SBD/January 10, 2013/Media

Shortened NHL Season May Complicate Rogers-Bell Split Of Maple Leafs Broadcasts

Bell and Rogers will split radio broadcasts until the current deal expires in '15
Maple Leafs owners Rogers Communications and Bell Media are "set to test the friendliness of their partnership as they divvy up the NHL team’s radio broadcasts ahead of a shortened season," according to Steve Ladurantaye of the GLOBE & MAIL. The companies already have "agreed to share the games 50/50, which means they’ll have about 25 each to put on their respective radio stations." A lockout-shortened season has "ratcheted up the importance of each regular-season game, however, and the companies are locked in a fierce battle for listeners in the Greater Toronto Area -- which could make the process of selecting who gets what difficult when the NHL schedule is released some time this week." How they handle the radio negotiations will "help set the tone for upcoming discussions on television rights that will eventually arise" when the current broadcast deals expire in '15. The negotiations are "all the trickier because Rogers is already committed to airing Raptors games," and because the NHL season overlaps with the company's coverage of Blue Jays games. Meanwhile, the CBC, which has exclusive NHL rights on Saturday nights with "Hockey Night in Canada," is "considering adding a number of games to its schedule in order to make up for those it lost in the lockout and meet its contractual obligations." The broadcasters also "face a host of other challenges" due to the shortened NHL season (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/10).

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD: RDS President Gerry Frappier said that the NHL season starting in mid-January "is far from ideal" for the net. Frappier: "The timing, frankly, could not have been worse. To have a truncated season return in the middle of January is just about the worst-case scenario for a broadcaster. ... So in some cases the national advertisers will not have the same money to re-invest in hockey when we come back." He added, "The second reason is that in the course of an 82-game schedule, not every game is in the same period of time that has the same commercial value to advertisers. Games in November and December have a lot more value than games in January or February because of the Christmas/consumer-shopping window." But Frappier continued, "This is a way better situation than if there had been a cancellation of the season. We could’ve maybe had a better financial picture if say hockey had not come back but that’s short-term thinking. You damage the game and you’re invested in this game for the long-term." Frappier said hockey is a "loss leader" for nets like RDS and TSN. In Montreal, Brendan Kelly writes, "But again that’s short-term thinking -- the fact is the NHL generates subscribers and their fees are a huge part of RDS’s financial picture" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/10).
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