When Rogers took over the NHL's television rights from TSN earlier this year, it claimed it'd bring unprecedented access to the league's broadcast on all of your screens: television, laptop, tablet, smartphone, whatever. The company is beginning to deliver on that promise.
Rogers announced Wednesday that Canadian NHL fans will have pretty incredible access to games during the 2014-15 NHL season through the Rogers NHL GameCentre Live service. It's basically the exact same service that's existed in the past on both sides of the border, but now Rogers is taking over and installing some serious perks.
- First off, if you're a Rogers customer for your Internet or wireless service (but not cable, as far as we can tell), you'll get the new NHL GameCentre Live product completely free until the end of December. That's the best perk, and it impacts millions of people with existing Rogers service. After Jan. 1, the product will be available for $129.
- Rogers is offering all games broadcast by one of its networks -- either nationally or by one of its regional Sportsnet stations -- via GameCentre Live. That's regardless of whether or not you're in or out of the local market, meaning that if you're a Canucks fan in Vancouver, you won't be forced to watch the game on your television. It'll work on your phone or tablet, which wasn't the case previously.
- Of course, on that last point: since Rogers is still a cable company at its core, you will need to authenticate that you have a subscription to the regional Sportsnet station before you can watch via GameCentre Live. But it's still a step in the right direction when it comes to cord-cutting and the ability to take your cable subscription with you.
- Rogers controls the regional broadcast rights for four of Canada's seven teams: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. So regional broadcasts of Winnipeg Jets games by TSN, for example, will remain blacked out on any device but your television if you're in the Winnipeg market. Out-of-market viewers would be able to watch Jets games just the same as they were able to in previous years, however.
- French language fans across Canada will have access to TVA Sports French broadcasts of Senators and Canadiens games via the new Rogers' branded GameCentre product. That begins in January.
- Major league events like the Winter Classic, All-Star Game and the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be available on NHL GameCentre Live as well.
These perks, of course, benefit Rogers customers more than anybody else. It's an attempt to make customers who have the ability to switch to one of their platforms, be it cable or Internet or wireless service, do so, and it's probably going to work. The NHL is the ultimate catnip for Canadian customers in any market, and Rogers is paying a $5.2 billion premium over the next 12 years to use that catnip to its advantage.
Here's the pricing rundown overall for GameCentre in Canada this year:
Rogers GameCentre Live Prices: $179 earlybird (until Oct 3) $199 full season $129 half season (after Jan 1) $59 Habs/Sens French Package— Jeff Veillette (@Jeffler) September 3, 2014
Last year, GameCentre Live was roughly $175 Canadian for a full season on the early bird price.
I'm American. Does any of this matter?
None of this applies to fans on the American side of the border -- at least not right now.
Games broadcast nationally on NBC Sports are available via a free live feed on the NBC website, but not via the NHL GameCenter Live product. You also need to prove you have a cable or satellite subscription that includes NBCSN if you want to watch those games.
If we're thinking wishfully here, though, maybe the Rogers model will open a door for NBC/Comcast in the United States. There's no reason they couldn't take over operation of GameCenter Live in the United States, opening up the same perks to Comcast cable/Internet customers. NBC/Comcast owns the local broadcast rights for the Flyers, Capitals, Sharks and Blackhawks as well, and could use this model to lift the blackout rules for fans of those teams in their local markets in the same way Rogers is doing here.
Again, wishful thinking. Maybe someday we'll all just be able to watch hockey however we want without being tied down to a cable subscription too. We can dream.