How would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada?

Hockey Night in Canada begins its 2017-18 season tonight. And that means another 26 Saturday nights where fans complain about what channel their team’s game is being shown on.

When Rogers acquired national rights to the NHL in 2014, the plan was to give Canadians more choice on Saturday nights, to make use of the multiple Sportsnet channels as well as CBC and City to let a Canadiens fan in Moose Jaw, a Leafs fan in Corner Brook and a Flames fan in Sarnia watch their team’s games. This differed from the previous system, where CBC split its network geographically and decided for each station which NHL team it wanted viewers to see.

The downside to this new system is that not all games are free. With as many as seven Canadian teams playing on a Saturday night (though the HNIC schedule never has more than five games on any night this season), only three broadcasts are on free over-the-air channels: early games on CBC and City, and a late game on CBC. And generally Rogers respects a pecking order: Leafs almost always get priority on CBC, and the Canucks generally get the 10pm game if they’re playing then.

Though it has in the past put Habs games on Sportsnet to try to drive subscriptions, so far this season it looks like the Canadiens are headed to City on Saturdays, except when they’re playing the Leafs. Mind you, Sportsnet is busy with baseball playoffs, so it may not be an entirely altruistic move. But even if it stays that way, that means the Senators and Jets get moved to Sportsnet channels, along with the Oilers and Flames.

Scheduling Saturday nights is so delicate that Rogers doesn’t pick channel assignments before the season except for the first month. Instead, the assignments are chosen a week or two in advance. That way, a team that is getting popular later in the season, or faces a highly anticipated matchup, might get a more prominent channel than one that’s fading.

So, confident in the knowledge that you know better than they do, how would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada? Give it a shot below.

The rules

Create your own procedure for scheduling Hockey Night in Canada games. The rules have to involve all seven Canadian teams, and should be applicable to as many as three early games (7pm) and two late games (10pm).

The rules are subject to the following technical abilities and limitations:

  • The CBC network can be split geographically, but only with 14 stations: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Fredericton, Charlottetown Halifax, St. John’s and Yellowknife. If you split the network, assign a game to each station.
  • The City network can also be split geographically, with stations in each Canadian NHL market except Ottawa, which is a retransmitter of City Toronto and can’t carry a different game.
  • OMNI, which carries Hockey Night in Punjabi, has stations in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. If you ask nicely maybe you can convince Montreal’s ICI to join.
  • Most people don’t get out-of-market CBC, City and OMNI stations, or if they do, it’s not in high definition.
  • Sportsnet can be split up between East (Montreal, Ottawa), Ontario (Toronto), West (Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton) and Pacific (Vancouver). Most people now do get the four channels, but some still only have their local one, or just the local one in HD.
  • Sportsnet can’t always be monopolized for hockey. The baseball playoffs are on right now, and the main Sportsnet channels are showing that tonight, so they’re not usable for HNIC. There are also Toronto Raptors games to consider.
  • Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One are also available, but can’t be split geographically. They have fewer subscribers than the main Sportsnet channels.
  • The Sportsnet One overflow channels, Sportsnet Vancouver Hockey, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Oilers are also available, though they’re not distributed outside their teams’ regions and not everyone gets them inside their regions either.
  • FX Canada is available (Rogers’s original plan was to use it for a U.S. team matchup), but it doesn’t have many subscribers and its audience doesn’t overlap with sports lovers very much.
  • Any channel with both an early game and a late game has to have a plan in case the early game goes past 10pm. Do you stick with the early game and join the late in progress? Do you start the late game on a backup channel?

There are also economic considerations to take into account:

  • Like it or not, the Maple Leafs are the biggest draw on English TV. Your biggest ad revenue will come from the Leafs game.
  • As someone who spent $5.2 billion on NHL rights, you want to drive subscriptions to Sportsnet, particularly for teams like Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal where you don’t have the regional rights to those teams’ games.

And finally, you need to keep it relatively simple. If you split the CBC, City and Sportsnet networks and what channel a team’s game is on varies by city, you risk making it so complicated for people to watch that they just give up.

So how would you make it work?

My suggestion

Here’s one plan I would offer for consideration:

  • Go back to splitting the CBC network geographically. All seven NHL markets get their local NHL team. The other seven stations could have viewers decide which team they want. (Windsor getting the Red Wings would be great if possible.) Markets where the local team plays at 10pm ET get an early Leafs or Canadiens game but cut to the local team when their game begins.
  • Put the Canadiens on City coast to coast. Just cuz. Consider putting a late game on City, too, if there’s more than one that night.
  • Split Sportsnet: Senators on Sportsnet East, Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario, Flames, Oilers or Jets on Sportsnet West and Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. Offer local pregame and postgame shows on those channels.
  • Sorry, Jets, you get bumped to Sportsnet One if there aren’t any free channels up the food chain.
  • If you don’t need it to show a full game, turn Sportsnet 360 into an on-the-fly channel checking in on various games at key moments. Maybe even do split-screen. See what works. It can also be used for pregame and postgame shows while the other channels are showing early and late games.
  • Use the Canucks/Flames/Oilers SN1 channels for alternative feeds of some sort when those teams are in action. Star cam, goalie cam, shaky ref cam? Go nuts.
  • Keep HNIC Punjabi going, but don’t limit it to Leafs and Canucks games. Mix it up a bit. Consider translating into other languages (Mandarin, Italian, Arabic) through partnerships with Canadian broadcasters in those languages.

So for tonight, it would work out like this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • OMNI 7pm: Leafs. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet: MLB playoffs.
  • Sportsnet One: Leafs, followed by Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet 360: Senators, followed by combined Sens/Leafs/Habs postgame show.

If Sportsnet were available, it would be this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • Sportsnet East: Senators, followed by Senators postgame
  • Sportsnet Ontario: Leafs, followed by Leafs postgame
  • Sportsnet West: Jets/Flames pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet Pacific: Oilers/Canucks pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet One: Other programming until 9:30pm, followed by Montreal postgame
  • Sportsnet 360: Live look-ins across the league

The big advantage is that every market gets their local team. The big disadvantage is that it’s more complex, and there’s duplication. (Montreal gets the Habs on both CBC and City, for example.) I’m not sure it’s much better than Rogers’s current system for anyone living outside their local team’s market.

But maybe you have a better solution. Go ahead and try. Offer your suggestions in the comments below.

12 thoughts on “How would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada?

  1. Bill

    I think one needs an advanced degree in statistics or computer programming to understand all the variables in your very detailed column to be able to proceed!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I think one needs an advanced degree in statistics or computer programming to understand all the variables in your very detailed column to be able to proceed!

      Now you know how Sportsnet’s schedule makers feel.

      Reply
  2. Christopher van Dyke

    Counting French-speaking Canadians, plus English-speaking Habs fans across Canada, the Montreal Canadians have the largest COMBINED viewer-market of any team in the NHL, let alone Canadian NHL teams.

    A business argument should be made for a stand-alone ‘Habs Channel’. Combining everything from split-English/French play-by-play with our own Hab-only announcers., lAnti-chambre, 24CH, the HIO Show, etc., etc, existing and extra content.

    With today’s technology the same game-day and supplemental show productions can be French AND English adaptable.

    Let Molson negotiate production control and sell-back to Rogers and/or TSN/RDS.

    This could be carried on one consistent channel. Negotiate buying a chunk of a stations air-time (It does need to be 24/7. May be 6 to 12 hours, game days.

    Think out-side the box Mr. Molson, because the dysfunctional frustrating scheduling for the current large Habs fan-base across Canada plus the Habs past-24 years of mediocrity is causing that fan-base to die-off, especially the younger generation that did not experience the Canadiens past glory years.

    If I was Molson, negotiating with the NHL, Rogers and/or TSN to establish a fixed Habs Channel would be a top-priority.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Counting French-speaking Canadians, plus English-speaking Habs fans across Canada, the Montreal Canadians have the largest COMBINED viewer-market of any team in the NHL, let alone Canadian NHL teams.

      This is correct, but also irrelevant to discussions of TV broadcast scheduling.

      A business argument should be made for a stand-alone ‘Habs Channel’. Combining everything from split-English/French play-by-play with our own Hab-only announcers., lAnti-chambre, 24CH, the HIO Show, etc., etc, existing and extra content.

      How would this work? And why? Fans now can choose between English and French broadcasts. You want to give them less choice by forcing both on the same channel? Also, what you’re describing sounds a lot like Leafs TV, which is probably not something to emulate.

      Let Molson negotiate production control and sell-back to Rogers and/or TSN/RDS.

      Why would Rogers or Bell agree to this?

      Making it easier to find games would be a good thing to do, but you can’t just force changes on rights agreements while they’re still in progress. Don’t expect anything major to change until 2026 at least.

      Reply
  3. John Smallegange

    The first thing I would do is move from a 2 game format to a 3 game format. 3 games each on CBC and CITY. That gives 6 free games on Saturday. I would also get the NHL to have at least 1 game Sundays at 3pm. This would air on City. This would solve Citytv’s problem with having a game in Prime Time on Sundays. As for who plays where, I would put small market teams on at 3pm on Saturday or Sunday, with major market teams at 7 and 10 on Saturdays. I would use Sportsnet for USA teams giving priority to teams close the the border.

    As for play by play in other Languages. I would have as many as possible online with the most watched going to Omni. I would also use CBC North for First Nation Languages.

    The bigger question I have is this. If the Leafs are online in 30 different languages, who would pay the bill. I don’t Think Rogers or CBC would be willing to do this.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The first thing I would do is move from a 2 game format to a 3 game format. 3 games each on CBC and CITY.

      Assuming this means adding an afternoon game on Saturdays, and that this will usually be the Senators, Jets or both, this causes several issues:
      1. The Senators and Jets, their opponents, the league or the French or U.S. rights holders would not be happy with starting so many Saturday games in the afternoon.
      2. Ratings for those matches would likely go down for those teams’ fans, and there would probably not be enough of a compensating rise in out-of-market viewers since few people want to watch nine straight hours of hockey.
      3. CBC has local news at 6pm Saturdays, which would be often preempted or start late. City will also have a 6pm and 11pm newscast on Saturdays in most markets. Sportsnet also airs its national pregame show at 6:30pm on all HNIC stations.

      Reply
  4. MBR

    Next week’s schedule could have had all 6 Canadian teams on broadcast TV if Citytv had a late game as well. Also, let’s just say that Rogers had more than 1 Punjabi HNIC broadcast team…

    7:00 – Maple Leafs/Canadiens
    CBC Full Network/Omni Full Network

    7:00 – Hurricanes/Jets
    Citytv Full Network

    10:00 – Oilers/Senators
    CBC Full Network, Omni Edmonton/Omni 1

    10:00 – Flames/Canucks
    Citytv Full Network, Omni Calgary/BC/Omni 2

    Sportsnet channels can carry whatevery they want.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Your schedule is the actual plan for next week on CBC and City. (The City games will also air on Sportsnet One.) OMNI will broadcast the Canadiens/Leafs game in Punjabi only. Since three of these matchups have Canadian teams facing each other, scheduling becomes easier.

      Reply
  5. dilbert

    Actually, the problem has way more to do with the silly linear idea of “Channels” as opposed to “events”. The broadcast industry wants us to think in channels (they can brand it and charge for it as a result) instead of thinking of events.

    The reality is that all games should be available in all cable / sat markets. There is no reason not to. If there stuff is being broadcast, why not make it available?

    Reply
  6. Josh

    I think they’re doing the best they can with what they have at their disposal right now, but I would say that when games with Canadian teams are relegated to SN1/360 (as is happening right now, due to baseball), I think the local CBC affiliates that want to pick up those games should have the option. No reason CBC Winnipeg should be forced to take the Leafs when their home team is on a channel that isn’t part of basic cable in most places.

    Also want to add that, yeah, we are kinda getting ripped off by the fact that they just quietly dropped the all-American games they promised us at the outset of the new deal! What gives?

    Finally, there’s this piece in the Toronto Star from the weekend about the relative lack of Saturday home games for the Leafs this year that people might find interesting: https://www.thestar.com/sports/leafs/2017/10/14/saturday-night-leaf-tradition-fading-away.html

    Gotta say, as a fan of one of the smaller market teams in Canada, I’ve always been rubbed the wrong way by the Saturday night entitlement that many Habs/Leafs fans seem to have. The fact is, Saturday night is when *every* Canadian team and *every* Canadian fanbase wants its team playing at home particularly. Many in the US, too. Logic dictates that not every team will get as many Saturday home dates as they want.

    Reply
  7. R Palmer

    Love this column. Great discussion! And I absolutely take the point about the complexities of scheduling. I worked in TV for many years and always admired those folks. Still do. That said, I’m wearing my fan/TV viewer hat now and the fact I have access to no fewer than eight Sportsnet channels (not including 4k channels) but most nights have very few choices makes me see red. On a night when nearly every NHL team is playing, I will flip through all eight of those channels to see what I want to watch. But I can pretty much guarantee that at least half of them is carrying the same game. Makes me nuts. OK, I get it. Local teams hold the rights to their games and make money by selling those rights locally, regionally and nationally. But that’s where it breaks down. Again, I have eight different Sportsnet channels. If I live in the west, I should be able to see a western team on SN West. If I want variety, I should be flip over to SN Ontario to see the Leafs or Sens (or Habs?). One of the teams on the west coast (US or Canada) should be on SN Pacific. Folks, when you offer Canadians eight channels and call each one of them something different, you give every impression that you will offering CHOICES. Otherwise, just have one channel, or two, or three. It’s ridiculous.

    Don’t get me started on the influence of US broadcast rights holders. Watching Canadian teams in the playoffs on a Saturday morning (my time) because that’s when the US rights holder wants to show it is nothing short of insulting.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’m wearing my fan/TV viewer hat now and the fact I have access to no fewer than eight Sportsnet channels (not including 4k channels)

      That’s pretty impressive since there are only seven Sportsnet channels (East, Ontario, West, Pacific, 360, One and World), not including regional overflow channels for Flames, Oilers and Canucks games. And no one wants NHL hockey on Sportsnet World.

      If I live in the west, I should be able to see a western team on SN West.

      But what if a western team isn’t playing at that time? Sportsnet has the ability to split the regional feeds, as it did last Wednesday when all the Canadian teams were playing, but there are rarely enough Canadian teams playing simultaneously, even on a Saturday night, to require this.

      Reply

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