November 26, 2013 8:50 pm
Updated: November 26, 2013 8:55 pm

Bettman calls blockbuster NHL broadcast deal a ‘partnership to grow the game’

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ABOVE: NHL, Rogers ink landmark 12-year Canadian TV deal. Mark Carcasole reports. 

TORONTO – Canada’s hockey TV landscape underwent a seismic shift Tuesday as Rogers Communications wrested control of NHL multimedia rights with a blockbuster 12-year, $5.2-billion agreement that will preserve “Hockey Night in Canada” but limit CBC’s role in the iconic broadcast.

As part of the deal, TVA in Quebec has all of the Canadian French-language multi-media rights.

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The deal, the largest in NHL history, gives Rogers national rights to all NHL games, including the playoffs and Stanley Cup final, on all of its platforms in all languages. CBC and TVA will air games through a sublicensing agreement with Rogers.

READ MORE: What the Rogers hockey deal means for consumers

“We think this deal is historic and forward-looking,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday at a news conference. “It’s a partnership to grow the game.”

In addition, the agreement guarantees that there will be no further regionalization of games or local blackouts. Rogers has three exclusive windows to broadcast any game involving a Canadian team – Wednesday nights, Saturday nights (including CBC) and Sunday nights.

Video: Executives from Rogers, NHL and CBC discuss the benefits to fans

“It will be the NHL like never before,” Rogers president Keith Pelley promised.

While the CBC holds onto “Hockey Night in Canada,” the new deal will limit its control and lead to job losses at the public broadcaster.

In an internal memo, CBC president Hubert Lacroix said that “starting next year, Rogers will assume all editorial control (all editorial decisions with respect to the content, on-air talent and the creative direction of HNIC – we have the right to be consulted and there is a commitment to excellence) under the new agreement.”

He added that it wasn’t “the outcome we had hoped for,” confirming there will be job losses, though not as many as there would have been had they lost the NHL altogether.

READ MORE: Canadians react with mixed emotions to NHL, Rogers deal on social media

VIDEO: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces landmark NHL media rights deal with Rogers

“This may not be the ideal scenario but, it is the right outcome for Canadian hockey fans and is an acceptable adaptation to the role of the public broadcaster in the modern world of professional sports rights,” he said. “A world in which partnering with a wide array of other actors is a key to success.”

Lacroix said at the news conference that the NHL had high financial expectations and the CBC was “not in a position to spent taxpayers money on this game of high stakes.”

When asked how CBC will make money from the agreement, Lacroix pointed out that Rogers will get all the revenue but that there will be no cost to CBC.

Video: CBC head Hubert Lacroix discusses deal with Rogers to keep Hockey Night in Canada alive

“We think the ability to still have ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ is something important to us … and that’s what we get out of this,” he said, adding that CBC will be able to continue to promote their own programming during “Hockey Night in Canada.”

In his internal memo, Lacroix said the CBC had been in conversation with the league for several months.

“The CBC was prepared to do a fiscally responsible deal to preserve hockey on Saturday nights and to help the NHL to build the hockey brand through a variety of significant events and outreach activities,” he said. “The NHL chose a deal with only one broadcaster – that’s their choice and that’s their prerogative.”

Bettman said “Hockey Night in Canada” remains a priority for the league.

“We all recognize the importance, the value and the significance of ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ on CBC,” he said.

The deal also raises questions about the future of CBC’s talent, especially fan favourite Don Cherry. The high-profile hockey commentator wasn’t sure what would happen to his Coach’s Corner segment when he spoke to reporters Tuesday night.

“I can’t make a comment because I don’t know what’s going on,” said Cherry. “Usually I’m the best guy in the world for a comment but I can’t comment on something when I don’t know what’s going on.”

Pelley said it was too soon to answer those questions.

“Over the next months and years, we will evaluate all facets of our production and our programming, certainly in consultation with CBC regarding ‘Hockey Night in Canada,”‘ said Pelley.

It appears TSN is also on the outside looking in. The NHL’s news release early Tuesday made no mention of the all-sports network, which currently airs a package of regular-season and playoff games.

Video: Canadian media expert David Spencer weighs in on Rogers massive NHL rights deal and the impact on TSN and CBC.

“We congratulate the NHL on this announcement,” said Bell Media vice-president of communications Scott Henderson. “We submitted a bid we believed was valuable for the NHL and appropriate for our business, but were ultimately outbid.”

Henderson said TSN would have 10 Leafs games next season under a regional agreement and that, starting in 2015, the network would have 26 regional Leafs games. TSN also has a deal for over 60 regional Jets games through 2021.

The deal could put the iconic “Hockey Night in Canada” theme song in limbo. TSN has owned the rights to the jingle since 2008 after CBC was unable to negotiate a new agreement with the song’s composer.

Rogers CEO and president Nadir Mohamed said the new agreement makes sense for Rogers, which has made sports investments a priority.

“We’ve had a focus on sports for the last few years,” he said. “I talked about the investments we’ve made, whether it’s the Jays, the MLSE, investment, The Score, regional rights to hockey. So really, in some ways, this is the icing on the cake.”

“Categorically this is positive for shareholders at Rogers,” he added. “It’s a financially good deal for us.”

The deal is subject to approval by the NHL board of governors, which meets Dec. 9-10 in Pebble Beach, Calif.

The league said in a statement that the agreement is the largest media rights deal in its history and one of the largest media rights deals ever in Canada, including the largest-ever sports-media rights agreement.

Rogers will provide game coverage with expanded pre- and post-game coverage beginning at 4 p.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays. Rogers also has exclusive rights to special events such as future NHL all-star games and NHL drafts.

In addition, Rogers said it will use its digital technology to stream games on the Internet, wireless and mobile devices, as well as satellite radio. Rogers will operate NHL Center Ice and NHL GameCenter Live in Canada.

© 2013 The Canadian Press

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