NHL TV rights could finally be slipping away from CBC


CBC's exclusive negotiating window with the league ends this month. What's next for the NHL on TV in Canada?

For a while, it has been suggested that there just isn't the money or the wherewithal to keep the NHL on CBC and continue the 60-plus year tradition of Hockey Night in Canada. There were problems in the last negotiations, which have been well-documented. The battle for hockey in Canada is unlike any rights war in America, where both emotions and the public's interest are at stake.

CBC, for those unaware, is a public broadcaster. Though they do receive commercial advertising revenue, much of their funding comes from the taxpayers. The question that comes up every time the NHL rights fees are set to increase (and they will, at absurd, record numbers this time around) is "how much of the taxpayers' money should be going to subsidize a hockey broadcast?" It's certainly a valid question, and probably one that could only ever be asked about hockey in Canada.

An excellent article by Steve Ladurantaye in The Globe & Mail points out that the network's exclusive negotiating rights with the league have a month left on them. As is always the case when rights are up for renewal, Bell Media -- owner of CTV and TSN -- would love to step in and take the package away, but as always, they can't commit the programming time to the NHL that CBC can. Their CTV airs a lot of U.S.-based programming, which would make it unlikely that they would pre-empt The Big Bang Theory for the massive slate of playoff games they'd need to air.

CBC still makes a lot of money off the NHL. The report suggests anywhere from $175-450 million a year would be lost in advertising revenue should they lose hockey. They are, however, cutting their budget drastically and have cut hundreds of employees (a source told me that another round of cuts had just recently been made). At what point does the cost of hockey just become more trouble than the vast amount it's admittedly worth?

While CBC and CTV likely fight over the future of Hockey Night in Canada (which would almost exclusively shift to cable's TSN), the league looks to find a way to make itself richer via a new cable deal. The network is always a draw in Canada when Canadian teams are involved, so why not create another exclusive night of hockey in the country? The idea, in conjunction likely with Rogers Sportsnet, would be to do Sunday night hockey, similar to what's been done with baseball and football in America. As long as the schedule is right, it'd be a slam dunk.

The NHL is set to make big money off of the Canadian market, money that will likely drive up revenues as well as the league's salary cap, so this negotiation is important to even more people than a normal one would be. They also have to fight the battle of tradition vs. slightly greener pastures, as the sepia-toned dreams of many a Canadian boy and girl are backdropped by Hockey Night in Canada. The league will make a reported $200 million per season off of Canada no matter what (similar to what NBC pays in America). The question becomes: just how much can you cash in, and how important is it to do so?

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