Category Archives: Canadiens

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 expect his handle to change from @EastlinkDanR.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

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

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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Posted in Canadiens, Media, TV

Rogers offers special deal for rest of Canada to watch RDS Canadiens regional games online

As anger continues to build among Toronto and other western Canadian Habs fans that they will no longer be able to watch all 82 regular-season games on RDS, Rogers announced today a special deal that might alleviate that somewhat.

NHL GameCentre Live, the NHL streaming service that allows viewers to watch out-of-region games, will cost $200 for the season this year ($180 if you subscribe by Oct. 13). That’s a pretty steep price for people who were used to either having RDS as part of their basic package or paying a buck or two a month at most.

But Rogers is offering a separate deal that contains just the RDS regional games — 60 Canadiens games and 54 Ottawa Senators games — for $60 for the season. That might be enough for the hard-core fans to accept. (Note that this is for fans outside the Canadiens and Senators market, which is all of Quebec, all of Atlantic Canada and the part of Ontario that’s east of Belleville and Pembroke.)

No more blackouts*

On top of that, national games and in-region games, which were formally blacked out on GameCentre to protect the rights of national and regional broadcasters, will no longer be blacked out. So people who buy a subscription won’t have to switch between various media and websites.

The trade-off to that is that these will be available on an authenticated basis, meaning you need a TV subscription to Sportsnet (English) or TVA Sports (French) to access these national or in-region games on GameCentre, and you need your TV provider to participate in the Rogers program. The TVA access for national games in French probably won’t be ready until January because of technical issues.

Rogers confirms that the games that are not available in a certain region on TV will not require authentication to watch on GameCentre.

Rogers says there will still be some blackouts for in-region games whose rights are owned by “another company” (i.e. TSN). So Ottawa Senators regional games in eastern Canada and Winnipeg Jets games in Manitoba and Saskatchewan won’t be available on this service, nor will those Toronto Maple Leafs regional games that air on TSN4 be available in most of Ontario. You have to watch those on TSN.

Similarly, regional Habs and Senators games in French won’t be available in eastern Canada because RDS holds the rights to them.

And more

Other deals for NHL GameCentre Live include:

  • Free subscriptions for Rogers Internet and Rogers Wireless (data) subscribers until Dec. 31. Half-season passes will be $130 for those who want to subscribe after that.
  • More than 800 archived games going back to 1960.
  • A new NHL mobile app coming in October to watch the games on smartphones and tablets.
  • Where multiple feeds are available, such as English/French or Canada/U.S., GameCentre Live provides both as options.

Rogers has promised more GameCentre announcements in the coming weeks. There may also be announcements relating to NHL Centre Ice, the TV-based service for watching out-of-market games.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

Sportsnet picks up Canadiens regional games, increases number of national games

With rumours spreading that there would, in fact, be a broadcaster picking up the regional rights to Canadiens games in English, Rogers finally announced today that it has not only picked up the rights to all regional Canadiens games, but that it has increased the number of Habs games being carried nationally, from 32 to 40.

The agreement is a three-year deal. It does not appear to include any preseason games. A play-by-play team has not yet been announced.

39 of the 42 regional games will air on Sportsnet East, which no longer has to worry about regional Senators games because those have moved to TSN. The other three (a Monday game and two Thursday games) will air on City Montreal.

Newly national games are:

  • Thursday, Oct. 9 (7pm @ Capitals) on Sportsnet 360
  • Thursday, Oct. 16 (7:30pm vs. Bruins) on Sportsnet 360
  • Monday, Oct. 27 (9:30pm @ Oilers) on Sportsnet One
  • Thursday, Oct. 30 (10pm @ Canucks) on Sportsnet 360
  • Saturday, Jan. 31 (1pm vs. Capitals) on Sportsnet
  • Wednesday, March 4 (10pm @ Ducks) on Sportsnet
  • Friday, April 3 (7pm @ Devils) on Sportsnet
  • Sunday, April 5 (5pm @ Panthers) on Sportsnet

This means that the Canadiens’ 82-game season breaks down as follows:

  • 39 regional games on Sportsnet East
  • 3 regional games on City Montreal
  • 10 national games (mainly Wednesdays) on Sportsnet East/Ontario/West/Pacific
  • 8 national games (first four Saturdays, most Sundays) on City
  • 4 national games on Sportsnet 360 (all Thursdays)
  • 1 national game on Sportsnet One (Monday Oct. 27)
  • 17 national games on Hockey Night in Canada, channels TBA

Because TSN has the Ottawa Senators regional games, and the two team’s regions are identical, two regional games between the two teams (Jan. 15 and March 12) will be on both TSN and Sportsnet, giving viewers a choice of which network to watch.

The deal does not affect radio rights, which are still held by TSN Radio 690.

I’ve updated my post on who’s carrying what games to include this deal as well as additional national games for the Flames and Oilers.

Posted in Canadiens, TV

TVA Sports announces NHL broadcast details

With less than 24 hours until it becomes the official national French-language broadcaster of the National Hockey League, TVA Sports has announced details of its plans for the upcoming season, including which Canadiens games it will air nationally.

The schedule is much less complicated than the one Rogers announced last week. TVA Sports will carry the season opening game on Wednesday, Oct. 8, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And it will carry all 21 Canadiens Saturday night games, for a total of 22. All other games (including all preseason games) will be carried regionally on RDS. (A Saturday afternoon game on Super Bowl weekend is regional and so will be on RDS. It’s the only Saturday game that won’t be broadcast nationally.)

TVA Sports will also broadcast the NHL Winter Classic, all outdoor matches and all playoff games, including the Stanley Cup Final, as well as special programming like next year’s NHL Draft, the NHL Awards and the NHL All-Star Game.

The schedule creates an interesting situation where there are 10 games (mainly Wednesday and Sunday night games) that will air nationally on City and Sportsnet in English but only regionally in French. (We still don’t know how people outside the Canadiens’ region, which ends in eastern Ontario, will be able to watch the team’s regional games, in either language.)

In all, TVA estimates it will have 200 regular-season NHL games on TVA Sports and its soon-to-launch companion channel TVA Sports 2. Add about 75 playoff games and QMJHL games, and that’s lots of hockey

Séguin, Lalime lead broadcast team

TVA also announced the broadcast team for its Canadiens Saturday-night games. As previously announced, Félix Séguin (that one, not that one) will be the play-by-play man for those 22 matches. He’ll be joined by Patrick Lalime as an analyst. Also on the team are hockey insider Renaud Lavoie, who will take a position near the players’ bench, and Elizabeth Rancourt, who will recap other NHL matches (similar to what Andi Petrillo did at Hockey Night in Canada).

Dave Morissette will host TVA Sports’s postgame show.

Fans vote on games

Another thing TVA announced is that it will allow hockey fans to choose which games are broadcast on TVA Sports for some nights. It didn’t specify which nights, but assume it’s those in which it’s not obvious which team would be most popular among viewers.

TVA specifically notes that, when the Canadiens aren’t playing, it will focus on games involving the Canadiens’ rivals, particularly the Leafs and the Bruins, and those of particular interest to Quebecers, including the Colorado Avalanche (because of Patrick Roy) and Pittsburgh Penguins (because of Sidney Crosby). No mention is made of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was also popular in Quebec but much less so now that Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis are no longer on the team.

TVA says it will announce full details of its NHL schedule by the end of July. It had previously confirmed that it has no plans to put any NHL games on its over-the-air network, even though games will be free-to-air in English on Saturday nights.

UPDATE (Aug. 5): TVA Sports has published its full schedule, which has games on almost every night through the season. Fan-voting night is Monday, but not all Mondays, and none before January. And TVA has already narrowed down the voting to two games for each of those nights.

Posted in Canadiens

A quantitative analysis of Canadiens draft picks

Friday is the beginning of the National Hockey League entry draft, when the 30 teams select young players, each hoping that they pick out a diamond in the rough and that their pick becomes the next superstar and doesn’t spend the next decade wallowing in minor leagues or get concussed and give up on hockey altogether.

And it’s the time when amateur general managers pontificate, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, on the failed choices of yesteryear, looking further down the list to find players who would turn out to be superstars, but failing to look up the list to find duds that weren’t taken.

I was curious about finding a more quantitative, non-subjective way of evaluating historical draft choices that takes into account both the overlooked superstars and the avoided mistakes. So I thought, why not just compare the Canadiens’ draft pick in a given year with the pick that came just before or just after?

With some help from Hockey DB, I took a look at the three picks before the Canadiens’ first-round selection, and the three picks after, from 1994 to 2013.

Needing some simple metric to determine success, I went with total games played. It’s an incomplete figure, sure, but it also serves as a pretty simple way to separate those who made long careers in the NHL from those who barely or never made it at all.

I score success and failure this way: if the player the Canadiens selected played more regular-season NHL games than two of the three players selected before him, it’s a success. If he plays fewer NHL games than two of the three players selected after him, it’s a failure. If it’s both (or neither), it’s neutral. (In case of ties, the number of career regular-season points breaks the tie.)

Here’s how it looks:

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Posted in Canadiens, TV

NHL schedule: Rogers will air 32 Canadiens games nationally in 2014-15

UPDATE: For complete details by team, including regional games, click here.

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.

Sportsnet's regional channels will be split on Oct. 11

Sportsnet’s regional channels will be split on Oct. 11

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.”

In French

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).

Posted in Canadiens, My articles, TV

The Rogers/TVA/NHL deal: What we know, and what we don’t

Updated May 6, 2014, with the latest info.

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

It’s the biggest media announcement of the year: A $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast rights deal between Rogers Communications and the National Hockey league. Included in it are side deals with the CBC (which will air games but won’t get revenue from them or handle their staffing) and TVA, which becomes the official French-language broadcaster.

We’ve suspected for a while that the CBC wouldn’t be able to afford to keep its rights to Saturday night hockey and the Stanley Cup playoffs. But what’s most surprising about this deal is that Bell Media, which owns TSN and RDS, is also a loser here.

A lot of details are still to be decided. We’ll start knowing that in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s a story I wrote for The Gazette about the French side of this deal and how it will affect Canadiens broadcasts. Pat Hickey also has his thoughts on the deal.

In short, here’s what we know and what we don’t know about this deal so far:

  • CBC will continue to air Saturday night and playoff hockey for at least four years. And the Hockey Night in Canada brand will continue. But that’s about it. Those programs will be run by Rogers, not CBC. Rogers will pay all the expenses, but also get all the revenue. (Which makes me wonder why CBC is bothering.) This puts the future of personalities like Ron MacLean and Don Cherry up in the air. It will also mean a huge loss of income to the CBC, which means cuts will have to be made elsewhere.
  • TVA gets 22 Canadiens regular-season games a year: TVA will get all national games, which includes all games that air on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights. (Afternoon games on those days are not considered national.) Whether these air on the TVA network or TVA Sports is still up in the air.
  • RDS gets 60 Canadiens regular-season games a year, plus all preseason games: But these will be available only regionally. So people west of Pembroke and Belleville, Ontario will see RDS blacked out during Canadiens games it airs. It’s unclear if Rogers, which has out-of-market rights, will provide another way for fans to access the games, and if TVA will be involved.
  • There will still be some NHL hockey on TSN. The channel has the rights to all regional Winnipeg Jets games through 2021, 52 Ottawa Senators regional games for the next 12 years, as well as some Maple Leafs games in the coming season and beyond. It currently airs some Canadiens regional games, but the future of that deal is unclear. Rogers retains both national and regional rights to all teams west of Saskatchewan.
  • TVA gets all playoff games and all special-event NHL programming. The NHL draft, NHL awards, Winter Classic and NHL All-Star Game will now air on TVA Sports. TSN can keep its TradeCentre and Free Agent Frenzy specials, because those are news broadcasts and aren’t subject to exclusivity deals.
  • TVA will launch TVA Sports 2. This will be a multiplex of the TVA Sports channel, which means it will share a licence with TVA Sports. It’s a relationship similar to TSN/TSN2, RDS/RDS2, Teletoon and The Movie Network, where channels come in groups instead of individually. But TVA Sports 2’s availability will depend on deals Quebecor signs with distributors. (Having it on Videotron is a given, of course.)
  • The conventional TVA network won’t air hockey games. New Quebecor CEO Pierre Dion made it official on May 6. The company plans to use Canadiens games to push subscriptions to TVA Sports, trying to put it above 2 million (even though the games will be on free TV in English). Putting Canadiens games on TVA would eliminate the biggest incentive to subscribe to TVA Sports, since weeknight games will still be on RDS. It’s unclear if this is absolute, or if some games (and/or playoff or Stanley Cup final games) could still air on TVA.
  • City TV will air Saturday night hockey. It will be called “Hockey Night in Canada on City.” But the details, and how they will decide which games air on City and which ones air on CBC, are unknown. There are also musings about Sunday night hockey on the City TV network.
  • Rogers and TVA retain mobile and other video streaming rights to all games. Streaming will probably be available, but likely through distributors and only to those who subscribe to the linear TVA Sports channel. On the English side, Rogers gets all the online and mobile rights, including the Saturday night games that air on CBC. This means an end to online streaming on CBC.ca for people wanting to catch out-of-market games. RDS’s deal with the Canadiens for rights to regional games does not include any mobile or streaming rights.
  • Rogers takes control of NHL Centre Ice, NHL GameCenter Live and will sell Canadian ads for NHL.com.
  • No changes to radio. Radio rights are unaffected. Cogeco announced last week a five-year extension to 2018-19 that will see Canadiens games continue to air on 98.5 FM in Montreal, 93.3 FM in Quebec City, 106.9 FM in Trois-Rivières and 107.7 FM in Sherbrooke. The deal for English radio rights for the Canadiens remains with Bell Media until 2018-19, which means they will continue to air on TSN 690.
  • Bell keeps The Hockey Theme.
  • Ron MacLean and Don Cherry are returning, with George Stroumboulopoulos as host of the new Rogers-run Hockey Night, and Sportsnet’s Daren Millard and Jeff Marek joining the core broadcast team.
  • The National Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the deal. Though the Toronto Star reports that the Maple Leafs abstained from the vote, apparently because of internal conflicts between its two main owners, Rogers and Bell.

What has been reported but not confirmed:

  • Details of the negotiations. Though this Maclean’s story has some general idea (Maclean’s is owned by Rogers) and the Toronto Star put together a timeline of the talks between Rogers and CBC. There’s also this story talking to Rogers executives.
  • How much TVA is paying Rogers. No comments, despite repeated questions. We know that the Rogers deal is for more than $300 million a year, and that it includes the sublicensed deals. The Globe and Mail reports it was $120 million a year, though because they lost regional Canadiens games to RDS, that number has dropped to $52 million a year, reports Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc. To give some perspective, TVA Sports’s entire budget for 2012 was $30 million.
  • How much Bell (TSN) and CBC were willing to pay. The CBC said it couldn’t meet the high bidding of its competitors in a fiscally responsible way, and they’re probably right about that. Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc reports that Bell’s final offer was $5 billion, very close to the Rogers bid, and that Bell wasn’t given a chance to match what Rogers offered.
  • How much RDS is paying the Canadiens for its regional deal. Martin Leclerc of Radio-Canada says RDS’s deal for 60 regional games a year is worth $68 million a season, or about $1.1 million a game.

What either hasn’t been decided yet or hasn’t been told to us:

  • How English regional Canadiens games will be split up. In English, TSN carries some Canadiens games regionally on a special channel. It’s unclear what will happen with them next season.
  • How out-of-market games will be distributed. The NHL’s deal with Rogers says there won’t be regional blackouts for the games Rogers owns rights for. But there are still regional rights deals. So I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Rogers owns NHL Centre Ice and out-of-market games, so we could see a different situation than we’re used to. It seems clear that games carried on Rogers won’t be regionally restricted, but for those carried by its competitors, it’s unclear. Rogers has said it’s too early to tell what they will do with these rights.
  • What happens to hockey on CBC after four years. This deal includes a strange agreement with CBC that sees the games continue to air on the public broadcaster and carry the Hockey Night in Canada branding, but under the control of Rogers, not the CBC. This means the CBC doesn’t have to worry for now about filling Saturday nights on their schedule. But otherwise there’s no real advantage here. And because Rogers has its own over-the-air television network, it doesn’t really need CBC, except to reach areas of the country where City doesn’t have local stations. But Rogers says the plan is not to phase out the CBC, and the deal will probably be renewed unless there’s a dramatic shift in the way people watch television.
  • What on-air talent will look like at TVA Sports. TVA Sports still has time to poach more personalities from RDS. But after losing Michel Bergeron and Félix Séguin to TVA, RDS says it has multi-year deals with its remaining on-air personalities.
  • What happens to Hockey Night In Canada personalities like Elliotte Friedman, Andi Petrillo, Bob Cole, Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Kelly Hrudey, Scott Oake, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, David Amber, PJ Stock, Kevin Weekes and Glenn Healey. Some have other jobs within CBC or other sports media, but others could end up as free agents to be picked up by TSN or Sportsnet.
  • The future of shows like 24CH: These aren’t broadcast rights deals, but they are deals between broadcasters and hockey teams, so you can imagine that there will be more such deals with TVA and fewer with RDS. The next season of a 24CH-like show could be airing on Quebecor-owned channels.
  • How plans for the Nordiques are affected. Quebecor has made no secret of its desire to bring the National Hockey League back to Quebec City. TVA’s Pierre Dion wouldn’t make any comments about the Nordiques today. But while this deal is great news for TVA, and national rights to a theoretical Quebec City franchise would likely be included in the TVA deal, this is probably bad news for the Nordiques for two reasons. First, it means that TVA no longer needs another NHL team to drive subscriptions to its sports channel. And second, revenue sharing on this national deal means that every NHL team becomes several million dollars a year richer. Even with an inevitable salary cap hike, this will mean less pressure for struggling teams to sell to new owners who would relocate them.
  • What happens to rights for other sports. This deal will mean a huge shift in programming, which will undoubtedly have consequences. TVA and Sportsnet will have less money for other sports like UFC, MLS, NBA and baseball. And TSN/RDS will be desperate to add high-value content to replace lost hockey games. We could see some of these rights go back to Bell. A first step has already been taken with Bell winning rights to 4pm NFL games from Rogers.
  • How many jobs are lost or gained. CBC has said there will be job losses as a result of this deal. (This story explores the consequences for the CBC in more depth) and the loss of hockey was a major reason for 657 full-time-equivalent job cuts announced in April 2014. For the rest, we don’t know yet, and a full accounting might never be possible with 100% accuracy.
  • How much more consumers will have to pay for Sportsnet and TVA Sports. Neither Rogers nor Quebecor can simply absorb the extra costs in this deal. Ad revenue will surely go up, and they’ll be creative about platforms, but expect both companies to take a harder line during negotiations with distributors. TVA Sports gets about $5 a year on average from each of its 1.6 million subscribers, compared to RDS, which gets $30 a year on average from 3.5 million subscribers (for both RDS and RDS2). Sportsnet gets $17 a year per subscriber (for the regional channels, which doesn’t include Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World or Sportsnet 360), plus about $10 a year from its 6 million Sportsnet One subscribers. TSN (which includes TSN2) gets $26 a year from its 9.2 million subscribers. Expect the gap to narrow significantly as deals come up for renewal.
  • Who will be carrying TVA Sports by next fall. The big players in Quebec all have the channel: Bell Fibe, Shaw Direct, Videotron and Cogeco, plus Telus and Rogers. But major players like Shaw cable, MTS, SaskTel and Eastlink still don’t have it. Francophone Canadiens fans outside Quebec will have more trouble, as will anyone with analog cable.
  • How much money (if any) Rogers and TVA Sports will make on this deal. That, of course, is the biggest question, and the one nobody can answer. Analysts take a lukewarm look at this deal, neither loving it so much (because of its high cost) nor hating it so much (because of all the benefits it brings). All we can say for sure is that this is a big gamble, and both broadcasters will need to be very creative to make it work financially.

A petition has already started to ask — well, it doesn’t say who it’s asking, but presumably the NHL — to reverse its decision and put Canadiens games back on RDS. This obviously won’t go anywhere. The NHL isn’t going to walk away from a $5.2-billion deal.

What’s funny about this is that the reaction to RDS losing the Canadiens is similar to the reaction when it won Canadiens rights in the first place. Before the 2002-03 season, Saturday night games aired on Radio-Canada. When RDS picked up the rights to the entire Canadiens package, there was nationwide outrage. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps even went to the point of demanding Radio-Canada explain itself in front of a hearing. The summer 2002 controversy led to a deal between Radio-Canada and RDS to air Saturday games on RadCan, but eventually all 82 regular-season Canadiens games became exclusive to RDS.

Posted in Canadiens, Media, Montreal

(Some awesome pun involving the words “Red” or “Fisher”)

Updated June 20 with link to Ken Dryden’s story in the Globe and Mail.

The news hit pretty suddenly on Friday morning. In fact, I heard about it on CFCF’s noon newscast, having just woken up. Red Fisher, who has covered the Montreal Canadiens for more than half a century for the Montreal Star and The Gazette, has retired at the age of a billion and three (or, more accurately, 85).

There’s no farewell column, no big party. He’s not even giving interviews. Other media who wanted to report on the end of this long career had to settle for talking to some of Fisher’s friends and colleagues. Dave Stubbs, in particular, was busy talking to various media while preparing his own story on Fisher’s departure. It’s the only one I’m aware of that quotes Fisher directly speaking after his retirement was announced.

Fisher is a legend in more than just his hockey writing. He has a reputation as a friendly curmudgeon, who wouldn’t go after players unnecessarily but wouldn’t acknowledge anyone’s existence until they proved themselves worthy of it. The list of respected figures in Canadiens history who lauded Fisher speaks to the man’s reputation.

Even though I work at the same paper, I’ve never spoken to him in person. Sports writers in general spend little time in the office, and Fisher even less. We’ve conversed over the phone, but by “conversed” I mean he called to confirm that his postgame column had arrived by email and after a quick reply of “yeah, I got it” we hung up.

There are many stories of younger (and by that I mean under 60) colleagues at The Gazette that involve the elder sportsman uttering the words “who the f*** is …” – I don’t think I even reached that level. Though I remember the first time I saw him file a story that had my name in the address list. I imagined him typing my email in and wondering who the heck I was.

Everyone knew who Red Fisher was, though. For years, his reputation was such that there was a column devoted to him, the only column devoted to writing about another columnist. Of course, that column was Mike Boone’s Eeeee-mail, and it wasn’t so much writing about Fisher as it had some fun at the man’s expense (consistently referring to him as the Living Legend of Sports Journalism or LLSJ). But still, I can only wish for status like that someday.

Fisher’s refusal to give interviews is unusual in today’s hypermediatized world, but not so much for him. Fisher wasn’t the type to appear on radio or television regularly, chatting with the TSN hockey panel or giving his take once a week on CKGM’s morning show. Even though his reputation and wealth of knowledge about Canadiens history would make him a fantastic guest, he’s said no to such requests from those broadcasters and others who haven’t long ago given up trying to get him.

There are some who say Fisher retired 10 years too late, that his relevance had waned significantly in the past few years. There are points in favour of this argument. He wasn’t the scoop machine he used to be, and many of the big announcements come via RDS, TSN, La Presse or some of the younger front-line journalists who cover the Canadiens, if they beat the official announcement at all. Fisher stopped travelling with the Canadiens years ago – Pat Hickey does day-to-day team coverage. And the weekly Red Line page sometimes felt more like a roundup of hockey news reported elsewhere than anything original from Fisher.

But Fisher was still influential, and he could still write things that made a difference. In 2008, Fisher won a National Newspaper Award – the most prestigious Canadian award for this industry – for a column saying the Canadiens should not retire the jersey of Patrick Roy (they did anyway, of course, but Fisher’s column provoked a lot of discussion). It’s hard to argue someone has one foot in the grave when he’s winning an award many of his colleagues only dream of one day getting once in their careers.

It’s unclear if Fisher will continue to contribute occasional freelance pieces for The Gazette. He was the go-to guy for Canadiens-related obituaries, for example. But it is clear that the Saturday Red Line is history, and nobody should be expecting a regular column in its place.

He’s done.

Coverage

See also

UPDATE: Mike Cohen says he moved this resolution at Côte St. Luc city council Monday evening:

Whereas Red Fisher is a longtime resident of Côte Saint-Luc.

Whereas Red Fisher has covered the Montreal sports scene for The Montreal Star and The Montreal Gazette, specifically the Canadiens for the past 56 years.

Whereas Red Fisher Fisher won the National Newspaper Award for sports writing in 1971 and 1991 and has been nominated for that award on two other occasions.

Whereas Red Fisher was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Media Canada in 1999.

Whereas Red Fisher is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Whereas Red Fisher last week announced his retirement.

It was

MOVED BY COUNCILLOR Mike Cohen

AND SECONDED BY COUNCILLOR Allan  J. Levine

AND RESOLVED

THAT Council wish Red Fisher the very best in his retirement and that a formal letter of good wishes be sent to him signed by the mayor and council.

“I will now come back to council with some recommendations as to how we can further honour Red Fisher,” he says.

Posted in Canadiens, Montreal, Radio

CJAD loses Habs broadcasts to Team 990

It was the worst-kept secret in the radio industry: Bell-owned Team 990 has secured the English-language radio broadcast rights to Canadiens games for the next seven seasons.

No financial details have been announced for the deal, but it’s clear that the station is putting some serious dough into this contract, because losing out again to Astral-owned CJAD was simply not an option. You can’t have an all-sports radio station that doesn’t carry broadcasts of the most popular sports team.

No announcement has been made about the play-by-play team yet, most likely because one hasn’t been decided. Still, rumours are spreading wildly, everything from Shaun Starr and Elliott Price to having the CJAD team move over to using the TSN play-by-play to bringing back Dick Irvin and the reanimated corpse of Danny Gallivan.

Okay, I made that last one up.

Convergence!

Though it’s great news that this little station that could has scored this contract, it’s a bit worrisome for critics of Canada’s media oligopolies. When Mike Boone wrote about the deal a couple of weeks ago, he said it was helped significantly by a deal Bell signed for regional English-language TV rights on TSN. Bell’s business agreements with the Canadiens are many (though Bell itself does not own the team), from the naming rights to its arena and practice facility to its French-language TV rights to mobile rights to broadcasts.

This deal takes Bell one step further toward doing with the Canadiens what Quebecor wants to do with a Quebec City hockey team and what Rogers wants to do with most of the professional sports coming out of Toronto.

There’s also, as one Team 990 personality told me during their recent 10-year anniversary party, the problem that the station might be restricted a bit in what it can say about the team. Doing impressions of Jacques Martin might not fly so well when you’re the official broadcaster.

What about CJAD?

Though it certainly can deal with not having the Canadiens easier than Team 990 did, CJAD is still going to have to find a way to fill hundreds of broadcast hours every season. And they’re going to have to deal with the loss of advertising that comes with losing such a big audience-getter. There’s no word yet on what they’re planning to do.

There’s a story in The Gazette and some discussion in the Radio in Montreal group.

UPDATE: Some comments from the peanut gallery on Hockey Inside/Out.

Posted in Canadiens, Media, Montreal

Koivu fan #1

I’ve never been too crazy about people who carry giant signs into sporting events, particularly those whoring themselves out to the television rights-holders by trying to get the initials “TSN” or “RDS” or “NBC” into a “go team” message.

But let’s give a nod to the anonymous front-row fan holding the “Koivu #1” sign, who combined good placement with perfect timing and is seeing that sign everywhere.

(The photo was captured by at least three photographers: Shaun Best of Reuters, Graham Hughes of Canadian Press, and Pierre Obendrauf of The Gazette).

There was a Facebook campaign (and others, I’m sure) for fans to vote Saku Koivu the first star of the night. It would have succeeded, except Koivu took a late penalty that led to the tying Canadiens goal (he was also in the box for their first goal – perhaps we should add two to his Canadiens assists total?). Under the three stars rules, the person who scores the winner in overtime or a shootout is automatically the first star.

Of course, none of that really mattered. The fans got to show their appreciation, and see Captain K on Montreal ice, perhaps for the last time as an NHL player.

Posted in Canadiens, Media

Trades are killer on magazine news cycles

L’actualité this week recently had a profile of Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak teased big from its cover.

On the cover: “Que réserve l’avenir du gardien du Canadien?”

And in the piece itself:

Son mari envisage une seule « folie » : faire fi de sa peur de l’avion et s’envoler pour Montréal si Jaro se rend en finale de la Coupe Stanley l’année prochaine. Et, qui sait, en profiter pour voir un défilé rue Sainte-Catherine…

Thankfully, there’s little chance of that now.

There’s also a photo gallery of Halak’s hometown of Bratislava, Slovakia, and a blog post about Halak’s trade to St. Louis to downplay somewhat how much the magazine is two weeks behind the news.