Category Archives: Sports

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Chantal Desjardins, P.J. Stock among cuts at Sportsnet

Rogers Media today finally confirmed what’s been reported, that George Stroumboulopoulos has been let go as host of Hockey Night in Canada and Ron MacLean will return to the big chair on Saturday nights.

But also changing is a lot of other jobs in Sportsnet’s hockey broadcasting team, both national and regional broadcasts. Among them, in-game analyst Glenn Healy, studio analysts P.J. Stock, Billy Jaffe and Corey Hirsch, and regional game studio hosts Leah Hextall (Flames) and Chantal Desjardins (Canadiens).

Desjardins mainly hosted the regional Canadiens broadcasts from the Toronto studio, but would also work as a rinkside reporter during some national broadcasts.

Desjardins and Stock worked together at CHOM before getting jobs at Sportsnet. In 2010, they hosted the morning show with Pete Marier after Ted Bird left the station. Marier was also let go this past week.

The Globe and Mail reports Sportsnet will be airing national pregame shows instead of regional ones before regional hockey games, which would reduce the need for staff.

UPDATE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman offers a tribute to his dismissed colleagues at the end of this column.

Posted in Media, Opinion, Sports

Sports broadcasters should wake up and smell the sexism

Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you heard a woman do play-by-play for a National Hockey League game?

When was the last time you heard a woman do colour commentary for an NHL game?

When was the last time you saw a woman be asked for her opinion during a pregame, intermission or postgame show of an NHL game in Canada?

Chances are the answer to all these questions is never. Because it doesn’t happen.

Sure, there are women involved in broadcasts, but they’re in the roles of anchors (usually with a man), hosts (asking male analysts questions but rarely answering themselves) or reporters (just the facts, ma’am). Often they’re even physically separated from the men, either rinkside during a game, or in the case of Hockey Night in Canada in an area so far from the main desk they’re practically in a different room.

And it’s not just an NHL thing. Watch any NFL broadcast and you’ll see women on the sidelines instead of in the broadcast booth or at the analysts’ table. This isn’t just a coincidence, it happens so often it’s become a de facto template.

Now I’m not calling for 50-50 parity here. I understand that for sports like pro hockey and football, where former players tend to become analysts, you’re going to have a lot of dudes. And that’s okay. But there are plenty of guys giving their opinions about hockey games that have never played a single minute in the NHL. And don’t pretend there aren’t women out there who have strong, informed opinions about hockey.

Sportsnet, TSN, RDS and TVA Sports, to say nothing of ESPN, NBC, Fox and others in the U.S., need to do more to desegregate their broadcasts along gender lines. Chantal Machabée is great, but if she’s the only female hockey personality on RDS, that’s a problem.

Andi Petrillo recently made history as the first woman to get a full-time job hosting a sports radio show in (English) Canada.* The fact that this took until 2016 is shameful. In Montreal, of the three radio stations that air sports programming regularly, the best we can do so far is an hour a week on TSN 690 Sunday mornings hosted by Robyn Flynn.

We can do better than this. We can do better than pretending it’s not an all-boys club because we have a pretty girl interviewing coaches on the sideline. Especially when you consider all the stuff that pretty girl has to do on a regular basis to ward off anonymous stalkers and potential rapists. The Erin Andrews case alone should give us pause, force us to reflect on the real-world consequences of treating women on TV as sex objects, or putting them in a position where the viewer sees them that way. (Remember that the guy who secretly filmed her through a peephole he created in her hotel room did so not because he was some disturbed pervert but because he figured he could make a lot of money off the footage.)

We can do better than even the few women’s hockey games broadcast on TV being announced by male play-by-play announcers because there are no women qualified to do it. We can do better than all-male analyst panels all of the time, with at best a female moderator.

This isn’t a theoretical hope for some non-existent women. There are real women out there doing hard work who would love an opportunity to be considered for jobs that have, either consciously or unconsciously, been locked out to them.

More women need to be trained in play-by-play, which is a very tough job that doesn’t in any way require the person doing it to be a former player or to have a penis. Put women in these positions at lower levels, calling minor-league games and regional broadcasts before upgrading them to big national ones. Women need to be encouraged to express their opinions on the air rather than always defer to their male colleagues, and they need to be asked what they think. You might be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

Because there are a lot of women out there with opinions worth sharing. Whether it’s Andi Petrillo, or Andie Bennett, or Robyn Flynn, or Katie Nolan, there’s a perspective that we’re sorely missing.

Considering all the crap they have to go through in this business that their male counterparts never even have to think about, I think the absolute least you could do is let them have a voice.

Happy International Women’s Day.

* It’s happened in Quebec. Once. (Thanks Francis for pointing this out.)

UPDATE: If you don’t think sexism exist in sports broadcast media, check out Andi Petrillo’s story.

Posted in Radio, Sports, TV

Impact 2016 broadcast schedule announced

We now know where the 2016 Impact games — at least those played in the MLS regular season — will be broadcast, on TV and radio, in French and English.

Like with the NHL’s national/regional split, the Impact’s MLS games are split between those whose broadcast rights are sold by the league (which partners with TSN and RDS) and those whose rights are sold by the club (which partners with TVA Sports).

RDS: 13 games plus playoffs

RDS announced it will broadcast 13 Impact games, including all MLS games against Canadian opponents (Toronto or Vancouver), plus all playoff games. Its schedule also includes 10 Toronto FC games (three of which are against Montreal) and 10 Vancouver Whitecaps games (one of which is against Toronto and one of which is against Montreal), for a total of 28 games. Games not involving Montreal will generally be put on RDS2.

The RDS broadcast team is Claudine Douville on play-by-play, with Jean Gounelle doing analysis, plus Olivier Brett and Patrick Leduc during pregame and halftime.

TVA Sports: 21 games

TVA Sports, meanwhile, has the remaining 21 Impact MLS games, including the two games at Olympic Stadium, and the season finale on Oct. 23. Most games will be on the main channel, with Saturday night games moved to TVA Sports 2.

The TVA broadcast team is Frédéric Lord on play-by-play, with Vincent Destouches doing analysis.

TSN: 10 games plus playoffs

Ten games will be carried in English on TSN channels, including the season opener in Vancouver, the Saputo Stadium home opener April 23 against Toronto, and the last home game of the season, also against Toronto.

The TSN TV broadcast teams are Like Wileman/Jason deVos and Vic Rauter/Greg Sutton.

TSN Radio 690/CJAD: all regular-season and playoff games

On radio, all games are set for broadcast on TSN Radio 690, though that will likely change when scheduling conflicts arise with Alouettes games, Canadiens playoff games (don’t laugh) and next season’s Canadiens games in October. (That goes for RDS as well.)

98.5FM: minimum 21 games

Only 21 games are set for radio in French, on 98.5 FM, though that’s more than last year, and the press release describes it as a “minimum”. That station doesn’t have a backup in case of conflict, so can’t really broadcast games when the Canadiens or Alouettes are playing.

Jeremy Filosa is the voice of the Impact for 98.5. Each match will have a 30-minute pregame show and a postgame show.

You’d think this would open up an opportunity for Montreal’s all-sports-talk station 91.9 Sport to pick up those games. But it hasn’t chosen to do so. Even if the rights are dirt cheap, it’s expensive to produce such matches. That said, the thing 91.9 needs most right now is marketing and recognition, and broadcasting games would be a big step in that direction.

The full schedule, with broadcast partners for each game, is posted on the Impact’s website.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Sportsnet admits it’s using Canadiens Saturday night games as subscription bait

If you’ve been paying attention to the scheduling of Hockey Night in Canada, you might have noticed that Canadiens games are more likely to be on Sportsnet this season, whereas last season they were more likely to be on City.

This season, of the 13 Saturday evening games that have aired so far, plus the next one (Feb. 27 against the Leafs) that has already been assigned, six were put on Sportsnet, two on City and six on CBC or CBC and City. Of those six, three are games against the Maple Leafs, and two were nights the Leafs weren’t playing. Only once, on Oct. 17 (in the middle of their season-opening hot streak) did the Canadiens go on CBC and bump the Leafs to another channel (in that case, City), which caused plenty of frustration from Leafs fans who had been used to just owning CBC on Saturday nights.

The Leafs’ dominance on CBC is nothing new. The same thing happened last season. And it makes sense. The Canadiens have stronger ratings overall, but if you discount francophones who will watch those games on TVA Sports, the Leafs are the more popular team on English television on Saturday nights. And so Rogers gives them the network with the largest overall reach.

But what’s changed this year appears to be the order of priority when it comes to channel assignments. It used to be CBC > City > Sportsnet > Sportsnet One or 360. But now it appears Sportsnet has moved to the No. 2 spot on Saturday nights, to the point where City has on some weeks had either simulcasts of the CBC game or an all-American matchup.

I asked Scott Moore, the president of Sportsnet, about this during an interview I did for a Gazette story that appears in Saturday’s paper about the difficulty in finding live sports online.

“We want to put whatever games we can to the widest distribution,” he said.

But Moore, who noted he’s a Habs fan, admitted that the scheduling strategy has changed this year, and “the second best game has moved to Sportsnet and the third best game has gone to City.”

“That’s simply for a subscription play,” he said.

What does that mean? It means Rogers is putting that second-best game, whether it’s the Canadiens or Senators or Jets, on Sportsnet as a way of getting more people to subscribe to Sportsnet.

Sportsnet gets 72% of its revenue through subscriptions (75% if you also count Sportsnet One, 360 and World), and only 23% through advertising, according to figures from 2013-14 submitted to the CRTC. And as the CRTC mandates channels be offered on a pick-and-pay or small-package basis as of March 1 (and both as of Dec. 1), it’s in Sportsnet’s best interest to protect that subscription revenue.

It’s a balancing act from a capitalist perspective. Lock the games down too much on expensive specialty channels and you risk losing fans. Put too many games on free TV and occasional fans won’t bother subscribing to your sports channels because they don’t need them.

For a company that spent $5.2 billion on a 12-year deal with the NHL, finding that balance on the sport’s marquee night of the week is very important.

“It’s not so much a science as it is a feel,” Moore notes of how Saturday night games are assigned. That’s the big reason why channel assignments are only announced a week or two in advance, except where it’s a Canadiens-Leafs game, because that’s obviously going on CBC.

Had the Canadiens continued on their hot streak instead of plunging into the toilet with the rest of the Canadian NHL teams, we might have seen the Canadiens on CBC more often.

Will we see more subscription plays during the playoffs? The math changes then, with audience increasing and ad revenue becoming more important.

But at this rate they might not have to worry about it, because none of the seven Canadian teams are in playoff position (they’re all among the bottom nine teams in the league right now).

“It would be really interesting to see what happens between now and NHL trade deadline,” Moore said, a glimmer of hope in his voice that some miracle would save the postseason audience his company paid so dearly for.

Posted in Opinion, Sports

NHL fans bullied John Scott, and blamed the NHL for it

January was quite the month for John Scott, a hockey player who started out as the butt of a joke and ended up as the National Hockey League All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.

There’s been no shortage of think pieces about Scott, especially over the past week. Most have decided to blame the NHL’s senior management for mishandling the issue, for holding a fan vote, for having Scott be eligible, for trying to convince him not to go and then for mysteriously engineering a trade that conveniently sent him to an American Hockey League team 5,000 kilometres away. (The league denies trying to prevent him from coming, but Scott himself said they tried to shame him out of it by invoking his kids.)

There’s no doubt the league mishandled the situation after Scott was chosen, and fumbled its way through trying to make good on it. But the NHL didn’t pick Scott for the all-star game. The NHL didn’t decide that humiliating a journeyman NHL player would be hilarious without caring what it would do to that guy. The fans did that.

So why aren’t they getting the blame from anyone (besides Don Cherry)?

I followed the John Scott story closely over the past little while, partly because he’s now in the Montreal Canadiens organization, but also because I related to him.

I was bullied in high school, pretty badly. There might have been one or two people in my high school who got it worse than me, but on the social hierarchy I was pretty near the bottom. I won’t bore you with details, but the torment was pretty standard for high schools in the 90s.

It was in my last year or two of high school, when during the lunch period there was some sort of vote on something. I don’t remember what it was, what the prize was, but I remember my surprise when one of my fellow students — one of the many who regularly bullied me — called out my name.

I didn’t get it. I hadn’t suddenly become popular. Why did these people vote for me? Why were they happy I won?

Then there was that time that a pack of girls brought me into an AV room and flashed me. (Well, not really, they were lightning fast and didn’t lift their shirts all the way, so I never saw anything.) What the hell was that about?

Had I become so uncool that I was now really popular? Like a reversal of coolness polarity?

No, I was still the butt of a joke. Things got better as people matured (including me), but my classmates didn’t look up to me, they were still looking down, and laughing.

I thought of that while following the John Scott story. He experienced something similar, but on a much larger and more public scale.

NHL fans decided to vote him in as a joke (and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s how this started), but Scott refused to bow out and instead approached the event with an enthusiasm that brought many more fans to his side. The love-in only got stronger through the events, culminating in him being hoisted on his teammates’ shoulders after scoring twice in the All-Star Game.

But that doesn’t shift responsibility for the fan vote that got him there. That doesn’t change the fact that John Scott was the victim of bullying on a massive scale.

Greg Wyshynski, the Puck Daddy blogger who first blurted out Scott’s name during a podcast, which sparked the campaign to vote for Scott, accepted some responsibility for starting it all. But while he spent a few seconds mocking Scott, he didn’t orchestrate the campaign to flood NHL all-star voting with votes for him. The Internet trolls on Reddit and elsewhere did that.

They need to accept responsibility for what they did, and not take the storybook ending as proof that the ends justified the means. They’re the villains of this story that Scott vanquished, not the fairy godmothers that gave him a happy ending.

The NHL has some responsibility here, too, of course. The idea of voting in someone as a joke has been around for years, since Rory Fitzpatrick almost got selected in 2007. And the selection of Zemgus Girgensons, while for positive reasons (Latvia wanted an all-star, and its citizens made it happen), should have reinforced the idea that fan voting can have unexpected consequences. And if it’s true that the league tried to pressure Scott or even forced the trade that may have banished him to the AHL, it needs to apologize for that.

And maybe there should be changes to the all-star selection process. Not a preselected list of qualified candidates, but some minimum qualifications, such as a minimum of NHL games played. The league might also consider measures to encourage more people like Scott, role players who never lead the league in scoring but are beloved by fans and teammates alike, to join the all-star festivities.

But the biggest change I’d like to see is in fans’ mentality. You’ve proven you have the power to manipulate the results of an online vote. Now maybe you’ll give it some more thought before making some poor hard-working guy you’ve never met the butt of your stupid joke.

In the meantime, congratulations John Scott. I hope you had as much fun participating as we did watching it. And I hope we’ll get to see you scoring some goals in Montreal soon.

Posted in Media, Sports

Baby steps for women’s hockey

If you’ve been reading me for a while you might remember that in 2012 I noted how Montreal’s top women’s hockey team needed help from the media. And in 2014 I mentioned how the team needed help from fans.

There are many reasons why the Canadian Women’s Hockey League isn’t getting as much attention as the National Hockey League, and not all of them could be boiled down to the quality of the product on the ice. Marketing, fan support, player salary, media attention, availability of broadcasts and other factors all needed help, and fixing one wouldn’t change much without fixing the rest.

I’m happy to see that we’re seeing some real progress in making the women’s game better. Last March, the NHL’s Canadiens stepped up to the plate and offered help on the organizational and marketing side. That led to a new name — the Canadiennes — a new logo and a new jersey this fall.

Fan support seems to have grown, from what I can tell. The home games I’ve gone to this year have seen fans well into the upper half of the Étienne Desmarteau arena, which I saw less of in seasons past.

On Dec. 31, the Canadiennes got to play outside as part of the NHL’s Winter Classic event. The game was abbreviated, it wasn’t broadcast on TV, and few fans showed up to see it, but they were there.

And the media is paying more attention. Sportsnet is now airing the Clarkson Cup women’s hockey tournament, as well as some regular-season games. Others (though not all) are broadcast online. And we’re seeing more coverage of the team, the league and its players.

We’re nowhere near getting the CWHL to the same level as the NHL, or the AHL, or even the junior leagues, and future progress still requires each of the parties to go the extra mile, but we’re headed in the right direction.

Sports reporter Robyn Flynn

Sports reporter Robyn Flynn

One of the people fighting the good fight more than others is Robyn Flynn, a whatever-you-need-me-to-do worker at TSN 690 and CJAD. She, along with Jared Book, are contributing stories about the Canadiennes to the Eyes on the Prize website. On her weekly Sunday morning show Centre Ice — a rare sports radio show hosted by a woman — she makes it a point to talk about the women’s game as well as the men’s game, and do things like talk to women’s hockey players. And she’s a regular at the Canadiennes home games, because she’s part of the broadcast team.

This Saturday, as Montreal played Boston’s CWHL team (two days after playing Boston’s NWHL team), Flynn made her debut as a play-by-play announcer, with Kelly Greig doing colour commentary. She’s no Mike Emrick yet, but you got to start somewhere.

It takes a lot of effort to get the media to pay attention to something new on a consistent basis, especially when the public’s interest doesn’t follow right away. That makes contributions like Flynn’s all the more important, and admirable.

If you want to watch the Canadiennes and the CWHL’s athletes in action, the next Canadiennes home games are Jan. 30 at 5:30pm, and Jan. 31 at 1:30pm, against Calgary, at the Desmarteau arena. Tickets are $15.

Centre Ice with Robyn Flynn airs Sundays from 10-11am on TSN Radio 690.

Posted in Canadiens, My articles, TV

14 quirks about the Canadiens’ schedule and NHL on TV and online

The Canadiens begin their 2015-16 regular season on Wednesday night. And I’m told that among the most requested things of the sports department is a schedule of what games will be on what TV channel during the season.

So in Wednesday’s paper, I’ve replicated a chart I did a year ago that lists all 82 regular-season games, and an accompanying story explaining to Quebecers how to watch the Canadiens on TV or online.

There’s also a separate story, online only, explaining to people who live outside the Canadiens’ broadcast region how they can see all 82 games.

I’ll let you read those stories to get all the details (if you have any more questions, let me know). The gist of it is that there haven’t been many major changes for this year — still 40 national Canadiens games in English and 22 in French, and you still need five channels in English and two in French to watch all of them.

In researching these stories, and through a series of emails with Rogers PR, I’ve learned a few bits of trivia about NHL TV rights and the Canadiens’ schedule in particular.

Continue reading

Posted in Canadiens

Breaking down the Canadiens 2015-16 TV broadcast schedule

Last week, Sportsnet unveiled its schedule for Canadiens TV broadcasts for the 2015-16 season.

The good news is that there’s little change from last year. All 82 games will be broadcast in English, and 40 of those games are national.

The bad news is that there’s little change from last year. The other 42 games are still regional, inaccessible to those west of Belleville, Ont., unless they fork over big money for NHL Centre Ice.

Actually it’s somewhere between 40 and 42 games, because some of those regional games involve other Canadian teams (which means they’ll be available in those regions): Both games against the Vancouver Canucks are regional, one of two games against the Calgary Flames, and one of four games against the Ottawa Senators. Both games against Edmonton, both games against Winnipeg, and of course all four games against Toronto are national.

Regional games for the most part are on Sportsnet East, but like last year, they’re using City Montreal as a backup when Sportsnet carries baseball or NFL football in the fall. A total of 11 games are planned for City Montreal, the last one on Dec .17.

For national games, a similar situation to last year, with 10 Wednesday night games on Sportsnet and 20 Saturday night games to be decided on a week-to-week basis. (Expect Leafs games on CBC and Canadiens games on City again.) There are also two Thursday night games in October on Sportsnet 360. No games are scheduled for Sportsnet One.

Rogers Hometown Hockey continues this season, but moves to Sportsnet from City now that Rogers has decided to go back to imported dramas and comedies on Sunday nights. The six Sunday night games are all national.

Broken down by time, 39 games start at 7pm Eastern, 30 at 7:30pm, three at 8pm, three at 9pm, two at 10pm and two at 10:30pm. The only afternoon games are the Winter Classic at 1pm and the two Super Bowl matinees at 2 and 2:30.

TVA/RDS share unchanged

On the French side, it’s still 22 national games plus all playoff games for TVA Sports and 60 regional games plus all preseason games for RDS.

Like last year, the national games in French include all Saturday night games plus the season opener. But because the Canadiens are playing in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, that gets added to the national roster in both languages. This means TVA Sports will have 20 Saturday night games instead of 21. (There’s a Saturday afternoon game, which is national in English as part of Hockey Day in Canada, but remains regional in French.)

TVA Sports put out its NHL schedule in June. It’s posted here.

No announcements have been made for changes to NHL Centre Ice or NHL GameCentre Live.

 

Posted in Media, Sports

It’s still not easy being a girl in the boys’ club of sports broadcasting

Women in sports broadcasting, from left: Amanda Stein (TSN 690), Andie Bennett (CBC), Jessica Rusnak (TSN 690), Kelly Greig (Sportsnet), Robyn Flynn (TSN 690)

Women in sports broadcasting, from left: Amanda Stein (TSN 690), Andie Bennett (CBC), Jessica Rusnak (TSN 690), Kelly Greig (Sportsnet), Robyn Flynn (TSN 690)

As we mark International Women’s Day on Sunday, we can choose to think of the injustices that still exist, of the women around the world who face injustice merely because of their gender in direct and indirect ways. We can choose to think of how far we’ve come as a society, ending some of those injustices and actively encouraging more women to come forward and become leaders and role models. Or better yet, we can do both.

In the media, we like to think of ourselves as more progressive than other industries. Look in most journalism classes and you’ll find more women than men. There are plenty of women working in print, radio, television and digital media, particularly in positions that expose them to the public.

But when we narrow that view to the sports department and dedicated sports media, a different picture appears, one where if there are women at all, they’re kept on the sidelines (literally).

On Thursday, as part of a week of activities at Vanier College, five women who work in sports broadcasting in Montreal were invited to talk about their experiences trying to find their place in this man’s world. It was eye-opening.

Here’s what I learned:

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Posted in Canadiens, TV

TVA Sports to expand to three feeds during NHL playoffs

tvasports3

When TVA Sports launched, people wondered if it could fill 24 hours. When it acquired NHL rights, it had to expand to two channels even though it only really had scheduling conflicts on Saturday nights.

Now, with the NHL playoffs coming, and TVA having rights to all playoff games, Quebecor has decided to add a third feed to the service.

TVA Sports 3 will come online on April 15 on Videotron, Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Telus Optik TV. It will be free to all subscribers who have TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 in their packages. (Some subscribers have TVA Sports but not TVA Sports 2, and probably won’t get this new channel.)

In the two weeks leading up to that, from April 2 to 14, TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 will have a free preview. (There’s only one Saturday night Canadiens game in that span, the season finale against the Maple Leafs.)

The most interesting thing about TVA Sports 3 is that it’s a temporary channel, and will be removed at the end of May, when the first two (three?) playoff rounds are over and there aren’t any more scheduling conflicts. That doesn’t mean it can’t return in the future, though. There’s a lot of sports out there.

If you only have TVA Sports, by the way, there’s probably no need to worry. They haven’t put any Canadiens games on TVA Sports 2, and there’s no reason they would start now. (RDS only moved a regular-season Canadiens game to RDS2 once, and that was during the World Series.)

Yes, it’s necessary

TVA Sports 3 is needed because there are situations, especially in the first round of the NHL playoffs, where two channels isn’t enough. Last year, TSN had to give away a playoff game to Sportsnet because it had the Raptors on the main network and it couldn’t put two simultaneous games on TSN2. (Now that TSN has five channels, that’s no longer a problem.)

The NHL tries to schedule the playoffs so there is as little overlap as possible, but when western conference teams play 8pm or 9pm starts (because many teams are in Central or Mountain time zones), you can have three going at once.

And jokes aside, TVA Sports does have rights to other sports. It has some Impact games, some Blue Jays games, some NFL games and some tennis events. It still has a long way to go to catch up to RDS, but it’s working on it.

Some context

Three channels might seem like a lot, but there’s a long list of sports channels in Canada owned by Bell and Rogers:

Bell (English): TSN1-5, ESPN Classic, plus minority stakes in NHL Network, Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and CTV and CTV Two can air sports programming

Bell (French): RDS, RDS2, RDS Info

Rogers (English): Sportsnet East/Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet One/Vancouver/Oilers/Flames, Sportsnet World, OLN, plus minority stakes in Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and City, OMNI and FX Canada can air sports programming, plus its deal with CBC for hockey

And on top of that there’s NFL Network, MLB Network, Golf Channel and others with English programming that TVA could pick up the French rights to.

Don’t expect Canadiens on TVA

Since the TVA NHL deal was first announced, people have been asking about Canadiens games on the main TVA network. Rogers even assumed it would happen in some early schedule mockups, and TVA never ruled out the possibility.

The press release isn’t clear, but seems to imply Canadiens playoff games will be on TVA Sports. Remember that Quebecor spent a lot of money securing these rights, and no NHL team draws francophone audiences nearly as much as the Canadiens. If they’d gotten all 82 Canadiens games, then a Saturday night free-to-air game might have made sense, but as it stands it needs Canadiens fans to subscribe to the sports channel.

Things might change if the Canadiens go deep in the playoffs. Most if not all Canadiens playoff games should be available for free in English on CBC or City, so casual fans jumping on the bandwagon might decide to forgo a TVA Sports subscription and just watch the games in English. If the Canadiens make the Stanley Cup final, TVA might decide that advertising revenue for such a huge audience outweighs the potential gains in temporary TVA Sports subscriptions.

Posted in Canadiens, Opinion

Guzzo and the unnecessarily sexist “hockey widow” promotion

Last week, I went to see Xavier Dolan’s new film Mommy at one of the Cinémas Guzzo megaplexes. I go there because it’s not far from home, and because it’s inexpensive (at least on Tuesdays), but also to send a bit of a message to Guzzo’s owner that some people do actually want to see arty homegrown films.

Executive VP and public face Vincenzo Guzzo has been repeatedly on record as calling for Quebec films to be more mainstream, more feel-good, more accessible to the general public. He feels that, more than anything else, is what is keeping homegrown cinema from becoming more popular.

And though he could present his ideas with more tact, he’s not wrong on that point.

I like Guzzo because he’s the little guy, a local entrepreneur trying new things in an industry dominated by the Cineplex Odeons and Famous Players of the world, even taking them to court to try to break the oligopoly. And he speaks his mind and is accountable to the public, unlike the heads of those other cinema chains whose names we don’t even know.

But being the little guy also means saying stuff that is foolish, poorly thought out or downright stupid.

Before the screening of Mommy, I saw an ad for a new promotion: Hockey widows, the women left alone while their husbands or boyfriends watch hockey games, could get discounts on tickets at Guzzo.

It seemed like a good idea, though perhaps a bit sexist in its message. Surely there are hockey widowers out there, or other reasons why people might want to go out during a hockey game.

On the website, Guzzo specifies that the deal doesn’t apply Tuesdays or during afternoons (when prices are already discounted). And it says “Ladies only!”

That seemed unnecessary to me. Why impose such a by-definition sexist requirement? What’s the purpose of applying this discount only to women?

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Posted in Canadiens, TV

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.)

Posted in Canadiens, Radio

TSN 690 names Dan Robertson as new Canadiens play-by-play announcer

Bell Media announced on Monday that it has selected its new play-by-play man for Canadiens games on TSN 690: Dan Robertson, who called QMJHL games for Eastlink.

Robertson replaces John Bartlett, who is leaving to be the play-by-play guy for regional games on Sportsnet.

Sergio Momesso stays on the broadcast team, doing analysis.

Robertson was one of a few people brought in to call preseason games (he did the Sept. 25 game against the Avalanche). Program Director Chris Bury tells The Suburban’s Mike Cohen that Robertson’s demo was impressive, and that the staff seemed to be unanimous in support of him.

Robertson is on Twitter, though his handle to changed from @EastlinkDanR to @DRTSN690.

UPDATE (Oct. 25): CTV Montreal did an interview with Robertson.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Why is RDS/TSN/Sportsnet blacked out? NHL regional TV rights explained

TSN blackout

Even though I’ve written quite a few blog posts on the subject of NHL regional rights and in particular how Canadiens fans have to deal with them for the first time, there’s still a flood of questions, usually the same ones, from people who suddenly find themselves staring at a screen saying a hockey game is not available in their region.

The situation hasn’t changed dramatically, except for broadcasts on RDS. Until this season, the network had a special deal with the Canadiens and the National Hockey League that allowed all 82 regular-season games to be broadcast nationally without restriction. This is the exception rather than the rule. Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators games in English have been subject to regional blackouts for years now.

It’s caused so much rage that RDS has posted a page — in both French and English — explaining how the blackouts aren’t its fault.

Am I affected?

The Canadiens broadcast region. Map via Shaw Direct

The Canadiens broadcast region. Regions in green can will not experience blackouts on RDS, TSN5 or Sportsnet East. (Map via Shaw Direct)

If you’re used to watching Canadiens games on RDS, you’ll no longer be able to do so if you live west of eastern Ontario (officially, a line connecting Pembroke and Belleville). This is the Canadiens/Senators broadcast region. It includes that corner of eastern Ontario, plus all of Quebec and all four Atlantic provinces. In Toronto, the Prairies, B.C. and territories, you’re out of luck. Because RDS carries only the regional games, you won’t see a single Canadiens game — or any NHL game at all for that matter — on RDS this year.

During the first preseason game on Tuesday night, some people reported being able to get RDS un-blacked-out outside the Canadiens region. Some had the HD feed blacked out but the SD feed not. This should not be relied upon as a stable loophole.

If you’re not sure what region you’re in, you can put your postal code into this website, which will show which teams’ region you’re in. Any team not on that list will (or at least should) be blacked out in your region.

For fans of other teams, this post explains their broadcast regions and how many games will be broadcast regionally and nationally.

Who is to blame?

The big change isn’t so much that Rogers has spent $5.2 billion on a wide-ranging deal for NHL rights in Canada. It’s the emergence of a competitor to RDS, TVA Sports, which has sublicensed the rights to national games from Rogers. RDS picked up the regional rights, but that doesn’t give them the rights to broadcast these games nationally. They’d love nothing better than to do so, but they can’t.

So who is to blame? Rogers? Quebecor? Bell? The Canadiens? Your cable company?

No, it’s the National Hockey League.

The NHL, like other sports leagues, sets the framework for television rights deals. And part of that framework forces most of the regular-season games of any team to be broadcast only within that team’s designated region. Or, looking at it the other way, it prevents other team’s broadcasts from entering that team’s region.

The purpose is simply to protect that team’s territorial rights and market. Basically, if you live in southern Ontario, the Leafs own you, and they want you to be a Leafs fan, not a Canadiens fan. You might think that’s ridiculous, but that’s nevertheless the logic.

(Be glad that the NHL doesn’t also follow the NFL’s rule that blacks out local games when a team has not sold out a home game. Though since the Canadiens always sell out, that wouldn’t affect them.)

What can I do about it?

So, you’re a Canadiens fan in southern Ontario, Calgary or Vancouver who wants to watch all 82 Canadiens games, and you don’t mind what language it’s in. Well, here are your options:

  • Learn to live with watching only half the season. Rogers is broadcasting 40 of the 82 Canadiens games nationally in English, plus all playoff games, including all Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday night games, and all games against the Maple Leafs and Bruins. (The 22 games broadcast nationally in French on TVA Sports are included in those 40.) You’ll also see when the Canadiens play the team that owns your broadcast region. I break down which games are which here. If you live in the Jets, Oilers or Flames regions, you’ll see the games against those teams too. People in Saskatchewan will get a total of 44 Habs games all told.
  • Buy NHL Centre Ice. This is the official way to get around the regional blackouts, and it’s what distant fans of other Canadian teams have had to do for years. Details of this service haven’t been announced yet, but it will be offered by your cable or satellite provider for about $200 for the season or $35 a month. They might also offer a special deal for just the French Canadiens and Senators games from RDS for $60. NHL Centre Ice blacks out any game that is otherwise broadcast in your region, so you’ll need to get Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 to watch national games on those channels. Contact your TV provider for details.
  • Buy NHL GameCentre Live. Similar to NHL Centre Ice, GameCentre offers a way for people to watch out-of-market games. GameCentre is a streaming service, to watch the games online or on mobile or tablet apps. Because it’s delivered on the Internet, it’s offered directly by Rogers, not by your TV provider. You can subscribe to it here. It’s $200 for the season (with a $180 early bird special). Rogers has also promised a special deal for $60 with just the RDS Senators and Canadiens regional games. GameCentre Live used to have the same rules as Centre Ice, blacking out any game available to you on TV. But Rogers is making all of its nationally broadcast games available on this service. It’s also making in-region regional games available, but only if they’re on Sportsnet and you’re a Sportsnet subscriber. This requires authentication with your TV provider, which means they need to be on board as well. This means that Senators games, French Canadiens games, Jets games and some Maple Leafs games that air on TSN and RDS are not available in-region on GameCentre Live.
  • Listen to blacked out games on the radio. Blackout rules don’t apply to the radio, so you can listen to the livestream of TSN Radio 690 from anywhere in the country.
  • Get an illegal bootleg stream online. There are various ways to get access to Canadiens games through third parties that illegally rebroadcast the games online. I won’t provide instructions here, but you can find them.
  • Move to Montreal. I’m just saying, that’s an option.

One thing that won’t help is to start a petition, yell at your TV provider or insult Rogers, Bell or anyone else on Twitter. Believe me, the broadcasters would love nothing better than to do away with blackouts that annoy viewers, deprive them of advertising revenue and complicate scheduling. But they can’t, because despite those billions of dollars, the NHL is still the boss.

But if it helps you emotionally, go ahead.

Posted in Canadiens, Radio, TV

John Bartlett leaves TSN 690 to be regional voice of Habs on Sportsnet

John Bartlett, who has been the play-by-play voice of the Canadiens on TSN Radio 690 ever since the station won the rights to the team’s games in 2011, is leaving it to join Rogers as the play-by-play man on regional Canadiens games that will air on Rogers Sportsnet East and City Montreal.

TSN host Mitch Melnick confirmed Bartlett’s departure on Thursday. On Friday, Bartlett was interviewed on Melnick’s show (where a “gag order” prevented them from saying where he’s going, but it wasn’t difficult to put two and two together). Audio from that interview is posted here.

The decision to hire Bartlett, who was the voice of the Toronto Marlies AHL team before joining TSN 690 (more on his history here at YorkRegion.com), wasn’t unanimously praised at first, with all the talent at the station who would have loved to take a crack at the dream job and the bad optics of not only bringing in an import, but one who worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm team. But as Melnick explained on his show, Bartlett quickly earned the respect of staff and listeners who are now sad to see him go.

I met Bartlett only once. It was at a Canadian Women’s Hockey League game in Montreal. Just his presence there said a lot about how much this guy cares about hockey.

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