As an American, I’m a little slow on the uptake when it comes to Canadian television. I didn’t realize until recently that “The Littlest Hobo” was a dog. I didn’t quite grasp the enormity of Dan and Jay leaving SportsCentre for FOX Sports. I just assumed all Canadian high schools were populated by 26 year olds after watching “Degrassi.”
But as I hockey fan, I understand the enormity of the news that broke late Monday night, via the venerable Bob McKenzie: His network, TSN, is going to be frozen out of the new Canadian NHL television deal, with Rogers Sportsnet and CBC getting exclusive English-language national rights for the next 12 years.
Chris Botta of Sports Business Daily reported earlier on Monday that the Canadian rights holders renewal was going to make the NHL a mint:
The ongoing negotiations involve five Canadian networks: CBC, TSN, Sportsnet, and French-language broadcasters RDS and TVA. Negotiations are focused on 10-year deals, the same length as the $2 billion agreement between the NHL and NBC Sports Group that was reached in 2011. The forthcoming Canadian deals are expected to escalate in value over the length of the contracts, possibly exceeding a total of $400 million by the end of their terms.
… In its current deal, TSN pays $40 million annually. Sources said that TSN’s reluctance to pay substantially more has been the biggest stumbling block in the league’s overall negotiations with the Canadian networks, but the issues are expected to be resolved in the coming weeks.
Or perhaps not.
So apparently Rogers anted up something massive to the NHL for the playoff games and other assets – including a Sunday night property – that were at stake in this negotiation. And apparently CBC had just open a fire hose of taxpayer money to secure its piece of the broadcasting pie as well.
A few random thoughts:
• This is karma for stealing the Hockey Night In Canada theme, right?
• TSN’s not totally out of the hockey business. They still have the local rights to the Winnipeg Jets and the Montreal Canadiens, including the Jets until 2021. But the national and playoff packages are gone.
In losing TSN, the NHL has lost a partner that revolutionized broadcasting of the league. Day-long trade deadline and free agent coverage were TSN innovations. As was TV coverage of the NHL draft and even the All Star Game fantasy draft. The NHL also loses TSN’s in-game coverage, which featured award-winning broadcasters like Chris Cuthbert, James Duthie and Bob McKenzie.
However, the bigger loss is undoubtedly for TSN. It’s not the end for TSN, as some were quick to project. They still have CFL and curling locked up in long-term contracts (which, yes, a lot of people do watch). TSN also has the World Juniors locked up for a decade in a new contract that kicks in this December. The NHL can live without TSN because the network will still bid aggressively in 12 years. That’s in comparison to CBC, who probably would be out of broadcasting hockey for good if they had lost NHL rights for over a decade.
• Obviously, the dispersal of talent from the TSN mothership is going to be epic to watch. One assumes Bob McKenzie remains with the network as its lead hockey analyst. James Duthie, the ridiculously talented studio host, can do whatever he’d like and will have no shortage of options -- even here in the U.S.
• Darren Dreger, another insider, could move to a studio host role; or, perhaps, to another network in a similar role. A “Hot Stover” perhaps? Pierre LeBrun has ESPN to fall back on.
• One name to watch: color analyst Ray Ferraro. He has relationships with both Sportsnet and NBC in the U.S., and is rather good at what he does. Might we see Chicken Parm back on American cable?
• I’m biased, obviously, in that I believe Sportsnet’s deadline coverage matches or surpasses that of TSN in the last few years. But I hope the network still provides it’s in-depth trade deadline coverage as it has in the past. And by that I mean three dozen white guys fiddling with their BlackBerrys and five panels of pundits doing all they can to fill time, usually by plotting out Olympic rosters.
This would also be a massive win for Sportsnet, TSN's main competitor. TSN owns the rights to the CFL, and a ton of ESPN-based programming (ESPN is a part-owner of the network), and they still have the World Junior Hockey Championship, which is a massive program for them. But Sportsnet would now have both the best package of NHL hockey on cable, and the best package of Canadian junior league hockey on cable.
• I’m not even sure if there’s an American equivalent to what’s happening with TSN.
NBC losing baseball in 1989? They cushioned the blow by signing the NBA.
CBS losing March Madness? No, because sports isn’t that network’s lifeblood.
If ESPN lost “Monday Night Football”, they’d still be a go-to for NFL coverage. Will the same hold for TSN? Without rights-holder access, what access do they have? How much coverage do they give?
McKenzie seemed to indicate that the network would still be all-in for coverage:
“There's bound to be degree of uncertainty ahead but this isn't first time TSN will be without nat'l NHL rights. It happened from 1998-2002. In fact, that's when I quit my fulltime newspaper job to be a fulltime broadcaster. TSN decided then it would, in spite of losing nat'l rights, maintain/intensify efforts to continue as THE source for hockey news and info. And that has always been our mandate at TSN, with or without nat'l NHL rights, and I'd like to think that will continue now.”
Let’s hope so too.
Because, frankly, this sucks. It sucks for hockey fans that were given incredible, insightful and encompassing coverage from TSN. It sucks for their talent, who will leave for other places and elbow out other talent for their jobs. It could suck for CBC and Sportsnet to not have TSN as the bar over which to clear.
I raise a glass to my friends (and frien-emies) at TSN. There’s no worse feeling in this industry than working your ass off, achieving great things and then watching the trap door opened underneath you by management because of money. It happens way too often in this business. You feel powerless. You feel commodified. You wonder if any of this is worth your time and passion when it can just be stolen from you like that.
Or as someone who was the face of hockey in the U.S. at one point put it:
Condolences to TSN hockey people. I know how you feel. It's gut wrenching and deflating. I'm sure many will move over. Good luck.
— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) November 26, 2013
So say we all.
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