The Canadian sports world, particularly the hockey world, is still buzzing over Rogers Communications 12-year, $5.2 billion deal with the NHL to become the league’s exclusive broadcast and multimedia partner in Canada.
The deal, which runs through 2025-26, gives Rogers national rights on all platforms to every NHL game (including all playoff games), plus exclusive rights to the NHL All-Star Game and the NHL Draft. This move makes Rogers the primary source for NHL coverage in Canada.
It was a significant win for the NHL, landing the most lucrative broadcasting contract in its history, fattening its coffers and ensuring continued revenue growth (and a steadily increasing salary cap) over the course of its current collective bargaining agreement. The NHLPA will also be pleased, as this will also ensure more money going to the players over the course of the deal.
After years of playing second fiddle to TSN, Rogers has signaled its intent to become the dominant sports broadcaster in Canada.
Sportsnet will now feature not only exclusive NHL broadcasts, but also the exclusive broadcast rights of the Toronto Blue Jays, which are owned by Rogers, which also has a significant stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC. Figure Rogers to make a serious pitch down the road for exclusive broadcast rights to all Leafs, Raptors and FC games.
It had been feared CBC would be fully shut out of broadcast rights to Canadian NHL games, especially for Saturday night games under its long-time program Hockey Night in Canada. Under this new deal, CBC still gets to host HNiC but it is now a sub-licensing partner with Rogers,and the only certainty is the program will remain with CBC for four more seasons following this season. After that, the program’s future rests with Rogers, which can either keep it with CBC under this new arrangement, move the program to Sportsnet or shut it down. CBC also cedes all control over production, editorial content and on-air talent, plus it won’t receive any revenue for HNiC telecasts, though itwon’t have to pay production costs. Such was the price the CBC paid to keep a 61-year tradition alive a little longer.
This also signals the end of the CBC as a bidder for the broadcasting rights for major professional sports in Canada. Mother Corp. simply cannot afford to bid competitively with Rogers or Bell Media.
This doesn’t bode well for the current HNiC on-air talent beyond this season. Host Ron MacLean will likely remain if he wishes, as will controversial Don Cherry in his Coach’s Corner segment. Rogers knows a ratings driver when they see one, and Cherry – love him or hate him – remains very popular among Canadian hockey viewers. As long as Cherry sticks to hockey, they won’t muzzle him.
Play-by-play man Jim Hughson will either remain or move to Sportsnet, while ageing but still revered Bob Cole isn’t far from a hopefully graceful retirement. Respected insider Elliotte Friedman will either stick with HNiC or move to Sportsnet. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Glenn Healy, Kevin Weekes, PJ Stock and Andi Petrillo.
The biggest loser was TSN, which was considered by some observers the front-runner for the NHL’s broadcasting rights. Indeed, purchasing the rights to the former theme song to Hockey Night in Canada a few years ago was seen as a very big shot across CBC’s bow that TSN was a serious threat to win exclusive NHL broadcasting rights and control the fate of HNiC.
Since 2002, TSN and the NHL had a successful broadcasting partnership, with the network providing blanket coverage of all things NHL, including the trade deadline, the draft, the opening day of free agency and a popular fantasy draft. Many Canadians considered TSN’s on-air talent – analysts Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun, host James Duthie and play-by-play men Chris Cuthbert and Gord Miller – the best in the business.
While TSN will undoubtedly keep as much NHL coverage as possible with the highlight show “That’s Hockey” plus trade deadline and free agency coverage, it will only have its existing local broadcasting rights for Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets games, significantly narrowing their national imprint.The long-term future of the on-air hockey talent with the network remains to be seen.
Having already lost popular Sportscentre hosts Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole earlier this year to Foxsports, losing the NHL rights bidding war to Rogers is like a kick in the nuts after getting punched in the face.
This doesn’t mean the end for TSN. In addition to those local deals with the Leafs, Habs and Jets, it still has the rights to the World Junior Hockey Championships for another decade, and could ramp up coverage of the annual World Championships. The network could also attempt to wrest away coverage of junior games from Sportsnet in the near future, and still has exclusive rights to the CFL and to curling, which is very popular in Canada.
TSN will try to regain control of the NHL’s broadcasting rights when the Rogers deal expires in 2026, but could find it challenging over the next dozen years to avoid being relegated to permanent second-tier status behind Sportsnet. If Rogers puts in winning bids for the broadcasting rights to the Raptors, the CFL and curling, that could spell TSN’s demise as a major Canadian sports network.