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Rogers’ bet: one Hockey Night in Canada per week isn't enough

Sometimes more really is more

(Richard Wolowicz/Getty)

(Richard Wolowicz/Getty)

Rogers Media executives took to centre ice at Maple Leaf Gardens on Tuesday night to present their broadcast plans for the 2014-2015 NHL season to prospective advertisers, and they had one message: just one Hockey Night in Canada isn’t enough. It’s going to be hockey nights, plural—as many nights as viewers can watch.

Rogers’ $5.2 billion, 12-year deal to take over the broadcast rights to the NHL in Canada was unprecedented when it was unveiled in November. Last night’s presentation starts to show how the company (which also owns Canadian Business) plans to make a return on its investment. The answer is more hockey broadcasts, on more channels, on more nights of the week than previous NHL partners CBC and TSN could muster. “This is about giving our fans ways to take advantage of every opportunity to connect with our game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the crowd.

In all, more than 500 games will be televised over the 2014-2015 season, across Rogers properties (including various Sportsnet networks, City, and FX Canada), the CBC and Quebecor Media’s TVA, which struck a sublicencing deal for French-language broadcast rights within Quebec. More than 130 regular-season games will air on Saturday nights—up to seven in one day—which Rogers says will be three times more than the CBC’s current Hockey Night in Canada. Rogers’ City networks will add a Sunday night hockey broadcast, and the Sportsnet channels will carry games on Wednesdays. And these plans don’t even includes the playoffs.

The clear assumption is that there is a bottomless appetite for hockey among Canadian viewers, and that the CBC/TSN approach wasn’t fully meeting advertiser demand. If so, Rogers is betting it can use its reach across television, digital, radio and print to catch more viewers, more often, and increase the advertising revenue that comes with that attention.

The cross-platform nature of the plan was the theme that Rogers executives returned to repeatedly, and digital received special attention. With desirable young viewers increasingly streaming games or highlights on phones and tablets, Scott Moore, president of Rogers Sportsnet division, emphasized “second screen” opportunities for advertisers—the phenomenon of viewers watching a game on their television while also using a tablet for supplementary browsing online. Two screens could mean two ads, which Rogers will be happy to sell to media buyers in the traditional way; it could also accommodate hybrid multimedia advertising that sponsors will pay a premium for.

Here’s the question everyone is trying to answer: Can Rogers find enough growth areas to make a return on the investment? The company has committed about $300 million for the first year of this deal, and in return gets more than 1,200 broadcast hours (just in the regular season) against which to sell advertising. Quebecor is paying Rogers a reported $120 million a year for Quebec broadcast rights, so that brings the break-even point closer to $200 million. Add another, say, 200 hours of playoff coverage, and the per-hour break-even cost is getting down around $150,000. If there’s a Canadian team in the 2015 playoffs, viewership—and Canadian ad rates—will increase. If it helps Rogers maintain its base of cable subscribers, or persuades users to add on digital streaming packages, there is extra revenue to be shaken loose there as well.

There are a lot of ifs, in other words—but Canadian viewers’ enthusiasm for hockey is not in doubt, and Rogers is betting that there are still untapped reserves to draw on.