Sportsnet, CHL out to 'revitalize' Memorial Cup format

Buzzing The Net
Action from Game 6 of the MasterCard Memorial Cup between the Guelph Storm and London Knights on Wednesday May 21, 2014. The Storm defeated the Knights 7-2. Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images
Action from Game 6 of the MasterCard Memorial Cup between the Guelph Storm and London Knights on Wednesday May 21, 2014. The Storm defeated the Knights 7-2. Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Tradition is nice; higher TV ratings are better.

For all that is unique and wonderful about the 10 days in May that comprise the Memorial Cup tournament, the protracted format and the fact one team has essentially bought its spot by assuming the liability of hosting makes it rather remote to the casual fan.

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The latter, of course, is who Sportsnet has its sights squarely set on after laying out $5.2 billion over 12 years to land national NHL rights (and, with less fanfare, securing Canadian Hockey League rights for the same timespan). On Thursday, Sportsnet president Scott Moore said the network and the CHL plan to "revitalize" the tournament's format, which has been in use since 1983. Going to a one-and-done, single-elimination format similar to the NCAA tournament (AKA March Madness) is one of the scenarios on the table.

From Gabriel Beland, translated:"Whenever the content increases, it's great for us. What is good with March Madness in the United States is that it lasts three weeks and several rivalries are born, " said the president of Sportsnet.

The Commissioner of major junior hockey in Quebec (QMJHL) admits that several scenarios are on the table. "We are open to looking at the different possibilities," said Gilles Courteau.

"It is certain that the March Madness format may be considered ... We have to make sure to have some exciting events that will bring good television ratings," Courteau said. (La Presse)

The main reason the Memorial Cup averaged around 244,000 viewers on Sportsnet, of course, is that it runs against the Stanley Cup playoffs. That's intractable so long as the three leagues play 68- to 72-game seasons followed by four rounds of playoffs before asking four teams to play 10-day showcase tournament.

Beland goes on to point out that Moore described having a suspect host team — hello there, 2013 Saskatoon Blades — as a "negative effect" on the tournament's attractiveness. The other part of that is the event has grown at the corporate level to the point that only a handful of teams have the resources to host, which creates another inequity.

None of this would happen for a few seasons, but the tendency is that the rights holder eventually gets what it wants. Hypothetically, a 16-team single-elimination tournament offers 15 games, each one with real stakes. That is an improvement over an eight- or nine-game touranment that doesn't really start until its second weekend.

The Memorial Cup, though, is a big revenue stream for all of the teams in the host league. Ideally, any change would involve some sensitivity to the realities of small-market CHL team finance, along with the needs of the players.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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