Rogers, NHL insist deal will be good for hockey fans but benefits not clear yet

TORONTO – Rogers and the NHL insist their new 12-year deal for Canadian TV and digital rights will be good for hockey fans, although the details of how exactly consumers will benefit isn’t yet clear.

While it’s assumed Rogers outbid its rivals by paying $5.2 billion in the agreement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the decision also hinged on the media powerhouse’s wide-ranging plans to broadcast NHL content.

TV subscribers could get access to more games without having to pay for the premium Centre Ice package, while even so-called cord cutters — who have cancelled their TV plans and rely on free over-the-air signals or streamed content — will be well served by Rogers, suggested Bettman.

“What we tried to do with this arrangement was ensure that our games would be carried — into the future as technology is changing — with the most number of options: whether or not it’s over-the-air TV, whether or not it’s cable, whether or not it’s streaming, whether or not it’s on mobile,” Bettman said.

“We wanted to ensure that our fans would have access to our games no matter what platform they were interested in, or what platform may develop. We may be looking at things in the course of this deal that don’t currently exist.”

A provision of the deal will see CBC-TV’s iconic “Hockey Night in Canada” show stay with the public broadcaster for at least four years, which means it will continue to be available for free over the air and with even the most basic cable and satellite TV plans.

But a Rogers spokeswoman said the arrangement with the CBC doesn’t include digital rights, so “Hockey Night in Canada” will no longer be streamed on starting with the 2014-15 season. And CBC’s mobile apps for Hockey Night in Canada will be transferred to Rogers’ ownership.

Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media, said hockey fans will likely have more viewing options on Saturday nights as a number of Rogers channels will carry NHL games. Even over-the-air viewers may end up getting access to more games. City, which is available over the air in some cities, may carry NHL action on Saturdays, along with Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360.

“The goal will be to carry all the games on Saturday,” said Pelley.

“You can see the plethora of outlets we have to give consumers just an unbelievable offering on Saturdays.”

Nadir Mohamed, the outgoing CEO of Rogers Communications, hinted that with TV providers being pressured to offer unbundled channels to consumers on an a la carte basis, the company will be well positioned with several channels regularly carrying NHL games.

“I think it’s a little premature to think about how exactly that world will shape up but it’s a world that ultimately consumers will define and we hope we can do this in a way that supports that desire,” Mohamed said.

“I think if you look at the world going forward, and remember this is a 12-year deal, it’s really important that we don’t get caught up with legacy kinds of thoughts, the way pricing (currently) works. Pay per view, a la carte, pick and pay, those will evolve over time and I think the key thing to go back to is to offer more Canadians more choice.”