Rogers Media president Keith Pelley opened up the NHL upfront his company held Tuesday night in Toronto with a reference to the historic building in which the event took place—Maple Leaf Gardens—and a historic deal.
The deal, of course, is the 12-year, $5.2-billion deal Rogers Communications inked with the National Hockey League last year. It includes national broadcast and multimedia rights to all regular season and playoff games, as well as the Stanley Cup Final.
As of Tuesday night, that deal is now a bit clearer: a whopping 500 regular season games will air in Canada starting next season as part of the agreement.
While the deal was announced last November, Rogers and the NHL will keep the publicity momentum going with a trickle of events leading to the 2014/15 season this fall.
At Tuesday night’s event, advertisers were invited to a schmooze to drum up excitement from the media buyers who will help pay off Rogers’ hefty $5.2-billion investment.
They were told that Rogers plans to broadcast games across 13 different Canadian TV channels, including City, Sportsnet and cable channel FX Canada.
Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL for Rogers Media, outlined how the three main hockey nights—including the new Sunday night offering—will look.
On Saturday nights, there will be between three to five games aired at 7 p.m. ET, and for the later slot at 10 p.m. ET there will be one or two games aired. These games—up to seven of them each Saturday night—will air on City, Sportsnet, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360, FX Canada and CBC. Moore said Rogers’ executives predict the night will see ratings increase by up to 20%.
On Wednesdays, there will be nationally televised games on Sportsnet, and no other NHL games will air during Sportsnet’s live game coverage. Moore added that there will be a heavy storytelling component throughout the night to complement the coverage.
Then on Sundays, a new hockey night in Canada, a nationally televised game—one that features a Canadian team—will air at 7 p.m. ET on City. Moore said it will be “event television with a twist.” As part of this coverage, each Sunday broadcast will be hosted from a different community rink somewhere in Canada; the concept is called “Hometown Hockey.” It will include local stories told by Rogers’ hockey broadcast personalities and will also feature local NHL player profiles.
“Hometown Hockey” has created a buzz from several sponsors, Moore told Marketing in a one-on-one interview during the event. He said that Rogers has held back, in general, on making commitments to advertisers looking to make NHL buys from Rogers until March. While Rogers’ sales team is now talking with partners “who want to blow things up and take advantage of all the new platforms and technology that we’ll have,” including some of the league partners, the commitments won’t happen until March 3.
Moore credits Jack Tomik, who leads sales at Rogers Media, with this holdback strategy. “Holding back all the information until now was a really cool strategty in creating a pent-up demand,” said Moore.
Tomik said his team has already spoken with most of the key high-interest hockey clients in Canada, as well as senior executives at the media agencies about the plans shared at Tuesday’s event. “It would be really simple if everything was exactly the same [as how previous NHL buys were structured with CBC and TSN], but it’s not,” he said. “This is a huge step forward, there’s lots more pieces to it which makes it really interesting to marketers… [We're] making sure people understand just how giganctic this is and how many new ways there are to touch consumers,” he said.
He said Rogers will be able to leverage the hockey deal across the company by creating a new group of “fan advisors” to ask consumers how they’d like to see hockey and how they’d like to spend more time with the NHL brand. That’s an attractive proposition for advertisers looking to connect in news ways via different Rogers’ 120 media outlets. “Asking the consumers what interests them—that’s the first stake in the ground,” said Tomik. “After that, it’s asking the advertisers what they’re trying to accomplish and knitting the two together.”
So if the publisher of Today’s Parent wants to know what hockey moms are interested in, the results from the fan advisors will provide those insights. “We can engage these consumers in lots of different ways because we have the platforms to do it,” said Tomik.
Executives at the event also said Rogers plans to expand beyond Hockey Night in Canada, which will still play a major role with 130 games shown on Saturdays throughout the season.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, “We know that we’re with the right people, the right partner to evolve and even lead in terms of what the developments will be in sports and entertainment into the future.”
Televised games will include regional broadcasts of 82 regular season games played by the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers. Another 53 Toronto Maple Leafs games will be broadcast, with 40 of them carried across the country.
Some of the specifics remain unclear, including whether Rogers will face other regulator restrictions over some regional broadcasts.
“I would not only expect, I would demand that all our games will be available on your smartphone, on your iPad, wherever you want to go,” Moore said, before stepping back from his vision a little.
“We have national rights to all games Saturdays, Wednesdays and Sundays. We don’t have all regional rights across the country—but we have the majority.”
Some games will also be shown through a sublicensing agreement with the CBC and TVA, a private-sector francophone network in Quebec, will air about 300 games in the region.
Further hockey content will be available on radio and digital platforms owned by Rogers.