SPORTS

CBC still showing NHL playoffs this season but now shut out of ad revenue

04/14/2015 01:41 EDT | Updated 06/22/2015 03:59 EDT
TORONTO - Ask Scott Moore if he's in an NHL playoff pool and he laughs.

Yes, the president of Sportsnet and NHL at Rogers Media is in a hockey pool.

"It's worth millions of dollars in advertising," he jokes.

Moore is the man at the centre of Rogers' 12-year, $5.2-billion NHL rights deal. Starting Wednesday, Rogers' first shot at the Stanley Cup playoff race begins.

There will still be playoff games on CBC, starting with Wednesday's first-round openers between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators, followed by the Vancouver Canucks versus the Calgary Flames. Post-season hockey on CBC is a 63-year-old tradition Moore, a former head of CBC Sports, is reluctant to change.

He points out CBC owns the rights to the name "Hockey Night in Canada" and Rogers, which keeps all the ad revenue under the new rights agreement, is happy to continue leveraging "that brand, which is so iconic." CBC, of course, is also in more homes across Canada, so showing games on the public broadcaster allows Rogers to extend its reach.

The deal shuts CBC out of hockey ad revenues in prime time for more than two months. Essentially Rogers is renting broadcast space on a larger national platform, maximizing ratings and revenue potential without paying rent. CBC, reeling from cuts to its annual appropriation as well as dwindling ad revenue, gets a strong promotional platform in return and surrenders the cost of producing the broadcasts. The deal also allows CBC the optics that it is keeping the lights on during a quarter where it used to make a killing. Without the hockey playoffs, the network would be reduced to showing reruns.

The big difference for viewers is that other NHL playoff games, such as Thursday's opener between the Winnipeg Jets and the Anaheim Ducks, will be shown on Sportsnet. The Rogers deal ices TSN out of the playoffs for the first time in several years.

Every single NHL playoff game will also be available on Rogers' digital platform GameCentre Live. Moore is pleased with the growth in digital use through NHL streaming, pointing to a 400 per cent increase over the regular season. He sees mobile use growing as games extend into June and viewers opt to stream games on iPads by the barbecue.

Moore scored a sweet hat trick as the regular season ended with three Canadian teams on the bubble — Winnipeg, Calgary and Ottawa — all squeezing into the post-season. With Montreal and Vancouver both safely in earlier, that meant five Canadian teams would begin the race for the Cup, the best north-of-the-border showing since 2004.

This worked out well for Rogers. Advertisers are putting less money up front in TV campaigns, preferring to hold back in a changing media landscape. Five Canadian teams means more markets engaged in the playoffs and that translates to higher-priced, last-minute ad revenue for Rogers.

Moore said late Monday that Rogers had already reached 70 per cent of its ad target for the entire playoff run.

"We've already exceeded the combined sales of CBC and TSN in the past," he said. "The phones have been very busy today."

This despite the collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team with a loyal, national fan base. Sure, Moore wishes they were still playing, but he'd rather take Canadian teams with a shot at going deep than a Leafs team that squeaks in and loses early. Moore said Toronto's Game 7 meltdown against Boston in 2013 caused the entire market to become deflated and Toronto fans rejected hockey for the rest of the playoffs. Moore hopes Toronto fans get their hockey fix this spring following Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

Moore confirmed that the plan is to only feature Ron MacLean, the long-time host of "Hockey Night in Canada," alongside Don Cherry on Coach's Corner. Moore said the original plan was to have MacLean travel to more games but personal scheduling problems arose. Cherry and MacLean will travel to a few key locations, including the Winnipeg Jets' first playoff home game in 19 years next week.

Moore remains bullish on new host George Stroumboulopoulos.

"He's definitely our guy," said Moore, despite grumblings from traditionalists who still see Strombo as that punk from MuchMusic.

"The reality is, when you make a change, there are going to be people who yearn for the old days."

— Bill Brioux is a freelance columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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