By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 27) – I’ve got to hand it, big-time, to my former employer, Rogers Communications. There’s an age-old maxim that trumps every cliche known to man: “Action speaks louder than words.” Rarely, however, does one follow the other, as talking big remains the simplest of any pursuit. With a seismic TV deal announced on Tuesday – $5.2 billion committed over 12 years to lock up Canadian broadcasting rights for the National Hockey League – Rogers put its money where its mouth is.
Several weeks before I was let go by The FAN-590 (in June 2011), I joined a number of my colleagues in a theater at the downtown Rogers building. The company had recently hired veteran TV executive Scott Moore (late of Hockey Night In Canada ) for the sole purpose of cutting into the immense viewership gulf that existed between Sportsnet and the longer-established TSN. Moore stood before us and insisted he was not obtained by Rogers “to finish second” with his mandate. Director of Content, Scott Woodgate, also spoke elaborately. It sounded pretty darned cool but all of us in that theater were wondering how it could happen; how could Sportsnet take a bite out of the cable behemoth that all-but monopolized hockey and football in this country.
The ear-splitting answer arrived this week.
THE BIG MOVERS AND SHAKERS IN THE COLOSSAL TELEVISION DEAL ANNOUNCED ON TUESDAY: LEFT-TO-RIGHT: SCOTT MOORE (ROGERS’ PRESIDENT OF BROADCASTING); NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN; NADIR MOHAMED (PRESIDENT AND CEO OF ROGERS COMMUNICATIONS); KEITH PELLEY (PRESIDENT OF ROGERS MEDIA) AND NHL DEPUTY COMMISSIONER BILL DALY. AARON VINCENT ELKAIM / GETTY IMAGES
And it proved – for the umpteenth time – that cold, hard cash is still the decisive factor in any business relationship. The mere notion of TSN being excluded from a national NHL package would have drawn laughter prior to Tuesday. Our country’s first all-sports network has become analogous to hockey at all levels. It took a meager annual tournament of players less than 18 years old and created a Holiday spectacle known as the World Junior Hockey Championships. Nowhere on Earth is the event nearly as meaningful and viewership goes through the roof every year during the Christmas/New Year’s break.
Moreover, TSN has been an exemplary partner to the NHL: a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement that benefited both parties and has delivered unparalleled hockey coverage. Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and James Duthie – were they never-again to appear on TV – have earned life-long fame for their “insider” roles, as have play-callers Chris Cuthbert and Gord Miller, whose seamless transition between hockey and football is nothing shy of brilliant.
No one can even guess, at this point, how Tuesday’s mega-announcement will effect TSN. The network’s all-encompassing aura has clearly taken a hit and there are bound to be some high-profile defections once the new NHL contract kicks in next season.
Sportsnet, on the other hand, has gone from the launch-pad into orbit. And, for that, Keith Pelley, Scott Moore, Scott Woodgate and others deserve unremitting credit. They said they were going to do it.
And, they did.
BACK TO 1966
In Part 2 of a series looking at historic images from The Hockey News, I take you back to the Stanley Cup playoffs of 1966, when Montreal Canadiens defeated Detroit Red Wings to win their second consecutive title. NHL expansion from six to 12 teams was on the horizon and you’ll see a number of stories dedicated to the in-coming franchises. And, Bobby Orr led Oshawa Generals in points during his final season of junior hockey; he would debut in October 1966 with Boston Bruins.
LOOK FOR “GRAPES” (ABOVE).
LOTS OF FUTURE NHLers (ABOVE).
FACEBOOK: HOWARD BERGER [TORONTO]