Hockey Night … at the movies?

Pay-per-view hockey comes to Cineplex.

Next time you're at the movies, you just might find yourself straining to hear the dialogue, while the hockey fans in the adjacent cinema cheer on their team. That's because starting this month and into next year, five teams will be making their pay-per-view games available to Cineplex: the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Vancouver Canucks, the Ottawa Senators and one more — a customer service, if you will, for hard-core hockey fans seeking the thrill of group hysteria without the bar tab — let alone the season tickets.

If you live in Edmonton, this may already have happened. Three years ago, the hometown Oilers and national exhibitor Cineplex Entertainment began offering theatrical-size screenings of Oilers games on pay-per-view (PPV). As it is, PPV is a service for season completists: the vast majority of a club's games are available via free-to-air broadcast. According to Sean Kelso, media relations representative for the Flames, 62 of its 75 televised games are free-to-air; only 13 are PPV.

Why is Cineplex doing this? Mainly because “it's a good use of spare capacity,” said one market watcher, who chose to remain behind a goalie mask. “I don't think it reflects on the state of movies.” And according to Cineplex spokesperson Georgia Sourtzis, “NHL games have consistently sold out.”

Most teams produce these special telecasts in-house, hiring crews to travel with the team and then selling non-exclusive rights to satellite services and cable providers. While technically commercial-free — save for naming rights — the telecasts could be seen as lengthy advertisements for the teams. “The play-by-play isn't biased,” says Oilers corporate communications manager Darren Krill of Molson Oilers Pay Per View. “If the team is playing badly, the commentators say so. [But] it's definitely a vehicle to promote the team.”

The technology involved is no different from a home setup, but the screen is 40-feet wide and the price for a ticket is actually less than you would pay from your La-Z-Boy: $10.95 versus $11.95. Then again, popcorn is seriously marked up, the price is per person, not per rec room — and you can't drink beer.

But that's the idea. Most public PPV opportunities are in bars — kids are left out of the picture. “At a theatre, people know how to behave,” says Krill. “Except they might jump out of their seats when their team scores.”