Eh Game

Rogers blockbuster NHL deal a dark day for TSN, CBC

Chris Zelkovich
Eh Game

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Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed (right) sits with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday 26, 2013

Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed (right) sits with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday …

No matter how you look at the earth-shattering deal that gives Rogers full control of all national NHL games for the next 12 years, the announcement was the worst possible news for TSN and CBC.

If Rogers Media president Keith Pelley lost sleep last night through sheer excitement, as he said in Tuesday's press conference, TSN and CBC bosses spent the entire night tossing and turning with dread. Tuesday's announcement by Rogers could be seen as the equivalent of an execution at dawn for TSN and CBC.

[Rogers signs monster NHL deal to shake up the Canadian TV landscape]

Barring some rabbit pulled out of some hat, it almost sure that the deal will end TSN's decades-long reign as Canadian sports broadcasting's leader. As for CBC, it not only puts the sports department's future in question but the viability of the entire network.

For years, Rogers has been trying to whittle away at TSN's big lead in subscribers, viewers and revenue with a pen knife. Today, it took a chainsaw to that lead.

A Bell Media release said that TSN would continue as "Canada's sports leader." How long is the question.

Starting next season, the deal leaves TSN with two NHL properties: 26 regional Toronto Maple Leafs games and the regional Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens packages. Nationally, it will be a hockey-free zone.

Yes, TSN still has the likes of CFL, curling, world junior hockey, NFL, soccer, basketball and a sub-licensing deal with CBC on the Sochi Olympics.That's a pretty good lineup -- anywhere but in Canada. In this country, if you don't have the NHL you can't be seen as a serious player.

Not having to fork out millions a year for NHL rights will free up some cash and allow TSN to buy properties to fill the yawning chasm left by hockey. But there is nothing out there that can produce the audiences or ad revenues that hockey does.

Hockey also provides valuable lead-ins for shows like SportsCentre. That is now gone, meaning reduced audiences for anything that follows a hockey game. Without hockey, TSN is sure to lose some of its personalities, too. With so many hockey games to air, Rogers will go on a hiring binge and it's not hard to imagine the likes of Chris Cuthbert and Gord Miller moving downtown. Maybe even a Bob McKenzie might head south.

[CBC internal memo on Rogers, NHL deal details loss of editorial control, jobs]

Bell Media, which owns TSN, says it made a bid for the package "but we were ultimately outbid." It's a loss that Bell will have a great deal of trouble compensating for.

While TSN faces the possibility of losing its position on the top of the specialty channel ladder, that's nothing compared with the doomsday scenario looming for CBC.

As CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix pointed out in Tuesday's press conference, the network will get no ad revenue from Hockey Night In Canada and will use it mainly to promote its other programming. In other words, it's basically using hockey as an infomercial.

That would be bad enough to swallow at any other channel, but the NHL is the biggest ad revenue provider at the CBC. It's been estimated that NHL games produce about $170 million a year.

With that gone and even more government funding threatened, the CBC is poorer. That will affect every aspect of its business and surely lead to job losses -- not only at Hockey Night In Canada.

CBC will pocket the $200 million that a new NHL deal would have cost, and that could help weather the storm for a while. But even if the network manages to survive the loss of hockey income, it could face an even bigger challenge down the road. Its deal to carry one Saturday night game, the playoffs and the Stanley Cup final is for four years -- and even that's not certain. Pelley said Tuesday that if a Canadian team made the final, he might consider following the 2010 Olympic model and airing the games on a bunch of (Rogers) channels.

[Puck Daddy: NHL, Rogers TV deal makes history]

After the four-year deal runs out, it's possible that Rogers may just keep everything for itself and leave CBC without hockey at all. While that may seem drastic considering the network's 61-year relationship with the NHL, all bets are off in this brave new world.

Both TSN and CBC have faced challenges in the past and dealt with them successfully. But they are now looking at something bigger than anything that has threatened them before.

Rogers CEO Nadir Mohammed called the deal "a game changer for sports broadcasting." That may go down as one of the biggest understatements in Canadian television history.

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