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Volume 22 No. 15
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Rogers looks for a rebound with NHL ratings

Scott Moore, Rogers Media’s president of Sportsnet and NHL, knew there would be ups and downs over the network’s 12-year contract with the NHL.

“I would have wanted the ups to come earlier,” he said, “but we expect they will come.”

It has been a tough start to the partnership, which was signed in 2013 for $5.2 billion (Canadian), but has since decreased in value by more than 20 percent as a result of currency fluctuations.

Hockey viewing was down across all Canadian networks last season, exacerbated by the poor performance of all seven Canadian teams, none of which advanced to the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1970. The audience for regular-season broadcasts on the league’s national cable channel, Sportsnet, and over-the-air channel CBC, to whom Rogers sublicenses games, decreased 15 percent year over year, according to Numeris.

Ron MacLean (left) and David Amber of “Hockey Night in Canada”
Photo by: SPORTSNET / DARREN GOLDSTEIN

The average overall audience for the Pittsburgh-San Jose Stanley Cup Final on CBC was 2.08 million, a 13 percent drop from the previous year. In the first year of the deal, Rogers saw declines across the same metrics.

“The NHL realizes the same thing we’ve realized — that this is an anomaly. A tough anomaly, but an anomaly,” Moore said. “There was a real apathy towards some of the Canadian teams, but the great thing about sports is that hope springs eternal each year.”

Moore hopes that a heightened focus on the network’s flagship program, “Hockey Night in Canada,” also provides a boost. The Saturday night block of programming was the most-watched program of the night in Canada for 22 of its 26 broadcasts last season, but the average 1.61 million viewers also marked a decline year over year.

While the deal has brought more NHL games to the national Canadian audience, it has created production issues for Rogers. In the league’s previous Canadian deal, TSN nationally aired fewer games during the week, and CBC controlled all elements of “Hockey Night in Canada.” Rogers now has three exclusive windows to air any game including a Canadian team.

“One of our biggest challenges as a single broadcast entity has been producing upwards of 500 games a year, which is a herculean task to begin with,” Moore said.

Returning for its 64th season, “Hockey Night in Canada” will bring back beloved host Ron MacLean, who was replaced after nearly 30 years when Rogers began the deal in 2014. Rather than featuring a rotating roster of panelists, the network will stick with three: Nick Kypreos, Kelly Hrudey and Elliotte Friedman. The network is also relaunching its wrap-up show after the two game broadcasts, “After Hours,” which it also removed two years ago.

“Team performance is always going to be the force that drives ratings, but production around the games is important,” Moore said.

Rob Corte, vice president of Sportsnet and NHL Production and who oversees live and studio production, said staff members often were assigned to do four to five shows a week in addition to “Hockey Night in Canada.” This year, the network has dedicated all of the show’s producers to make Saturday their sole focus.

Moore said ad sales around “Hockey Night in Canada” have been trending well. He said that typically the network’s large integrated sponsors, many of whom are also NHL sponsors, take up about 80 percent of the inventory and that they already have about 70 percent of that locked in. He declined to provide specific revenue figures around the broadcast.

The deal has been instrumental in the network’s overarching goal to surpass former NHL rights holder TSN and become the No. 1 sports brand in Canada. Sportsnet has been ahead in viewership since taking over NHL coverage.

Still, Moore understands that while there are still many critics who wonder whether this was the best bet for both the league and the network, he believes that only more good results are ahead.

“I joke that when Toronto is playing Edmonton or Calgary in the Stanley Cup Final, people will be saying how the people at Sportsnet are geniuses for doing a long-term deal,” he said.