Rogers Locks Up NHL in Canada

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In what could be a transformative deal north of the border, Rogers Communications, Canada’s largest cable operator and owner of Rogers Sportsnet, has netted a 12-year, $4.9 billion ($5.2 billion Canadian) media rights pact with the National Hockey League.

Likened to Fox wresting National Football League rights from CBS in the 1990s, the pact, announced Nov. 26, ices rival BCE’s TSN out of national NHL action well into the next decade.

The national pact, subject to approval at an NHL board of governors meeting on Dec. 9 and 10, begins with the 2014-15 campaign and extends through 2025-26. The deal, which encompasses regular-season games, playoffs contests and the Stanley Cup Final for its Sportsnet linear services, also gives Rogers rights across TV Everywhere, wireless, tablet, terrestrial and satellite radio, and Internet streaming platforms. Sportnet previously held NHL national TV rights from 1998-2002.

Reflective of Canadians’s passion for hockey, the deal is the largest ever signed by the NHL, averaging about $408 million annually. That’s up from the $160 million CBC, TSN and Frenchlanguage RDS are allocating annually under their six-year pacts that conclude after the 2013- 14 season.

Moreover, the Rogers deal dwarfs the $2 billion that NBC Sports Group is paying the league in a 10-year U.S. rights pact now in its third season. Rogers’ Canadian rights contract should also help the NHL push closer to its goal of $4 billion in annual revenue over the next three years, with 25% coming from national streams.

Under the pact, Canadians will receive more NHL games than ever before, which figures to drive more subscribers to Rogers’ wireless and cable assets, including its City and Sportsnet vehicles. The deal guarantees no further regionalization of games or local blackouts wll take place. Rogers has three exclusive windows to broadcast any game involving a Canadian team on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

The deal freezes TSN — the venture between BCE’s Bell Media unit and ESPN — from national NHL rights that have been a centerpiece since 2002. TSN and TSN2 are scheduled to air 150 NHL regular-season games in the 2013-14 campaign. TSN’s extant regional deal remains intact. Some believe the loss of national NHL product could result in a reduction in TSN’s monthly license fee.

Rogers has also reached a four-year sublicensing deal with CBC, which retains the Hockey Night in Canada franchise, albeit with competition from Rogers properties, as well as playoff action, including the Stanley Cup Final. CBC has been airing Hockey Night since 1952, but the future of fabled announcer Don Cherry remained unclear at press time.

Rogers has also inked a sublicensing deal with TVA for all national French-language multimedia rights, which will provide content for parent Quebecor’s cable and wireless systems throughout Quebec. BCE’s RDS French-language service will also be out of the national NHL mix when the rights agreement goes into effect next season.

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