Category Archives: Sports

Rogers expands Sportsnet Now with second tier that lifts some NHL blackouts

Sportsnet Now, the over-the-top service that Rogers is making available to people without a cable TV subscription, is expanding with a new premium tier called Sportsnet Now+.

At the same time, the price of the basic tier is dropping, from $25 a month to $20. It remains free for people who subscribe to Sportsnet channels through a TV provider that has a deal with Sportsnet (most of them do now). The higher tier is $28 a month.

Here’s the difference between the two.

Sportsnet Now (basic tier), $19.99/month

As before, this tier offers live programming you would normally get on Sportsnet regional channels, Sportsnet One (including the Canucks, Flames and Oilers overflow channels) and Sportsnet 360. It also includes Hockey Night in Canada games that air on CBC and Citytv on Saturday nights.

All nationally-broadcast NHL games are included, as well as regional NHL games where Sportsnet is the regional broadcaster (Canucks, Flames, Oilers and 16 Leafs games) for people in that region.

This service is free if you have a Sportsnet subscription to all the channels through a participating provider.

Sportsnet Now+, $27.99/month

The premium tier includes everything in the basic tier, plus additional European league soccer games and 64-125 more NHL games, depending on region.

Specifically, the tier removes blackouts on games broadcast by Sportsnet in another region, except where that game is also broadcast by another broadcaster (i.e. TSN) in that region.

It does not remove blackouts on TSN games, which means it won’t expand access to Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators or Montreal Canadiens games.

For example:

  • Tonight’s home opener where the Canadiens play the L.A. Kings isn’t available on either tier anywhere in the country
  • Tonight’s Oilers-Bruins game on Sportsnet West is available in Alberta on Sportsnet Now and in the rest of the country on Sportsnet Now+
  • The Oct. 23 game where the Canadiens (TSN2) play the Calgary Flames (Sportsnet Flames) is available in Alberta and Saskatchewan on Sportsnet Now and in B.C., Manitoba and most of Ontario on Sportsnet Now+. The latter will see only the Flames broadcast. People in the Canadiens’ region won’t be able to see the game at all on Sportsnet.

For U.S.-only matchups, only games broadcast on Sportsnet will be available on either tier.

In short, this new tier would be useful for, say, a Canucks, Flames or Oilers fan in Toronto, who would get access to all their games (except one Flames game against the Leafs, which TSN has rights to in Toronto).

For everyone else wanting out-of-market games online, Rogers NHL Live ($30 a month or $200 for the season) is still the only option. That includes national games and out-of-market games but not in-market games.

Sportsnet Now launched two years ago, becoming the first to offer a major sports subscription for people without cable. TSN followed with its of $25/month offer, and the basic tier price reduction may put pressure on TSN to lower its over-the-top price.

There does not appear to be any option for people with regular TV subscriptions to Sportsnet to get a discounted upgrade to Sportsnet Now+.

Why doesn’t TSN have Canadiens pregame and postgame shows? I asked them

The NHL season begins tonight, and that means yet another year of WTF-why-is-my-Canadiens-game-blacked-out pleas on social media and email.

So once again the Gazette asked me to put together a full 82-game schedule listing what channels each game is on (we’re also making printable letter-sized versions available). It was printed in Tuesday’s paper, which had a lot of other news content as well. The story next to it is mainly an interview with Bryan Mudryk, TSN’s new play-by-play man for (most of) their Canadiens games this season.

I also spoke with Paul Graham, TSN’s executive producer of live events. He was on the phone in Helsinki at the time, signing new agreements for international hockey. (He took the time to remind me that TSN airs far more hockey than ever before, even though it doesn’t have the Wednesday night national games and first-round playoff series that it did before the Rogers deal.)

Just before I hung up with him, I asked Graham about why we don’t see more pregame and postgame Canadiens programming during the TSN regional games, like we see on RDS and TVA Sports.

“In our minds for the most part we already have a pregame show, and it’s That’s Hockey,” he said. “It’s just not specific to one team.”

The exception is in Winnipeg, “mostly based on time zone.” Because it’s an hour behind and its home games generally start an hour later, it will have its own version of the program on TSN3.

But producing separate Leafs, Senators and Canadiens pregame and postgame shows wouldn’t be worth the cost because people don’t really care about that stuff, he said.

“What we found, quite honestly, from a research perspective, is that when you talk about post-game shows, they’re really there for the die-hard fans, that most people just watch the game and they’re done. And so what we try to do is we try to get to SportsCentre as quickly as possible. And still include key elements of what you would hear in a post-game show anyways, which would be comments from our broadcasters that did the game, dressing room post-game comments from, in this case, John Lu, and then our hosts on SportsCentre, if the story dictates it for that night, going a little bit longer on one particular item. So there’s no real plan to have a specific Montreal Canadiens pregame show or specific Canadiens postgame show. We think that we service that already with That’s Hockey before and with SportsCentre afterwards.”

RDS and TVA Sports go pretty hard with local pregame and postgame with the Canadiens (and almost nothing with their Senators broadcasts). But their ratings data shows it’s hard to keep fans tuned in. They’re lucky if even half of those who tuned in during the game stay for the postgame show. And with TSN’s Canadiens regional broadcasts getting less than 200,000 viewers (the average was 123,000 last season, but the Canadiens sucked really bad that year), there’s just not enough of a critical mass to warrant it.

Not much new, but a bit more Lu

I asked Graham if we should expect any other big changes for the Canadiens broadcasts this season. For the most part, it’ll be the same as last year. The supporting cast of analysts (Dave Poulin, Mike Johnson, Craig Button) and studio hosts (Tessa Bonhomme, Glenn Schiiler, Pierre LeBrun) will be the same. But “we’re looking to incorporate more TSN-specific programming in intermission” such as the Insider Trading segment with experts like Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger.

“(Reporter) John Lu will be front and centre at a lot of games that originate in Montreal,” Graham added.

I also asked him what he sees happening when TSN’s rights deal expires in 2022. While regional rights deals for Canadian NHL teams were quickly gobbled up following the national Sportsnet deal, the Canadiens’ English-language rights seemed to be of less interest. First Sportsnet grabbed it for three years (the first time all 82 Canadiens games were televised in English), then TSN for five.

Team English TV French TV English radio French radio
(National) Sportsnet (2026) TVA Sports (2026) N/A N/A
Vancouver Canucks Sportsnet Pacific (2023) None Sportsnet 650 (2022) None
Edmonton Oilers Sportsnet West (2020) None Corus/CHED (2020) None
Calgary Flames Sportsnet West (2020) None Sportsnet 960 (2020) None
Winnipeg Jets TSN3 (2021) None TSN 1290 (2021) None
Toronto Maple Leafs TSN4 None TSN 1050 None
Sportsnet Ontario Sportsnet 590
Ottawa Senators TSN5 (2026) RDS (2026) TSN 1200 (2026) Unique FM (via Bell)
Montreal Canadiens TSN2 (2022) RDS (2026) TSN 690 (2022) Cogeco (2019)
Laval Rocket (AHL) None RDS TSN 690 91.9 Sports (2022)

Graham pointed out that TSN shares resources with RDS, which allows them to make the broadcasts more efficient. And with Bell having a share in ownership of the Canadiens, they have an interest in keeping the relationship going.

“At the end of the day, along with our Bell ownership, we’re confident that Montreal will get better, and we’re confident that we’re going to be part of this for a long time,” he said. “I can’t see any situation in the immediate future, even when we get past the five years, where we wouldn’t be involved.”

Mudryk gives back

I didn’t have space to get into this in the story, but Mudryk is known for his charity work in addition to his on-air talents. The Bryan Mudryk Golf Classic has gone on for 15 years now, inspired by his own battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (i.e. the non-Koivu version). While he’s going to have a busy year with a lot of travelling (his life so far has been mainly going back and forth between his hotel, the Bell Centre and the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard), he’s ready for requests from charitable organizations to host their events, and he wants to help.

“I’m not just saying that to get a good quote in your paper,” he said, which is good because I didn’t get the quote in the paper. “I’m saying it because I mean it. If I have the time and it works out in my schedule I’m always there to help worthwhile causes.”

I could probably insert a joke here about the Canadiens being the biggest cause needing help right now.

Status quo on Sportsnet

As far as Sportsnet is concerned, not much has changed in their plans. Hockey Night in Canada (with the Leafs generally on CBC and the Canadiens generally on Citytv, it seems), Wednesday Night Hockey and Hometown Hockey on Sundays. It’ll be Bob Cole’s 50th and last season as a play-by-play announcer, and he’s starting it with the Habs’ game on Saturday.

Sportsnet is also bringing in the weekly Twitter broadcast Ice Surfing, after a pilot episode last season. The show will follow games playing that night with some live action but also commentary and conversation.

Sportsnet keeps Jets playoff games off CBC

The Toronto Maple Leafs are Canada’s team. Or at least the CBC’s.

That much has been made abundantly clear this season. Every Saturday night, if the Leafs are playing, they’re on CBC (except when CBC was broadcasting the Olympics). With a market that encompasses a third of Canada’s population, it makes sense that this team would get more attention, but the one-sidedness has been particularly striking.

Habs fans too cheap to pay for Sportsnet have been complaining the past couple of seasons that Canadiens games on Hockey Night in Canada have been punted to Sportsnet rather than broadcast on free TV channels CBC or City. Sportsnet has admitted this was done mainly to drive subscriptions to Sportsnet.

And as the NHL playoffs begin tonight, and CBC devoting its entire primetime schedule to hockey, it seems they’re doing it again, this time to the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets and Leafs are the only two Canadian teams to make the playoffs, and even though their games both start at 7pm ET (6pm in Winnipeg, but in the playoffs you need to be either an early game or a late game), not a single one of the up to 14 games involving the two teams overlap — they’re all scheduled on different nights.

But there won’t be any Jets games on CBC, at least not until Game 5 and likely not until next round at the earliest. Instead, all Leafs games will be broadcast on CBC but all Jets games are on Sportsnet. And while the Jets are on Sportsnet, CBC viewers will get to watch the all-American Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series instead. Even those in Winnipeg.

I asked Sportsnet about the decision, and this was the response I got:

As you can imagine, there are numerous factors taken into consideration when coordinating the broadcast schedule for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In this case, with two series featuring Canadian teams in the first round, the decision was made that Sportsnet and CBC would each have the opportunity to broadcast one of those two series. Winnipeg is a key priority for Sportsnet and Sportsnet is thrilled to be broadcasting the entire Jets series to Canadians from coast-to-coast.

In other words, the Jets are on Sportsnet because Sportsnet wanted a Canadian series. Which sounds reasonable (similar to how CBC and TSN split playoff series before the Sportsnet/NHL deal) until you remember that Sportsnet controls the CBC broadcast as well.

So why keep the Jets off CBC during a time when lots of casual fans might tune in, and Sportsnet is looking to maximize ratings?

Because of money. Of the 82 regular-season Jets games, 60 are on TSN3. Casual Jets fans in Manitoba don’t have much incentive to subscribe to Sportsnet if they’re not otherwise interested in sports. So Sportsnet is hoping to drive subscriptions from those potential fans, even if it means many fans just won’t watch the games and they’ll lose potential ad revenue.

But, of course, that logic doesn’t apply to the Leafs. The Leafs are so popular that ad revenue is more important than subscription revenue. So the Leafs get CBC.

On one hand, Manitoba Jets fans should just subscribe to Sportsnet (it’s available over-the-top for $25 a month). On the other hand, this definitely does feel like a middle finger to a market that has had to suffer for a long time, and hasn’t seen a playoff game win in more than 20 years.

TVA Sports, by the way, is also not giving priority to the Jets. Of the first four matches, three will be broadcast on TVA Sports 2 because of conflicts with Flyers-Penguins or Capitals-Blue Jackets.

The NHL playoffs begin Wednesday with the Jets and Wild playing at 7pm on Sportsnet. The Leafs and Bruins play Game 1 on Thursday at 7pm on CBC. For channel assignments for these and other series, see sportsnet.ca/schedule.

My top 2018 Olympic moments

Well, it’s over. After 16 days of competition, 29 medals for Canada and dozens of stories of triumph, heartbreak and fun (and only one DUI that we know of), the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games are over.

It was a good year for Canada. The number of total medals was a record, though when you take event inflation into account we did about as well as Sochi and Turin and a bit behind Vancouver.

There were great stories about medallists like Kim Boutin, Ted-Jan Bloemen, Alex Gough and of course Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. There were equally great stories about athletes who didn’t make the podium. And, thanks to the hard-working team at CBC Sports, we got to see as many of those stories as they could cram into their coverage.

I was glued to the Olympics, sacrificing sleep to wake up at 6am to watch competitions live. It was fun to be so caught up in it, cheering every victory and feeling for every defeat. The Olympics are big money, and for the athletes involved it’s their entire lives, but for the rest of us, it’s two weeks of entertainment before we go back to our regular day-to-day.

It might come as cold comfort to those who were expected to win and didn’t, but the Olympics are a crapshot. For most sports, the level of competition is so high that the margin for error is virtually nonexistent. And, frankly, if the results could be so well known in advance, there wouldn’t be much fun doing it in the first place.

So while not every Canadian could finish on the podium, or in the top 10, the more that achieve that level of greatness, the more chances the country has of finding success in unexpected places.

Anyway, based on my experience watching these games, here are some top (mostly Canadian) moments, in chronological order, that got me right in the feels.

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What TSN broadcast tonight instead of the Canadiens’ home opener pregame show

The Canadiens aren’t the best hockey team in the world. After losing most of their preseason games and all but one* of their regular season games so far, that much is obvious. But where the team excels is in its ceremonies. And the biggest one of those (at least when there’s no obituary or jersey retirement) is the home opener.

TSN, in the first year of its five-year regional rights deal and only the second broadcast under this deal, had a great few minutes of go-Habs-go content they didn’t even have to produce.

Except they didn’t air any of it. A couple of short clips of two player introductions (one without audio) and the national anthems. I’m not sure if there was a technical problem (more on that later), but there were 10 minutes of player introductions that didn’t make it to air. Instead, here’s what TSN2 showed tonight:

7:00-7:30 pm: An episode of TSN’s That’s Hockey. Mostly panel discussions, but includes some pregame hits from reporter John Lu, including a quick chat with Karl Alzner. Ends with a 20-second wide view of the Bell Centre with no audio — instead we hear host Gino Reda saying the Canadiens game is next.

7:30: Promo IDs, intro montage and intro theme.

7:31: Tessa Bonhomme begins the regional broadcast over video of players in the dressing room and introduces Pierre LeBrun.

(Meanwhile, pregame ceremony at Bell Centre begins with introduction of Canadiens staff.)

7:32: TSN airs pre-recorded discussion with the broadcast team of John Bartlett and Dave Poulin.

7:34: Bonhomme presents graphic showing Canadiens lineup.

(Pregame ceremony introduces head coach Claude Julien.)

7:35: Prerecorded video of Lu interviewing Claude Julien.

(Pregame ceremony begins introducing players.)

7:36: More discussion between Bonhomme and LeBrun in studio.

7:38: Bumper to commercial break with five-second video of Charles Hudon coming onto the ice during player introductions as Bonhomme mentions puck drop coming next. Ads.

(Pregame ceremony ends with introduction of captain Max Pacioretty.)

7:40: Return from commercial break with 25-second video of Jonathan Drouin being introduced “just moments ago”. Video switches to live shot of Bell Centre as Bonhomme awkwardly throws it to Poulin. What follows is 25 seconds of no one speaking until Brigitte Boisjoli begins singing the national anthems. (There’s no graphic or announcer statement to identify her to TSN’s audience, just muffled audio of arena announcer Michel Lacroix.)

7:41: This.

The audio switches a few times between sources that are obviously not in sync, resulting in echoes and jumps during both anthems. Throughout it all you hear booth audio, including some breathing sounds.

7:43: Starting goaltender introductions, listing of officials.

7:44: Puck drop.

Considering what happened with the anthems, maybe it was a technical issue that prevented TSN from getting proper audio from the ceremony. But either way, we expect better from TSN. A lot better.

RDS, of course, broadcast the entire ceremony.

*Correction: I forgot about their win against Buffalo. The Canadiens are 1-3, not 0-4.

The Athletic Montreal unveils most-star lineup of contributors, launches Monday

The Athletic, an expensive experiment into whether people will pay for quality sports journalism, is getting more expensive.

After its recent announcement that it’s expanding to Montreal in both English and French, and to every other Canadian city with an NHL team, it has announced a full lineup of staff and contributors, led by editor-in-chief Arpon Basu.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Staff

  • Arpon Basu is the editor in chief. The former managing editor for LNH.com, he introduced himself last month.
  • Marc Antoine Godin is the senior writer and managing editor at the French version of the site, Athlétique. He was a sports writer at La Presse since 2000, and at Presse Canadienne before that. Godin introduces himself here.
  • Emna Achour is the associate editor of Athlétique. As a freelancer, she’s worked for the NHL, the Rogers Cup/Tennis Canada, reported on the IIHF World Championship and did research for a KOTV documentary on the Canadiens’ 1970s dynasty.
  • Marc Dumont is an editor and primary Laval Rocket reporter. Dumont is a popular guy on Twitter and contributor to and managing editor of the Habs blog Eyes on the Prize.

Contributors

  • Mitch Melnick, who presumably shouldn’t need introductions but is the afternoon host at TSN 690, is moving his day-after blog The Good The Bad and The Ugly to The Athletic. He introduces himself here.
  • Olivier Bouchard will write a similar column in French. He’s a contributor to LNH.com and the guy behind En attendant les Nordiques.
  • Serge Touchette, former columnist for the Journal de Montréal, and the lockout website Rue Frontenac, “will be writing a weekly column for the French site about whatever he wants.” So probably the Canadiens, but expect some baseball in there as well.
  • Robyn Flynn will be covering the Canadiennes de Montréal CWHL team. She’s a producer at CJAD and host of weekly hockey show Centre Ice on TSN 690, and has been actively following and reporting on the Canadiennes for years. (Dumont and Achour will also cover the team for the French site, Basu says.)
  • Lloyd Barker will be writing weekly about the Montreal Impact. Barker is a former Impact player and commentator in several media including until recently a regular column in the Montreal Gazette. Barker’s columns will be translated into French.
  • Joey Alfieri will be writing weekly about the Montreal Alouettes. Alfieri is a contributor to TSN 690 and several other outlets. His columns will also be translated for the French site.

The lineup is pretty impressive, and certainly anyone who listens regularly to TSN 690 will recognize most of these names. It’s also nice that women’s hockey is going to be covered on a regular basis by a professional journalist, which we haven’t seen much up until now.

Will that be enough for people to pay $10 a month or $70 a year for a subscription? We’ll see. The Athletic is funded mainly by reader subscriptions (it has no ads) but is still going through startup financing, so it’ll be a while until we know if this business model works.

But it’s apparently working enough that the founders of the site are doubling down on their investment, so that’s a good sign.

The Athletic Montreal launches Monday, Sept. 11.

TSN 690 to broadcast some Laval Rocket games

TSN Radio 690 has become the official radio broadcaster of the Laval Rocket, the Montreal Canadiens’ American Hockey League farm team, which is moving to the new Place Bell starting this season.

Okay, so that’s not so impressive, since there aren’t exactly a lot of other English-language sports talk stations desperate for the rights.

But this means TSN 690 will be broadcasting some Laval Rockets games on the air. Currently the plan is to broadcast Friday home games.

Sean Campbell has been named play-by-play man for these games. Mike Kelly, who has experience at TSN, NHL Network and Leafs TV, will do colour commentary.

The broadcasts will start with the Oct. 6 inaugural game against the Belleville Senators, and will likely end with the final home game on April 13 against the Toronto Marlies. The following matches are tentatively scheduled for TSN 690 broadcast, but that can change:

  1. Friday Oct. 6 @ 7:30pm vs Belleville
  2. Friday Oct. 13 @ 7:30pm vs Binghamton
  3. Friday Nov. 17 @ 7:30pm vs Lehigh Valley
  4. Friday Nov. 24 @ 7:30pm vs Utica
  5. Friday Dec. 8 @ 7:30pm vs Toronto
  6. Friday Jan. 12 @ 7:30pm vs Hartford
  7. Friday Jan. 26 @ 7:30pm vs Manitoba
  8. Friday Feb. 16 @ 7:30pm vs Hershey
  9. Friday March 9 @ 7:30pm vs Belleville
  10. Friday April 6 @ 7:30pm vs Springfield
  11. Friday April 13 @ 7:30pm vs Toronto

If TSN sticks to that, it’ll represent 11 of 76 regular-season games, or 14%, and 11 of 38 home games, or 29%.

Playoff games are obviously a possibility, but at least for this season might be more of a theoretical thing the way the Canadiens’ farm team has been playing lately.

Can Brian Wilde make independent Habs reporting work?

Updated with details of the new project below.

Would you pay $4 a month to hear Brian Wilde talk about the Canadiens?

That’s the question Wilde put to his Twitter followers today, proposing to become an independent hockey reporter supported directly by his audience through subscriptions. He’ll go ahead if he has enough interest, with a launch in August/September.

With almost 1,000 votes to the Twitter poll in two hours, the results are split, with 56% saying yes. But that doesn’t mean 560 people are guaranteed to sign up and remain subscribed.

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It’s official: Canadiens regional games move to TSN

Two weeks after rumours began spreading, TSN and the Canadiens have confirmed that the Bell-owned broadcaster has picked up the team’s regional English-language television rights from Sportsnet as of the 2017-18 season.

The team has also renewed its English-language radio deal with TSN 690. According to the station, that deal is for five years.

The press releases about TSN’s deal are intentionally vague on details. They speak of “a slate” of games, so it’s unclear if it will be broadcasting all the games it’s entitled to or if, like in the days of the “TSN Habs” channel, it will only broadcast a selection. On one hand, every other Canadian team has all 82 games a year broadcast in English, and the Sportsnet/NHL deal caused TSN to invest far more in regional broadcast rights. On the other hand, Canadiens games are also broadcast on RDS, so not every game needs to be broadcast in English.

The press releases also don’t specify how long the TV deal is for. I’ve asked TSN for specifics and will update if I hear back.

Also unanswered so far is what channel the games will air on. TSN5 is used by the Ottawa Senators, so some sort of overflow channel will need to be used when both the Senators and Canadiens are playing, at the very least. (By my count, there are 15 regular-season games that the two teams play simultaneously — but not against each other — that aren’t part of the Sportsnet national windows.) That, and on-air hirings, will be answered closer to the start of the season.

The deal will give TSN TV rights to all Canadiens preseason games, and up to 50 of the team’s regular-season games, mostly those that don’t air Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday nights. Saturday night games, special games like outdoor games, and all playoff games stay with Sportsnet.

The deal will also mean far fewer nationally-broadcast Habs games, limited to only Sportsnet’s national broadcast windows. All TSN Habs games will be blacked out outside the Canadiens broadcast region.

UPDATE: Sportsnet has released its national schedule, which includes 32 Canadiens games. That’s 10 more than TVA Sports gets for some reason. Sportsnet’s picks include:

  • 4/4 games vs. Toronto
  • 3/4 games vs. Ottawa, including the “NHL 100 Classic” game on Dec. 16
  • 1/2 games vs. Winnipeg
  • 2/2 games vs. Edmonton
  • 0/2 games vs. Calgary
  • 1/2 games vs. Vancouver
  • 4/4 games vs. Boston
  • 2/2 games vs. Nashville
  • The first ever Canadiens game in Las Vegas
  • All playoff games

That leaves TSN with:

  • All preseason games
  • The Canadiens’ season opener
  • The Canadiens’ home opener
  • A game each against Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver
  • Both games against Calgary
  • The Vegas Golden Knights’ visit to the Bell Centre

UPDATE (Sept. 15): TSN has announced its Habs broadcast schedule and broadcast team.

Could Canadiens games be moving to TSN?

UPDATE (May 30): Pat Hickey confirms the deal with his sources

UPDATE (June 13): The move has been officially announced.

We still have a ton of hockey games on our network, between … we have regional coverage of the Senators and the Leafs and the Jets and I think there’s another one on the way this year.

James Duthie may be regretting letting that one slip. Duthie, the TSN television host, said this during an appearance on the Sports Illustrated media podcast last week with Richard Deitsch, after being asked how the $5.2-billion Sportsnet-NHL deal has affected his network.

He didn’t elaborate on what “another one” means, but the process of elimination makes it pretty clear: Every Canadian team but one has English-language television rights locked up until at least 2020. The remaining team is the Montreal Canadiens.

In the months after the blockbuster deal for national NHL rights was announced in 2013, TSN and RDS scrambled to lock up whatever regional rights they could from individual Canadian teams. RDS paid a rumoured $1 million a game to buy rights to the Canadiens in French until 2026 (the same year the Sportsnet/TVA Sports/NHL deal expires), and Bell Media secured English and French TV and radio rights to the Ottawa Senators, also until 2026.

Before the 2014-15 season, Sportsnet announced a three-year deal for regional TV rights to Canadiens games. That deal expires this summer.

Sportsnet’s regional coverage of Canadiens games gets an average audience of 168,000, according to figures Sportsnet gave me a few months ago.

Previously signed contracts with the Jets (TSN), Flames (Sportsnet), Oilers (Sportsnet) and Canucks (Sportsnet) continue until at least 2020. Here’s how it breaks down per team:

Team English TV French TV English radio French radio
(National) Sportsnet (2026) TVA Sports (2026) N/A N/A
Vancouver Canucks Sportsnet Pacific (2023) None Sportsnet 650 (2022) None
Edmonton Oilers Sportsnet West (2020) None Corus/CHED (2020) None
Calgary Flames Sportsnet West (2020) None Sportsnet 960 (2020) None
Winnipeg Jets TSN3 (2021) None TSN 1290 (2021) None
Toronto Maple Leafs TSN4 None TSN 1050 None
Sportsnet Ontario Sportsnet 590
Ottawa Senators TSN5 (2026) RDS (2026) TSN 1200 (2026) Unique FM (via Bell)
Montreal Canadiens Sportsnet East (2017) RDS (2026) TSN 690 Cogeco (2019)

I don’t have end dates for the Maple Leafs regional rights contracts, but because team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is controlled in equal parts by Bell and Rogers, it has split its rights to Leafs and Raptors and Toronto FC* games down the middle, and there’s no reason to believe that situation would change any time soon. When the current MLSE was formed, there was also a 10-year extension to Leafs rights that should go until at least 2021.

With all the other teams locked up, the Canadiens would be the obvious choice here. The only other possibilities would be buying out an existing Sportsnet contract (which is extremely unlikely) or getting Canadian regional rights to the Detroit Red Wings or Buffalo Sabres, whose 50-mile zones extend into this country. (Bell TV already has the latter and distributes Sabres games in Niagara Falls, though it doesn’t produce its own broadcasts.)

It’s unclear if this is a done deal or if TSN is just really confident it can secure the rights to Canadiens games (its majority owner Bell is a minority owner of the team).

Asked about Duthie’s comment, TSN’s official response was very brief: “We have no comment (on this) at this time.”

I’ve asked Sportsnet and the Canadiens for comment, but haven’t heard back from either yet.

Logistical issues

If TSN does secure Canadiens rights, it wouldn’t be the first time. Before the 2014 deal with Sportsnet, which ensured that all 82 games would be broadcast in English for the first time, TSN carried a selection of Canadiens regional games on a special channel (that was available to Bell subscribers but not Videotron ones). Since then, TSN scrapped team-specific channels and put its regional games on one of its five TSN feeds.

With TSN already carrying Ottawa Senators regional games, this would present a scheduling problem, since the two teams’ regions are identical. They could share TSN5, but there would need to be an overflow channel for times when both teams are playing (much like Sportsnet uses temporary Sportsnet One channels when Flames and Oilers games conflict). TSN could just create a TSN6, or a temporary channel, or some other deal.

Another thing to consider is that such a deal would drastically reduce the number of nationally broadcast Canadiens games. Because Sportsnet was both the regional and national rights holder, it could upgrade regional games to national ones, and last season broadcast 44 of 82 regular-season games nationally. If the Canadiens sell regional rights to TSN, Sportsnet could be left with as few as 22 games (mostly Saturday nights), and all the ones carried on TSN would be blacked out west of Ottawa.

Then there are other issues like on-air talent (John Bartlett would probably be out of a job if Sportsnet lost Canadiens games, but that’s no guarantee TSN would want him back).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Nothing is confirmed yet with either network and probably won’t be until an announcement is made.

Technically, the Canadiens’ English-language radio rights could also be up for grabs, but since Bell owns the only two English talk stations in the city, it’s highly unlikely they’ll leave TSN 690.

(Hat tip to Derek Climan for spotting Duthie’s remark.)

* CORRECTION: As a commenter points out below, TSN now has full rights to Toronto FC games.

Review: A Guy Like Me by John Scott

The Montreal Gazette had a review copy of the autobiography of John Scott, star of the 2016 NHL All-Star Game. The sports editor offered it to me, and I read it during the week. Here are my thoughts on it, and excerpts from my favourite parts of it.

For the first 170 of its 215 pages, John Scott’s autobiography is pretty run-of-the-mill. But then, that’s kind of the point.

If you don’t remember the story that led to this guy becoming famous, he retells it as of Page 171. Spurred by a joke that was eventually traced to a suggestion in a podcast, fans began voting en masse for Scott, then a journeyman enforcer playing for the Arizona Coyotes, to go to the National Hockey League All-Star Game. Not because he was a big star with a lot of talent, but because he wasn’t. Fans had earlier tried and failed with something like this with the Vancouver Canucks’ Rory Fitzpatrick. (And for the 2015 game, a more positive-minded campaign from Latvia sent Zemgus Girgensons to the top of the all-star ballot.) But this time, the online trolls were successful in voting Scott in as the team captain for the Pacific Division at the 2016 all-star game.

It’s largely what happened after that announcement that made him a story, and turned him from an also-ran NHL nobody into an unlikely hero. The team, and the league, tried to convince him to decline the invitation. He was then traded to the Montreal Canadiens in a deal that made little sense, and Scott was immediately sent to the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin explained that he was forced to take Scott in the deal, without giving details.

Despite everything, Scott went to the game, where he became a media star and fan favourite. He scored two goals in the semifinal and was a write-in winner as MVP of the event, with the prize being a new car.

Scott played only a single meaningless NHL game with the Canadiens after that, the team having already been eliminated from playoff contention. After the 2015-16 season, he retired from professional hockey.

Scott’s take on the all-star game, and some entertaining highlights from his career (including missing his first NHL game because he didn’t have his passport) are already public thanks to two pieces in the Players Tribune: One at the time of the all-star game and another from December when he announced his retirement. That’s all in the book as well, along with information about how he grew up, the course of his career and, because there are so few of them, descriptions of all five of his NHL goals.

But since the book is told chronologically, it’s a long wait until you get to the part that made him famous. Scott begins with his childhood, playing hockey on a backyard rink in St. Catharines, Ont. He talks about going to Michigan Tech University and playing college hockey there, meeting his wife there, signing a professional contract and playing for what would become seven NHL teams.

Co-authored by Sports Illustrated’s Brian Cazeneuve, the book is very matter-of-fact about the events of Scott’s life, his feelings and opinions. You won’t see adjective-laden scene-setting descriptions. Rather, it’s short and simple sentences relating the things that happened. Like you’d expect from a guy whose university education was in engineering. But the style leads to some passages being kind of boring, when he goes off on a tangent that makes you wonder what the point is.

I was fascinated by the John Scott story when it happened. About a regular guy being bullied by people he’d never met, and turning into a superstar just by being a decent person. About someone who, when people talk about the most talented players faking injuries in order to get out of the all-star game, was just so excited for the chance to go.

But at the same time, Scott would never have been at the all-star game if not for the heartless lulz of NHL fans. The only way to prevent another case like this is to change the rule to prevent someone like him from getting to the game in the first place. Maybe you can make the argument that Scott represents a type of player that’s necessary for the game, or you can accept that he’s a Cinderella story and not think about it too much. But the people who are happy with what happened to him are also the ones who thought he shouldn’t have been invited, myself included.

Scott is far from perfect. He’s a goon who was suspended more than once by the NHL, and he has a DUI on his criminal record (something he called the worst mistake of his life). But he’s a smart guy, and his heart seems to be in the right place, so you can’t help but root for the guy.

We don’t learn much more than we already did about the all-star game and leadup to it. Scott won’t say which NHL official brought up his daughters to try to convince him not to go. But we get more detail of the conversation, which really makes the league look bad. And we get some indication of the petty things the NHL tried to dictate, like the jersey he wore and even changing the skills competition he would play in.

But the book ends on a positive note, about how great the experience was, about his brief time with the Canadiens and about the early plans to maybe make a movie out of his experience.

Even though I already know what the plot would be, it’s a movie I’d like to see.

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TVA Sports takes away MLS rights from RDS, will broadcast all Impact games until 2021

TVA Sports, which is aggressively fighting with RDS for broadcasting rights to sporting events that Quebecers want to watch, scored a pretty big coup today, wrestling away the national French-language Major League Soccer rights from RDS.

So big they even issued a press release in English, this means TVA Sports will air all Montreal Impact games, since they already have a deal with the Impact for the games the team sells the rights to.

Similar to the NHL and other leagues, MLS sells a national package, which includes marquee matchups, events like the all-star game and all playoffs, while the team sells rights to other games in the regular season. (Thankfully, unlike with the NHL, we don’t have to deal with regional game blackouts with MLS.)

TVA Sports’s national rights deal is for five years, from 2017 through 2021.

On the English side, TSN extended its rights agreement for an unspecified number of years (but probably five as well). That means some Impact games (including most likely its matches against Canadian opponents) will continue to be aired on TSN. TSN has all the rights to Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps games, but the English-language package sold by the Impact for its remaining games still seems to be up for grabs.

Financial aspects of the deal were not disclosed, but there were rumours that Sportsnet might try to outbid TSN, and I’m certain RDS wanted to keep its MLS rights.

I won’t compare TVA and RDS broadcasts of Impact games, since everyone seems to have an opinion on stuff like that, but I will note that this means we won’t hear the voice of Claudine Douville doing play-by-play of Impact games anymore. When the number of female voices doing play-by-play can be counted on one hand, it’s unfortunate to lose one.

Radio rights, which are held in English by Bell Media (TSN 690 and CJAD) and in French by Cogeco (98.5fm, though it airs only select games), are unaffected by these deals.

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.

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.

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.