Rogers says NHL package has it on track to dominate Canadian sports television

Rogers says NHL package has it on track to dominate Canadian sports television

The return isn't what Rogers was hoping for when it went on the biggest spending spree in Canadian television history -- not by a long shot.

Ratings for its big-ticket Hockey Night In Canada package are down and with the audience-driving Toronto Maple Leafs heading further south each week, the prospects for a regular-season recovery aren't great.

But the man at the helm of this $5.2 billion ship says he's not only encouraged by recent developments, he sees success coming very soon on several fronts.

"Our goal in doing this deal was to make Sportsnet the Number 1 sports broadcasting brand in the country and we are becoming the best," Scott Moore said in an interview Tuesday.

The president of Sportsnet and NHL for Rogers pointed out that Sportsnet experienced a 9 per cent ratings increase during January and February, while rival TSN dropped 3 per cent from last year. He also noted that Sportsnet saw audiences in the much-coveted 18-to-34 age group rise 24 per cent in that period as TSN's dropped 13 per cent.

It should be noted that TSN's target age group is 25 to 54. It should also be noted that TSN says it had its highest-rated January in history and that it has a substantial lead on Sportsnet in average ratings -- 46 per cent at last look.

Numbers are in the eye of the beholder, so suffice to say that Sportsnet is growing but has a long way to go to become Canada's most-watched sports channel.

Also suffice to say that these two channels aren't quite ready to exchange Christmas gifts.

Illustrating that, Moore took a shot at his rivals, referring to several recent TSN releases touting big audiences for the likes of curling and soccer.

"TSN keeps putting out releases that highlight successful events, but in a lot of ways they're using the trees to disguise the forest," he said.

That, no doubt, was in retaliation for TSN's comments earlier this year disputing Moore's claims that the decreased hockey ratings may have been the result of a flawed ratings system. More to come from both sides, no doubt.

But outside of whether or not Sportsnet is gaining on TSN thanks to its hockey coverage, Moore says NHL ratings are better than expected considering how quickly the Leafs fell this season -- at least for the early CBC game.

Ratings for the early Hockey Night In Canada broadcast are down 2 per cent from last season, which isn't bad in light of the Leafs rapid descent to the bottom.

"I'm pleasantly surprised at how the ratings have held up, considering the Leafs' performance," Moore said. "It's been great to see the Canadian teams doing so well, but nobody drives ratings the way the Leafs do."

There has been an uptick in Saturday night ratings lately, at least until last Saturday when they were near a season low thanks to an even worse-than-usual effort by the Leafs. But Moore takes hope from the previous four weeks and expects to see more of that as the playoffs near.

He believes that Canadians are now figuring out where to find all the prime-time Saturday night games, which previously aired exclusively on CBC and are now scattered across the Rogers universe.

"It's been an interesting year and interesting to see how things have changed," he said. "I think people are getting used to where to look for games, so that's helped."
He expects ratings to rise even more as the playoffs approach and says the Montreal Canadiens will start getting more CBC dates, though this Saturday's game is scheduled for City while the woeful Leafs get the CBC spotlight.

If the four Canadian teams in playoff contention continue to win, Moore says "record ratings" could result.

As for the late CBC game, with ratings down 16 per cent from last year, Moore takes some of the blame for doing a poor job of promotion. And he's not ready to retract his suggestion that problems with the Numeris ratings may be playing a role, noting that the winning Calgary Flames are being outdrawn by the Winnipeg Jets, despite the fact that Winnipeg's market is half the size of Calgary's.

"Something there still doesn't make sense," he said. "Numeris tells us that Flames radio ratings up 25 per cent, so how can TV numbers be so low?" he asked. "Numeris has fixed a few things, but we still have some issues."

The rest of Rogers' hockey ratings are pretty much positive. Sportsnet reports that Wednesday night ratings (739,000 average) are up 1 per cent over what TSN got last year and that the Sunday night package on City (563,000 average) represents a 16 per cent increase over what City scored last year with imported dramas and sitcoms.

The Rogers package has hardly been a disaster -- unless reports that it promised advertisers a 20 per cent increase are true. Moore responded to a question on that issue by saying, "That 20 per cent is a reported figure and I won't comment other than to say that we are delivering the audiences for our advertisers."

It should also be noted that these are early days in the 12-year Rogers experiment. All the conglomerate needs is a winning season by the Leafs and all will be sunshine and roses.

On the other hand, waiting for that day make take the full 12 years.

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