Rogers Media Inc. has its eye on the venerable Hockey Night in Canada franchise, which has been a Saturday night staple for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. since 1952.
Having recently expanded its network nationally through a series of deals and partnerships, Rogers Media president Keith Pelley said the broadcaster is taking a serious look at bidding on rights to Saturday night hockey when they come up for renewal in two years.
“Sports is a major focus,” Mr. Pelley said. “Is Hockey Night part of our plan? It’s a little premature to talk about details, but we certainly have to take a look.”
Earlier this month, Rogers (RCI.B-T35.95-0.65-1.78%) bought Métro14 Montréal CJNT in Montreal and partnered with the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group to deliver CityTV content to communities in British Columbia and Alberta.
Mr. Pelley said the broadcaster can now offer advertisers national packages with the promise of about 9 million potential viewers, and can pursue programming that is intended to reach audiences across the country . CityTV doesn’t have an Atlantic presence, but Mr. Pelley said there is a plan that is “not quite ready to be announced yet” that will address the gap.
Rogers unveiled its lineup of shows for the new season on Tuesday in Toronto, and one slot it would like to improve in coming years is Saturday night. Hockey would certainly fill that space, especially considering that Rogers is about to become part owners, with BCE Inc., of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
“Saturday is still a very difficult night for us,” Mr. Pelley said. “With our distribution now, maybe we could actually bid for Hockey Night in Canada... this is a conversation we couldn’t have last year because we didn’t have national distribution.”
The rights to Hockey Night in Canada were last renewed in 2005, and come up for renewal again in 2015. With budget cuts biting deep, there has been speculation CBC could lose the rights, but at a recent industry event executive vice-president of English services Kirstine Stewart said the public broadcaster would aggressively pursue a renewal.
The message was underscored at the CBC’s annual new programs showcase two weeks ago, as NHL commissioner Gary
Bettman trumpeted the benefits of a CBC-NHL partnership.
“There's probably no more iconic brands in Canada than the CBC, Hockey Night in Canada and the NHL,” he said. “That accounts for 60 years of a great relationship, which is unprecedented because we work so well together.”
Ms. Stewart has said her network targets a broader audience than the sports broadcasters, which makes it an important player in any negotiations. But that was assuming that Rogers would want to put games on its Sportsnet channel, which it does not. CTV, which owns TSN, could also be a contender if the bidding heats up.
“What we provide is different from what TSN and Sportsnet does,” she said at the event. “We provide a generalized audience, and these guys are at the top of the sports market.”
CTV Inc., which owns TSN, could also be a contender. Scott Henderson, vice-president of communications for CTV’s parent company Bell Media Inc., said the broadcaster would “most likely take a look at it when the time comes, as we would look at any sports contract that becomes available and that could strengthen our business.”