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Monday, December 15, 2014


Rogers turned the hockey world upside down when it negotiated a 12 year deal worth $5B out of the NHL and left old rights holders TSN left out in the regional cold.   Two months into the deal, much has been written about the on-air product, the ratings and whether or not it was the financially prudent move for both the cable giant and the NHL. $5B is a boatload to recoup in terms of  new subscribers and advertising revenue.   I have no doubt that the stress levels of the Rogers sales staff might rival that of air traffic controllers. 

Rogers promised unprecedented access to over the air games with three definitive hockey nights (Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday).  They promised to promote the stars (those with the mumps and those without) and they promised unique access to different camera angles through their Rogers Game Centre (whoops, lawsuit pending on that one).  

Have they delivered this?  Sure they have, but not without a number of pitfalls along the way.  People are complaining about regional blackouts, where to find the games and of course everyone has an opinion on the on-air personalities both in the studio.   Read the comment sections in most newspapers, or sports media columns and the reviews are not kind.  I've found that even if you give people extra stuff or content for free, they are still going to complain.  As for the on-air personalities, there are those who long for the simplicity of Ward Cornell, and those who grew tired of the punny Ron MacLean now want him back.  

Now, if you are looking for opinions or trashing of on-air personality, this is not the forum for you. What some people like, is not other peoples cuppa tea! So if you want the burying or praising of Healy, Strombo, Grapes, Romanuk, Hughson, Damien Cox etc, go to the comment sections, you will find ample material there. 

One thing TSN and CBC did very well was to create new on-air sports broadcasting stars.  For TSN James Duthie, Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger were early examples of stars created through credibility and repeated exposure.  Even new guys TSN brings in like Jeff O' Neill, Ray Ferraro and Aaron Ward became credible analysts through the exposure TSN gave, and continues to give them.  For CBC, Elliot Friedman, Kelly Hrudey and Glen Healy are the guys that come to mind that became household names, respected for their on-air personality and delivery, though Healy is one of those guys who gets hammered int he comment sections for some reason.  If I am Rogers, I am looking to streamline the on-air exposure and am looking to create breakout stars.  It is tough to break out and be a star if you are among the 38 analysts/hosts that Rogers has for their hockey coverage.   Clearly they want Strombo to be the new face, so he is an easy one to give the exposure.   I will be the first to admit that I am not used to Strombo and his method of hosting.  He does not sit behind a desk, he is mobile switching back from the chairs to the glass table to standing up effortlessly.   In the long run, he will be fine and people will grow to accept him.   I think Mike Johnson could be the next star.  He is young, camera friendly and as a former Maple Leaf has some name recognition.  Plus he analyzes and breaks down the game well.   As for the rest of the on-air roster, identify who your stars could be, put them in places where they can succeed (it could be in the studio or game coverage) and them maximize their exposure.  Again, I cannot say for sure who the stars are or potentially could be but you could focus on them more than other people. I do think that some of the people are miscast and are better suited for on location game analysis while others are more studio types.   Creating stars is a process, and not done over the first couple of months of a 12 year deal.   

I am not sold yet on Sunday's Hometown Hockey quite yet , but again, its new and its a process.   The dynamic seems to be to combine the enthsiasm of college football with the audience participation of the Today Show. I like a lot of the things they are doing, and am ambivalent to others.  Not sure if they do it, but I would provide more cut ins during the game from Ron MacLean and crew to remind viewers of the hometown aspect.    Again, it will work over time, but will take time to put a dent into an audience geared towards NFL football on Sunday.  The good thing is already it appears communities want to have Hometown Hockey come to their community.  Creating a demand is never a bad thing.  

If I am Rogers, I listen to the people who cannot find games and vastly streamline my channel distribution to CBC, CITY TV and Sportsnet and provide as many double headers as I can through those channels more familiar to the average viewer.   Right now Rogers does offer up a viewing guide every weekend, but either people cannot understand or more likely, they are not bothering to check out the grid.   Streamlining the channels will help viewers find their game.   Viewers are creatures of habit and would like to know exactly where their game is. I would keep putting the guide online and try to distribute it through as many platforms as possible.  Hopefully people catch on.  Keep bumping regional games to national platforms when possible.  Rogers has been doing a very good job of this.  Make it seem like you are giving a viewer a "perk" or a "freebie" and it should assuage some of the complaining.   

The dominant theme of this is that it is very early in a 12 year partnership to be tearing down the existing on-air product by jettisoning on-air talents and radically changing the distribution or location of the game.  Ultimately, people will find something to complain about but they will still flock to hockey.  Sure there is room to grow but a more evolutionary approach is the key rather than a revolutionary method. 

Steve Clark 
Sports Media Enthusiast 
Play by Play TV for the Niagara IceDogs and the Hamilton Bulldogs

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