The NHL season begins, and fans are just as confused as ever

Tonight, the new era of NHL broadcasting in Canada dawns, as Rogers presents its first regular-season games under its new $5.2-billion, 12-year deal with the league. As is tradition, the first match in Canada will be Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs. But while in past years this match was on CBC and RDS, tonight it will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

The change in TV channels is only part of the new reality. For the first time in a decade, RDS will be blacked out west of Belleville, Ont., during its 60 regional games (as it was, or should have been, during the preseason games). This has annoyed not only Habs fans in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, but places like northern Ontario, which has a lot of francophones. (I discussed the blackouts in a radio interview with Radio-Canada aimed at that audience.)

And the new rules for the NHL GameCentre Live streaming service have even me confused.

In an effort to help clear up some confusion about NHL games on TV, Saturday’s Gazette included a full-page calendar of all 82 Canadiens games and where they will air in English and French. That page is reproduced as a PDF on Hockey Inside/Out. I also created a printable version that fits on three 8.5/11-inch sheets of paper. And there’s a separate schedule for out-of-market viewers, which provides information on NHL Centre Ice and GameCentre Live availability.

And on top of all that, there’s this downloadable electronic calendar of Habs games listing their TV channels. (Once it loads, just go File -> Save As and save it to your computer, then use your preferred calendar program’s import function.)

This big chart was in the same paper as Brendan Kelly’s big feature on the new way to watch the Canadiens on TV, which includes Rogers admitting that getting programming information to fans will be a big challenge for this first year.

Rogers has recently posted a page on its website that gives some information about regional blackouts for GameCentre Live for the seven Canadian teams and the Buffalo Sabres, whose region extends into Niagara. It provides some additional information about shared broadcast regions and how many games will require Sportsnet subscriptions. And it has a page about the special $60 deal that offers just the French-language regional Canadiens and Senators games that air on RDS on its online streaming service.

For NHL Centre Ice, which fans in southern Ontario and western Canada will need to watch Canadiens games, we’re learning that most providers in those areas are offering a $60 RDS-only package, which means Habs fans in Toronto and Vancouver will get to pay just $10 a month or $1 a game to watch the 60 games that are being blacked out on RDS.

And the regular TV schedule has changed slightly, with two more games being moved from Sportsnet East to City Montreal to accommodate the baseball playoffs on Sportsnet.

There are other things that are still unclear, though. And I’ve just sent Rogers another list of questions that I’m hoping they can answer. It seems late in the process for such information to be unclear, and if I’m not entirely sure about some of it, you can imagine how confused your average fan must be.

The good news is that this situation shouldn’t repeat. Most of the rules will be the same next year as they were this year, and people should be used to the new reality relatively quickly. We’ll have another 12 years until this system dramatically changes again.

In the meantime, for tonight, the game is broadcast nationally in both languages, and the game begins at 7pm. On Thursday, the Canadiens play the Capitals at 7pm, and that game is national in English on Sportsnet 360 and regional in French on RDS. (Don’t ask me to explain that logic.)

26 thoughts on “The NHL season begins, and fans are just as confused as ever

  1. mario

    And Thursday’s Habs game on SN360 vs the Capitals marks the debut of John Bartlett calling play by play for Rogers.

    Reply
  2. Jon P.

    This situation is crazy… I have a self-serve 20 with Videotron. I want to see all games, I have to use 4 of my 20 channels for RDS/RDS2 and TVAsports/TVAsports2. My other option watch the games only in english, so I’ve decided to take Sportsnet (all four stations counts as 1 choice) but now I see that some games will be on 360 and One? And maybe even on FX? Nice way to f**k with people!!!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I have to use 4 of my 20 channels for RDS/RDS2 and TVAsports/TVAsports2

      You don’t need TVA Sports 2 to watch Canadiens games. And you won’t see too many games on other Sportsnets that you won’t see on Sportsnet East. But just be glad that you can still get these channels in custom packages. It might not be long before they become premium channels that cost several dollars a month each.

      now I see that some games will be on 360 and One? And maybe even on FX?

      Thursday night games are on 360. There’s a small number of games on Sportsnet One. And FX is just for U.S.-vs-U.S. matchups on Saturday nights.

      Reply
      1. beeg

        OTOH, I’ve got RDS and TVA Sports as part of a $20 Bell a-la-carte option and I don’t really watch or need the other 18 channels (not to mention the obligatory “Basic” package). I’d gladly ditch the 18 a-la-carte channels for the *option* to just get RDS and TVA Sports. Toss in an extra couple of bucks two months a year to catch the MLB playoffs and I’d be a happy man.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          I’d gladly ditch the 18 a-la-carte channels for the *option* to just get RDS and TVA Sports.

          Cable companies and broadcasters are worried about people doing precisely this. Sports channels are the most expensive to program. If they were made available completely à la carte without an obligation to buy other channels, their price would undoubtedly go up very sharply.

          Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          So are you saying that when US Vs Us teams it won’t be shown on NHL Center Ice as well?

          The nationality of the teams isn’t relevant. If it’s available to your region on another channel, it won’t be on NHL Centre Ice.

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          1. Spartan

            Of course there is the matter if channel isn’t available to you, there is no way of watching the game. Boston vs. Washington was on FX last Saturday. Bell subscribers don’t get FX. And if they wanted to watch onNHL Centre Ice, well…they couldn’t do that either.
            This won’t affect your average hockey fan or Canadiens fans in Montreal, but those shelling out over $200 before tax aren’t your average fans. They are spending big money because they want all they can get, or, they are a fan of a team other than Canadiens. Bruins and Caps fans on Bell simply couldn’t get the game not matter how much they spent getting Sportsnet…Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World, Sportsnet 360, NHL Centre Ice…RDS, TVA, CBC, City and al jazeera.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              Of course there is the matter if channel isn’t available to you, there is no way of watching the game.

              This is true. You can get the game on NHL GameCentre Live, but not on regular television even with Centre Ice.

              Reply
  3. Jim Henshaw

    I’m a huge Hockey fan but I have a feeling Rogers is poised to kill the Golden Goose here — or at least make it lay smaller eggs. Offering so many games every night might work for some, but I got a feeling it’ll be too much for the vast majority of viewers while fragmenting ratings to a level that could well impact ad dollars. Didn’t know about some of the restrictions, which may upset all Francophone fans West of Ontario and certainly will catch followers of all teams off guard when a game they’ve assumed was available from this massive buffet — just isn’t. 26 TSN Leaf games blacked out in the GTA? That’s worse than they heyday of LeafsTV.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Offering so many games every night might work for some, but I got a feeling it’ll be too much for the vast majority of viewers while fragmenting ratings to a level that could well impact ad dollars.

      First time I’ve heard someone arguing that Rogers is showing too many games. Most fans will follow one team, and it’s the same 82 games that it was before.

      26 TSN Leaf games blacked out in the GTA?

      That’s on GameCentre Live. They will, of course, still be available on TSN4 in the Leafs region.

      Reply
    1. Lance Campeau

      After years of being a fan, this new TV deal Rogers has grabbed has relegated NHL hockey to “meh” status in my family. They make HUGE amounts of money from ad revenue streams and they expect me to pay to watch?

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  4. Katesmudges

    Don’t forget about irate Habs fans in Saskatchewan and Manitoba – we’ve the same issue with blackouts of Habs games on RDS. It’s near impossible to figure out how to watch Habs games here. Sasktel could care less about showing Habs games in French at least when I checked with them on Monday. It’s also difficult to figure out what games will be available generally on any given night in our region.
    At least the Habs/Leafs game had good play-by-play announcing unlike the Flames/Canucks game currently on. It’s going to be scary for hockey the next while if this is indiciative of the quality of announcing. Rogers seems so ill-equipped to take on NHL games.

    Reply
  5. Robert

    “we’re learning that most providers in those areas are offering a $60 RDS-only package” Do you know if Bell TV is offering this package?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Do you know if Bell TV is offering this package?

      Many Bell customers have reported being able to acquire this package. Others have said they couldn’t. I’m not sure if it varies by region or if there are some customer service people who are less informed than others.

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      1. Robert

        Can you reply to this post if you hear anything more about the bell and the $60 rds package?
        Would be appreciated. Thank you for keeping us informed.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Can you reply to this post if you hear anything more about the bell and the $60 rds package?

          I’ve heard plenty of people who have gotten this package with Bell. If you want to see if it’s available, you need to contact them.

          Reply
  6. Barbara

    Do anyone know if e.g Boston playing Washington Saturday night which will be showed on FX Canada which you can only get with Rogers. I don’t see the game listed in the NHL Center Ice Package which I purchased from Bell.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Do anyone know if e.g Boston playing Washington Saturday night which will be showed on FX Canada which you can only get with Rogers. I don’t see the game listed in the NHL Center Ice Package which I purchased from Bell.

      Rogers has the national rights to that game, and it will not be available on NHL Centre Ice. It is, however, available online on NHL GameCentre Live for those without access to FX Canada.

      Reply

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