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Volume 20 No. 42
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Rogers anticipates brighter future as national, regional NHL viewership grows

After a sluggish start to its 12-year, $5.2 billion (Canadian) deal with the NHL, Canadian broadcaster Rogers Media is hoping that the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs offer a glimpse of what’s to come.

The first two years of the partnership, signed in 2013, have not delivered for Rogers, with 16 percent declines in viewership in the first two years. Adding to the woes: All seven Canadian teams missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 1970.

This season has brought renewed hope to fans across the country, however, thanks to young players like the Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau, the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews. All three powered their teams back to the playoffs, joined by the Montreal Canadians and Ottawa Senators.

The success of teams across the country was a boon this year for Rogers, which saw increases across all of its national “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcasts, as well as with its Sunday night “Hometown Hockey” programming.

It saw even larger growth regionally for the teams. Viewership was up 27 percent for Maple Leafs games on Sportsnet Ontario and up 40 percent for Oilers games on Sportsnet West. Even matchups between U.S. teams did better in Canada this season, up 4 percent.

Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL Properties for Rogers Media, said he believes the recent rebound is just the start.

“What’s really exciting about this is that it’s not just this season and this year, but what you can see ahead for the next few years with all the young talent that has popped up across the teams,” Moore said. “Looking at the Canadian teams now, I think we’re poised for a good, strong run ahead.”

Moore said that the success of the ratings this year — especially for Toronto games — has led the network to increase rates multiple times. He decline to provide specific figures.

For the first round, Moore said, Rogers has taken roughly two minutes of advertisements out of each intermission break, putting that back into on-air content to better cover the games.

“We really want to tell this story better, and we’ve seen that overall ratings go up if we’re taking less breaks — and that means extra time for [commentators] Ron [MacLean] and Don [Cherry] in the first intermission, and our panel in the second,” he said. “With so many games, we’re expecting very good ratings, so since the value of each spot goes up, we don’t need to have as many.”

Moore said the network expects to exceed its projected advertising budget for the first round. He declined comment on how much ad revenue the network expects for this year’s playoffs.

“I’ve maintained that by the end of this deal that it will be viewed as an excellent one,” he said. “I joke with our finance people that my personal perceived IQ is already up 15 percent compared to last year.”

NBC Sports, even with fewer U.S. teams, sees an opportunity.

“Last year everyone was saying there are no Canadian teams [in the playoffs]. Was that great for the U.S.? No, it’s not,” said Sam Flood, NBC Sports executive producer “What’s great for the U.S. is great hockey and great stars. It doesn’t matter where they play. It matters that we get to showcase them.”