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Volume 20 No. 42
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Canadiens join all-access crowd with ‘24CH’

Inspired in part by the success of HBO’s “24/7” documentary series on the Winter Classic, the Montreal Canadiens have joined the select ranks of NHL clubs that provide behind-the-scenes programming offering an inside look at the team.

The goal, Montreal officials say, is to bring the Canadiens closer to current fans and, perhaps, win some new ones along the way.

“There has to be an emotional tie between the fan and the brand,” said Canadiens Chief Operating Officer Kevin Gilmore. “We never want to lose that. Creating compelling content that gives fans more access to our players is one way to forge that bond.”

Beyond HBO’s “24/7,” the Edmonton Oilers’ “Oil Change” is seen by NHL teams as a pioneer of access shows. After debuting on TSN for one season, “Oil Change” has aired on Sportsnet in 2011-12 and this season. The show, produced by Alberta-based Aquila Productions, also runs on the NHL Network.

The Pittsburgh Penguins last season created “In the Room,” which started out as six-minute inside looks at players and coaches. The segments first were shown only on the team’s website, but team rights holder Root Sports liked the footage and worked with the team on producing a half-hour show for the network. Beginning this season, NHL Network and Root Sports are both broadcasting “In The Room.”

Inside-look shows, of course, exist across sports. The NFL has had “Hard Knocks” on HBO; Major League Baseball has been involved with “The Franchise” on Showtime; and the Brooklyn Nets are currently featured in “The Association” on NBA TV. None of those league’s teams, however, has its own behind-the-scenes show.

What’s also notable among the Oilers, Penguins and now Canadiens is that these are franchises that already have large fan bases. None is desperate to sell tickets. The Canadiens’ daily media coverage far surpasses what most American NHL teams receive — and it comes in two languages. Still, Canadiens’ ownership advocated opening some doors, via video content, that usually are closed to fans.

“Growing up in Montreal, my relationship with the players was special to me,” said Canadiens owner, president and CEO Geoff Molson. “It’s important to give our fans greater access to our players and management so the fans get to know their team.”

The Canadiens’ effort, called “24CH,” focuses on footage from practices and during the team’s travels. The programming is sponsored by Bell Canada, a minority owner of the club and naming-rights sponsor of the Canadiens’ arena. It is produced by French-language broadcast partner RDS and distributed in three formats.

Alex Galchenyuk gets good news from Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin on “24CH.”
“24CH Flash,” 48 short clips — one each to run on the day of the club’s games in this abbreviated NHL season — are available in French and English on the Canadiens’ app for Bell Mobility customers. Seven-minute segments, called “24CH Weekly,” are available in French and English once a week on More than 100,000 individual users watched the debut segment in late January on the team’s website. “24CH The Series” is a package of six 30-minute episodes that will run during the season in French on RDS and in English on TSN2.

According to the Canadiens, the most-viewed segment so far included general manager Marc Bergevin informing 2012 No. 3 overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk that he made the team. The scene was shot in coach Michel Therrien’s office by a GoPro camera that was mounted on his desk.

“The Canadiens are a religion to the people of Montreal,” said Nicolas Poitras, vice president of residential services marketing at Bell. “We’re sponsoring these shows and they are delivered on our devices. People will think more highly of Bell, and we’re giving potential new consumers one more reason to choose us.”

While Bell is the primary sponsor of the shows, Gilmore said his corporate sales staff has been in discussion with potential secondary sponsors.

One key for any of the clubs doing these shows is getting the cooperation of coaches and players. In Pittsburgh, “In the Room” came after the Penguins had been featured for more than a month on “24/7” prior to the 2011 Winter Classic.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said of the HBO series. “The organization decided we didn’t want to make it a one-time thing. ... Now, ‘In The Room’ gives us a way to build on our connection with the fans.”