired Sportsnet-produced coverage of the tournament's semi-finals and final series.
While primarily using existing Sportsnet talent, a number of CBC Sports personalities, including the lead broadcast team of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson, veteran commentators Bob Cole and Greg Millen rinkside reporter Scott Oake and studio analyst Elliotte Friedman, joined Rogers to participate in Sportsnet's coverage and Hockey Night. These CBC alumni are joined by 3 former TSN personalities, Dave Randorf, Paul Romanuk, and Mike Johnson.
George Stroumboulopoulos serves as the studio host for Hockey Night in Canada and Hometown Hockey. Daren Millard hosts Wednesday Night Hockey, while Jeff Marek hosts Thursday night games along with Hockey Central Saturday. Ron MacLean no longer hosts Hockey Night in Canada, but is still joined by Don Cherry (who has been termed as "iconic" by Rogers' president Keith Pelley) for Coach's Corner. MacLean also serves as the on-location host for Hometown Hockey, accompanied by City Calgary Breakfast Television host Tara Slone. MacLean, Cherry and Oake are still under contract with the CBC, with Cherry under contract through 2018, and MacLean through at least 2016 for the 2016 Summer Olympics.