If most Canadians didn't hate Rogers before, they certainly will now after the telecommunications giant signed its 12-year, $5.2 billion dollar broadcast deal with the NHL. The long-term, multi-billion dollar agreement is effectively a giant thumb in the eye of the Canadian hockey fan.
For starters, this deal is going to cost Canadian hockey fans big time. Maybe not in the short term but definitely in the long run. Rogers didn't pay all that money for no reason; the plan, of course, is to monopolize the market and then charge accordingly.
As it has in other areas, Rogers will undoubtedly employ its Chinese water torture marketing technique, slowly and incrementally adding a charge here, an upgrade there and a separate fee everywhere until the average viewer finds he's paying twice what he used to just to watch a few hockey games.
Since this cushy arrangement lasts for more than a decade, there's little chance that Rogers will lose its monopoly come 2025 when it's time to renegotiate. By that time, CBC, TSN, TVA or any other current competitor will be so far behind in all aspects of the hockey broadcasting business that Rogers will win simply by default.
As others have noted, however, the worst thing about this new deal is that the NHL has now put the screws to any further expansion in Canada. Thanks to the new money buttressing the bottom lines of struggling American-based NHL franchises, there's no longer an incentive to move those teams to Canadian cities. So for Hamilton, Saskatoon and Halifax, you can now kiss your NHL hopes goodbye; the league has finally made its true intentions known: they don't care about you at all.
So what's the answer? As Canadian hockey fans, do we simply sit back and do nothing as the NHL and Rogers collectively pick our pockets and ignore our wishes? We could, of course, just as we have tolerated strikes, lockouts, over-expansion and ticket price increases for decades. But maybe it's time for a change.
Let's form a 12-team, two-conference, all-Canadian league with franchises from coast to coast. A Western Conference could feature teams from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. An Eastern Conference would field clubs from Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax.
This would be a professional league modelled on the best aspects of the National Football League and the Canadian Football League. Like the NFL, there would be equal sharing of all television revenues and centralized control of trade-mark and product licensing. And given the 12-year freeze-out, CBC, TSN and TVA will be happy to pick up TV rights for a fraction of what Rogers is paying.
Like the CFL, the CHL would not stray beyond Canada's borders. (The CFL learned that lesson the hard way.) Also following the CFL model, the CHL would have some community-owned teams. Nothing builds regional loyalty like financial commitment.
The CHL could also adopt some overdue rule changes to create a more entertaining product. How about using the international rink size for a more wide open game? Or why not eliminate the centre red line or go to a four-on-four format? Most importantly, the new league could get serious about eliminating the violence and stick work that is so pervasive in the WWE-style NHL game.
The major rap on the new Canadian Hockey League would be, of course, that the best players would still be in the NHL. Initially, that might be true but over time, as the inherent weaknesses and incessant greed of the NHL lead to its self-destruction, more and more quality players would make their way back to Canada.
The NHL dream of a lucrative, U. S. nationwide TV contract has resulted in decades of league expansion and talent dilution. Quite simply, that dream is not going to happen. In a nation dominated by baseball, football, basketball and temperate climes, hockey will always have a limited following. Hockey's emotional (and ultimately its financial) strength resides in Canada.
But what about the Stanley Cup? Not to worry; like the old American Football League, the CHL will eventually reach parity with the NHL and be in a position to challenge for hockey's top prize.
In any event, the last time I checked, the Cup was to be awarded to Canada's champion ice hockey team, not the winner of the NHL playoffs. So let's get busy creating a truly Canadian league that can be the genuine home of Lord Stanley's trophy.
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