Opening Day: The Changes to the Media Landscape

USATSI_7000424_154158418_lowresThe National Hockey League is commencing its 98th season of operation and 97th season of play today and some things have changed.

For one, the look of the NHL in Canada in terms of broadcasting is vastly different. This is the first year of Rogers Communications’ 12-year deal for the broadcasting rights and the digital media rights of the NHL. Sportsnet will replace TSN as the English language cable broadcasters, while Quebecor, TVA and TVA Sports will replace RDS as the French language broadcasters.

The CBC will still license the “Hockey Night in Canada” brand and will continue to air the characteristic Saturday night games for the time being. They’ll have the ability to broadcast the playoffs, too, and will air those games across Canada without the former regional structure. The theory here is that Canadians will have access to more games on a national level, so that could wind up being a very good thing.

Rogers will have production say over the CBC broadcasts, however, which will mean that there will be some changes in store. Ron MacLean will no longer be the host of the “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast, with George Stroumboulopoulos stepping in that role instead. MacLean has not been happy about the demotion, suggesting his many clashes with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman may have had something to do with it.

Of course, this is kind of a funny suggestion. Bettman, for all his vampirism and egotism, appeared year after year with MacLean. Second, he could have had MacLean shuffled entirely out of the deal.

It is true that Rogers has to put its own spin on things and that means that they’ll be slowly moving away from tradition, which is a good thing in a number of ways. The NHL still has to grow the game and having a younger, fresher host in charge of such a mandate can help. Stroumboulopoulos could certainly fit that bill.

Another positive way things will change is in how much sway the NHL has in the broadcasting of its game. With the CBC, the league had a lot of input.

“That pressure was always there to acquiesce, to toe the company line and in some cases that might have been the league line,” MacLean said. “But I felt strongly about the importance of a healthy NHL Players’ Association. That was a difficult thing for both the CBC and the league to accept, always was. Nobody [at the CBC] was ever happy when I was treating a partner [with skepticism], a partner that thought they were more important than the NHLPA.”

It pays to remember that television networks are never, never, never objective in the world of, well, anything. In the case of the NHL, the networks were always going to kowtow to them and that was that. People like MacLean could poke the bear, but limitations would always be in place. The same will go with Rogers; they will never threaten their investment.

Rogers has paid $2 billion to broadcast the National Hockey League. There will be some changes in terms of how you watch the game, some good and some bad. The landscape has changed and the power of Canada’s oligopoly of telecommunications providers has only increased.

The changes may not be readily apparent and may not impact your enjoyment of the finished product, of course, but they do reflect the ever-changing and always-rising tide of business in the sports world. Over the course of the next 12 years, Rogers will have a lot to prove in terms of how they handle the NHL. There will be more changes in terms of what you see and how you see it. Welcome to progress.


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