Last week, we gave you a look into the NHL's side of their groundbreaking, 12-year, $5 billion media rights agreement with Rogers Communications and Sportsnet. This week, we're taking a look from the television side of things, with Rogers President of Broadcasting Scott Moore.
Moore is the perfect person to discuss this deal, as he played an intregal part in helping his team at Sportsnet get it done, and will be a huge part of getting the actual production part of it done, of course. He also previously worked at Hockey Night in Canada with CBC.
He spoke to me on Monday afternoon, where we talked about how this deal came together, the role CBC and current Hockey Night staff will play in it, and the idea behind a potential NHL "Red Zone" type channel.
Steve Lepore: Who came up with the concept, as it was pitched to the NHL, of making Hockey Night in Canada almost this public NHL Center Ice package, where you guys would cover pretty much every game on every Saturday night? What was the genesis of that idea?
Scott Moore: The genesis is the opportunity with the Sportsnet assets to be able to do that. We have six broadly distributed sports channels that can take on NHL content on a Saturday, as well as City. Having run Hockey Night in Canada and CBC for a while, it was always frustrating to me that we couldn't somehow more properly monetize the extra (regional) games on a Saturday, and couldn't really get the value out of them from both an advertising standpoint and a distribution standpoint.
In any market, CBC only has one channel. You can get their out-of-market channels, but you have to buy the out-of-market package. Most of the cable and satellite companies don't carry CBC Montreal in HD. The overall experience was frustrating, especially for me as a Habs fan living in Toronto. If I wanted to watch the game, I had to go to channel 128 or something to get CBC in Montreal, it was never in HD. This gives us an ability with City, which is broadly distributed over-the-air, and our Sportsnet channels to give fans more hockey on Saturday night, and to channels that, for the most part — if you're a sports fan — you already likely subscribe to. And in the case of City, makes it available on two over-the-air channels. So there's now more hockey on over-the-air than ever before.
SL: I've heard you have already started preparing for next October, but how much have you actually gotten done as far as getting ready for this so far?
SM: Most of it has been getting the deal done and getting the partnership deals done with CBC and TVA. The work of getting the production groups together, the commentators, all that… we have ideas. Especially with Keith [Pelley] and I both being production guys, and I have the added advantage of having worked at the CBC and run the sports department, so I certainly know what strength there is in that group that hopefully we'll be able to tap into.
Now it's Keith and I spending the next Wednesday-Friday in a secluded place with a couple of key advisors to come up with a plan so were executing off a strong plan, rather than just reacting which, right now we want to be careful of not doing, since it is only nine months to the next season.
SL: Is the plan to keep doing as many original Sportsnet broadcasts as CBC was doing under the old deal?
SM: Yeah, it would be my goal, that we would both on CBC and our Wednesday nights on Sportsnet and Sunday nights on City that if there's a game involving a Canadian team, we will produce it. I know, in the past on the other rights holder, there were times that the U.S. feeds were picked up for games involving Canadian teams. It'd be our hope that we won't do that.
[NOTE: The idea of Sunday night hockey on City was a new one to me, as well as a lot of people I asked around, so we asked Sportsnet PR for an explaination. They gave us the following: "the current plan is to have Sundays on City, but that is also subject to change…"]
We would occasionally pick up feeds of U.S. vs. U.S. games, but certainly with Hockey Night in Canada, any game involving a Canadian team will be produced by a Canadian group, and the same will hold true for the Wednesday night and Sunday night packages.
SL: Will there be an attempt to make Sunday night its own package, and differentiating it from Hockey Night in Canada, making it its own thing?
SM: I think there's three and potentially four showcase packages. There's Saturday night, which stands above all else. It's a tradition in Canada, we don't have to worry about building that. Separately, we want to continue with the excellent production there. Saturday night's a tradition.
Wednesday night will be something a little different. There will be less games on Wednesday night. The league wants to try and keep it to two games that night, to be mindful of NBC's exclusivities. That will be sort of a showcase single or double game night. Sunday night is going to evolve, but we want it to take on its own flavor.
Finally, there will probably be some sort of Friday night, U.S. vs. U.S., star vs. star matchup, that would also have its own flavor. The challenge is to make each of them somewhat distinct, but working within the overall brand structure.
SL: Have you estimated how many people you may have to hire to get this off the ground. Could you possibly put this on with the current staff you have now?
SM: No, we can't do it with the current staff, but we — along with the Hockey Night gang — will be able to take on a lot of it. There will be some additional hires for sure. That's the first item on the agenda for Keith and I this week. I've got a plan, but not one I'm prepared to share with anyone other than Keith.
SL: You hinted that maybe the first people you would look to [to hire] would be the current Hockey Night staff over at CBC, is that a possibility?
SM: Our commitment to the Hockey Night team through our arrangement with CBC is that we would use them as much as possible, absolutely. For two reasons: one is we're partners with the CBC so it makes sense. The second is I'm keenly aware of how great many, if not most, if not all of them are. They've set the standard in hockey production and hockey broadcasting for 60 years.
I put some of them in place there from my previous job, and many were in place before me, but I learned a lot from that group. I expect that we'll be using a lot of them moving forward.
SL: The question about Don Cherry has been asked to death, but if Bob Cole wanted to return, would you use him?
SM: Again, we don't know yet what everybody's contract status is. We have to sit down with all of them and sit through some planning sessions. I'm a fan of Bob's, I grew up listening to him. I worked with him at CBC and there will be an interesting discussion that applies to both Bob and Don. They're both close to 80, if not 80. At some point, they're going to have to figure out when they want to slow down, so that's going to be a part of any discussion.
SL: The plan is for four years of the Stanley Cup Final remaining on CBC. In your ideal mind, would it move to one of the Sportsnet-affiliated networks after that, or have you not gotten that far yet?
SM: It's way too early to tell. The line I keep telling people, and it has the advantage of being the truth, that the beauty of this deal is its flexibility as to whatever the future state of broadcasting will be. We're going to broadcast Saturday nights, the Stanley Cup Final, as many of our games to the broadest possible audience. We're going to go where the fans are. Right now, the best way to reach fans, is on a Saturday night, or with the Stanley Cup Final, being on the most broadly distributed network in Canada, the CBC.
If, in four years — technology changes at an incredible rate — people are watching television on Google 3D glasses, and that's the most prevalent distribution platforms, that's where we will broadcast the games. I have a vested interest, and Rogers has a vested interest, that in four years conventional television will still be alive and well. If it is, we would be crazy not to continue that deal.
I joked with my Sportsnet staff the other day — we had an off-site — and before the off-site started, many of the team were watching the clips of Jon Stewart and Rob Ford on their iPads. Four years ago, we wouldn't have been doing that. So where technology will lead us in four years is anybody's guess, the beauty of this deal is that we have all platforms — both those that are existing now and those that will be invented in the future — so we won't have to worry about migrating to wherever the fans are watching.
SL: As far as streaming goes, are you going to use you own one size fits all streaming app, where you'll stream every game on Sportsnet broadcast nights? Will you work with the NHL's own app?
SM: That is still the subject of some internal debate. We do, as part of this deal, have the Canadian distribution rights for GameCenter Live so that will be an opportunity for us. CBC has had some success in streaming the games on their website. It's complicated in that there will be games on CBC and City and Sportsnet. Do we want to produce a centralized site where people can go to? Do we want to continue to do it on the network sites? That's a detail that — while it's incredibly important — is still to be worked out.
SL: Are there any current plans for what would be the sort of "Red Zone" channel ("Ice Surfing")?
SM: What I love about that opportunity is, back in the day when I was producing hockey on TSN, we used to have the rights to be able to go in intermissions and pick up other games. As the regional deals became more prevalent, those ice surfing rights became more limited.
Now, with us having the national rights on all channels, and the regional rights to the Canucks, Oilers, Flames, Leafs and Senators, it gives us an ability on what could be a "Red Zone" or "Ice Surfing"-type offering. I think you'll see that becomes an important part, we're just not sure what channel or outlet it'll be on yet.
SL: You've mentioned that you have the rights to a few of the Canadian teams. Are you worried about your editorial content leaning too heavily on the teams you have rights to vs. the teams you don't have rights to.
SM: That's a good question, but the answer is an emphatic 'No.' I think the teams we have rights to, we'll have more broad distributions to some of their game broadcasts, but our editorial will not be slanted in any way towards any particular team or any particular bias. The key, important part that underscores most of your questions is, the beauty of Canada is that there's no shortage of great hockey broadcasters in front of and behind the camera.
Over the last number of years, we've developed a lot of really great ones here. This gives us a chance to expose them a little bit more broadly. We are proud of our editorial and I keep a point to bring up the Blue Jays.
We own the Blue Jays, we increased their ratings substantially over the last number of years even though the record of the team has been relatively stable. But we've promoted the heck out of them on our channels and, from an editorial standpoint, we don't tell our editorial people what they can and can't say about the team. We believe that gives us credibility with the fans. It does give us a little interesting discussion with our partners over at the team. We can't pull punches — if the team's not playing well, we're going to say so.
SL: There were some views from fans that TSN perhaps carried the water a little bit for the NHL, while sometimes the CBC took more of an antagonistic role with the league. Is the goal to strike that balance from an editorial or journalistic standpoint?
SM: You have to strike the balance or you have no credibility with the fans. You can't BS Canadian fans on hockey. There will always be important hockey stories in this country that will need to be debated and both sides of the story spoken to. I do think it's an interesting point that, in this country, we spend far more time on the business side of hockey than the equivalent U.S. networks would spend on the business side of NFL.
I'm not quite sure why it has evolved that way, I think it's an important section of editorial if you will, but we feel strongly that it's the stars that are in the game that we're going to focus a little bit on. Doesn't mean we're going to shy away from the controversies — no-touch icing or concussions or anything else — but I think you may see us spending a little less time on what's happening in the backgrounds. I'm not sure the average fan cares about as much as we as broadcasters think they do.