The National Hockey League has released its full schedule for 2014-15, and a the same time Rogers Media has announced its national broadcast schedule for the same year.
For Canadiens fans, the schedule for that team is posted here, and as we expected, generally the games will be carried nationally if they play on Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday nights, and regionally otherwise. Rogers will carry a total of 32 Canadiens games nationally — 21 on Saturdays, five on Sundays, five on Wednesdays and one on Thursday.
The exceptions to the general Wed-Sat-Sun rule are the following:
- A Wednesday night game against the Ducks in Anaheim at 10pm on March 4 is not on Rogers’s schedule.
- The Saturday matinee game on Super Bowl weekend (Jan. 31, against the Capitals) will be regional, however the Sunday afternoon game the next day (Feb. 1, vs. the Coyotes) is national, and will air on City.
- A game on Sunday, April 5 at the Panthers at 5pm isn’t on Rogers’s schedule
- Rogers will broadcast the Thursday, Nov. 13 game between the Canadiens and Bruins at the Bell Centre (it’s listed as being on Sportsnet, but Rogers hasn’t definitively decided which channel it will go on yet).
Also as a general rule:
- Wednesday night games will be on Sportsnet, except where there are conflicts (none of them affect the Canadiens)
- Sunday night games will be on City (the exception is Feb. 8, when City is carrying the Grammys), and
- Saturday night games will be on as many as nine different channels — CBC, City, Sportsnet East/Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360 and FX Canada. Generally, Rogers has booked five early games on Saturday nights and two late games.
The Canadiens will also be playing seven preseason games (eight if you include a red-vs-white intrasquad game at the Bell Centre). Those games are regional, so will air on RDS but not on Rogers channels unless Rogers picks up those rights in the coming months.
Rogers also has the rights to all playoff games regardless of team, plus special programs like the Winter Classic, NHL draft (starting next year) and NHL All-Star Game.
For other teams in the regular season, Rogers will broadcast:
- All 82 Vancouver Canucks games (at least 25 nationally)
- All 82 Edmonton Oilers games (at least 22 nationally)
- All 82 Calgary Flames games (at least 22 nationally)
- 22 Winnipeg Jets games (all nationally)
- 56 Toronto Maple Leafs games (at least 40 nationally)
- 29 Ottawa Senators games (all nationally)*
*Sportsnet said it would be 28 games in its NHL schedule preview on Sunday night, but a 29th was added at the last minute, Rogers tells me. All 29 games are now listed on the Senators’ schedule online.
Despite Rogers’s “no blackouts” promise, there will be blackouts for many regional games. Sportsnet president Scott Moore says “We have the ability to take a limited number of our regional games national.” But the other regional games, whether they air on Rogers or non-Rogers channels, will be blacked out in the rest of the country.
For most of the schedule, Saturday night games are listed as being on “Hockey Night in Canada”, because Rogers hasn’t decided which channel each game will be on. But looking at what has already been decided for October, it’s clear that Rogers gives the Toronto Maple Leafs the priority. CBC will be carrying the Leafs whenever they’re playing on Saturday night, leaving City for the Canadiens, Senators or Jets. The October schedule shows the Canadiens on City on Oct. 11 and Oct. 25, with the Senators on Sportsnet channels, but on Oct. 18, Ottawa gets to be shown on City and the Canadiens drop to Sportsnet.
Unlike CBC, which split the main network regionally on Saturday nights so everyone could see their home team, under Rogers that won’t be happening anymore. If splits are necessary, such as on the first Saturday, it will be the Sportsnet channels that break up geographically.
So on one hand, there will be twice as many games available on free over-the-air television for Canada’s major cities, but on the other hand some regions won’t have their home team on free TV, such as the Senators on Oct. 11 or the Canadiens on Oct. 18.
What about the other 50 games?
Having 32 games airing nationally in English means there are 50 games that will not be. It’s not clear at this point what happens to those games in English. TSN had a deal to air some Canadiens regional games last season, but no announcement has been made about regional rights for the coming season. If Rogers picks up those rights, it could mean more games being broadcast nationally. If TSN does, it’ll be more complicated. We’ll see.
TSN also has regional rights to 60 Winnipeg Jets games, 10 Toronto Maple Leafs games, going up to 26 in 2015-16, and 52 Ottawa Senators games. RDS also has regional rights to 40 Senators games.
What about out-of-region fans?
One question I’ve been trying to get Rogers to answer and it hasn’t yet is how fans outside a team’s home region will be able to catch that team’s regional games.
Rogers promised no blackouts when it announced the 12-year, $5.2-billion NHL deal, but it seems that isn’t actually true. While some more games will air nationally, anything that’s still regional must be blacked out elsewhere.
The Canadiens’ region includes all of Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and Ontario east of Belleville and Pembroke (it’s the same region as that is covered by Sportsnet East). So how do all the Canadiens fans in Toronto watch Thursday night games? It’s still unclear. They might be forced to buy NHL Centre Ice, or maybe Rogers has some other solution for them. We’ll probably get more details when the regional schedule comes out in the coming weeks.
“We are still discussing how we deal with Centre Ice and Game Centre Live,” Rogers tells me. “Both products will continue to be available. We expect to have some answers on that well before the start of the season.”
On the French side, where TVA Sports has the national rights and RDS has all Canadiens regional games, the breakdown is different. We know that TVA will get 22 games, mainly Saturday nights, and RDS will get 60 games. We do know that RDS will be blacked out in southern Ontario and western Canada during those Canadiens games.
UPDATE (June 30): TVA Sports has announced its plans: It will carry the season opener on Wednesday, July 8, as well as all 21 Saturday night games (but not the Saturday afternoon matinee game on Super Bowl weekend), for a total of 22, plus all playoff games.
Don’t blame Rogers
Since news of the schedule came out, I’ve seen a lot of anger directed at Rogers, particularly from Canadiens fans outside of the home region, who will no longer be able to see every game on RDS.
The anger at Rogers is misplaced, though. The real group that should be blamed is the NHL. Rogers would love nothing better than to take all 82 games of each Canadian team national, but the NHL breaks up its TV rights into national and regional games, and imposes blackouts outside of a team’s broadcast region. What’s more, it’s the teams, not the league, that sign the regional rights deals. This is why the NHL dealt with Rogers and TVA, while the Canadiens dealt with RDS, and the Senators and Jets with TSN.
In English, things haven’t changed much in regard to blackouts. TSN Habs was not available in Toronto or western Canada (or, for that matter, to Videotron subscribers), and western teams’ regional games were blacked out on Sportsnet West and Pacific to subscribers here.
What’s different in French is that we now have competition, and the national and regional rights to Canadiens games are held by two different companies. (The decision to split the rights was the Canadiens, who decided to sell them separately to RDS after TVA Sports picked up the national rights.) RDS no longer has the ability to nationalize all its regional games, so we have blackouts.
If you want the system to change, tell the NHL to overhaul its TV rights system in Canada. But don’t expect that to happen before 2026.
UPDATE: A petition has started imploring Rogers to not black out RDS in western Canada during Canadiens games, but as I discuss above, it’s not Rogers that’s forcing this blackout (though they might be able to help stop it if they really want).