Rogers' questions about accuracy of NHL ratings 'nonsense,' says competition

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Rogers' questions about accuracy of NHL ratings 'nonsense,' says competition
Rogers' questions about accuracy of NHL ratings 'nonsense,' says competition

Rogers isn't getting any support in its claims that Canada's TV ratings system may be shortchanging sports broadcasters and under-reporting NHL viewers.

In fact, the head of its chief rival calls those concerns "nonsense."

"Are we to believe that there's an inherent bias exclusively for NHL viewers?" asked Phil King, president of CTV sports and entertainment, and the man responsible for all things sweaty on the main network and on TSN. "It doesn't seem to affect baseball or football, but NHL hockey. That's just silly. It appears there's only one company in Canada that believes this."

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King was commenting after Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL, responded to huge drops in ratings for the NHL all-star weekend by raising concerns that the ratings system was not counting all sports fans. Moore said Rogers had raised these issues with Numeris, which gathers ratings in Canada, months ago.

He said it was something the entire TV business should be concerned about.

But King says he's not aware of anyone else raising red flags. He cited ratings increases in many sports on his networks, including NFL, tennis and Toronto Raptors games. He also noted that Rogers has experienced ratings increases in several sports, most notably for the Toronto Blue Jays, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.

"So if the ratings are wrong, how do you explain that some NHL numbers are up?" King said. "I think Rogers is worried that its NHL deal isn't producing the big numbers they expected and are looking for answers."

 Regardless, it's not hard to see why Moore questioned the ratings for the NHL all-star weekend. Audiences for three days of programming were down from 27 to 61 per cent. 

On the face of it, that seems inexplicable, but you never know. Maybe after a long absence, fans forgot what an all-star weekend was.

But there's little doubt that the all-star game was a flashpoint for Rogers' disappointment in all NHL ratings this year.

After spending a record $5.2 billion U.S. on the NHL package and promising advertisers ratings increases, Rogers has instead suffered audience decreases. Saturday night games are down and the much-touted Sunday game is underperforming badly.

But unlike the all-star game, it's not hard to see why. Here are some of the reasons:

Blame Toronto: The Toronto Maple Leafs tanked even earlier this season and have scared off a lot of viewers. Leafs regional ratings on TSN are averaging 630,000 viewers in Ontario this season -- a drop of 13 per cent from last year. On Sportsnet, Leafs games are averaging 569,000, down 22 per cent from 2013-14. That diminished interest translates into fewer viewers on the early Saturday night game, which then translates into fewer viewers sticking around for the  late game.

The price of change: Sports fans don't like change -- remember how Don Cherry and Ron MacLean were received when they first arrived? -- and Rogers has made a lot of changes. They're not necessarily changes for the worse, but hockey fans will take their time adapting to all the new faces. While they're not likely unhappy enough to stop watching the games, they might not stick around at intermission or post-game, and that affects overall ratings. Not everything Rogers has done has worked -- Doug MacLean and Nick Kypreos make an annoying pair -- but viewers will accept it all in time. Rogers has had three months of a 12-year deal, so these are early days.

Sunday, bloody Sunday: King was one of those who predicted that Sunday night hockey wouldn't work, and he wasn't alone. Training fans to tune in on a non-traditional night is hard enough, but getting them to look for hockey on a channel like City is even harder. 

Is it all too much? It may look appealing on paper to have five games on simultaneously on a Saturday night, but Rogers may have overestimated the demand. It also may have underestimated the power of exclusivity. By having so many games available, fewer games have become must viewing. Miss a game and there'll be another along tomorrow night or two hours later.

Promotion power shortage: One of Rogers' biggest challenges is telling viewers where to find all these games: Sportsnet, CBC, FX Canada, City. The problem is that it doesn't have the reach of a CTV or Global to promote its NHL offerings. City is its flagship conventional channel and it traditionally ranks well behind the others in reach and audience. It does have the power of Hockey Night In Canada to promote other games, but has that only one night a week. 

This isn't to say that Rogers blew it by cornering the market on national hockey broadcasts. By next year, or in a few years, it may be making buckets of money off the NHL. But right now, it's facing an uphill battle.

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