Monday, 26 April 2021

Is This Another "Make Right"?

I was scrolling Twitter tonight as the Jets were getting bombed by Connor McDavid and the Oilers, and I discovered an interesting bit of news that was posted by Sean Shapiro of The Athletic and repeated by TSN's Bob McKenzie that NBC was out of the running for NHL broadcast rights in the US, replaced by Turner Sports, better known on TV as TNT and TBS. If this is true - and I have zero reason to doubt either of these men - this represents a significant shift in how the NHL will reach eyeballs in the coming years as both ESPN, who bought rights earlier this year, and Turner own significant streaming platforms.

Turner has seen incredible success with the NBA on TNT, and they have carried both NCAA basketball Final Four tournament action on TNT and TBS as well as MLB's championship series during baseball's postseason. The expertise in producing high-quality sports programming is there, but I'm not sure anyone saw Turner stepping to the front of the negotiations for NHL rights with the likes of Fox Sports, NBC, and CBS all kicking tires on a new NHL deal.

The NHL, it seems, was interested not only in television broadcast rights, but a digital platform for its business as well. With Warner owning both Turner Sports and HBO, which partnered with the NHL for the 24/7 series, the NHL is gaining a partner it already has dealt with on one occasion, and the results came out pretty favorably in that particular instance. With HBO Max available to the NHL like the Disney+ platform was in the ESPN deal, it puts the NHL's product and productions on two fairly lucrative streaming services in the US.

While details will likely emerge in the days following this breaking news, it remains to be seen if there's an opportunity like this in Canada when one considers that TSN and Rogers Sportsnet are the two main sports networks in the Great White North. As we know, Sportsnet hasn't found their deal with the NHL to be as rewarding as they hoped, so perhaps they're willing to open the door to TSN to reduce the amount of risk associated with monopolizing the NHL on one network in Canada.

It's very unlikely that any entity would outbid either Bell Media or Rogers Communications in an effort to take the NHL away from them, so I'm curious to see how the NHL treats future negotiations in Canada after they diversified their content across several networks in the US. With Rogers standing on the precipice for a deal to acquire Shaw Communications and its properties, there might be one less billion-dollar conglomerate on the Canadian media stage when it comes time for those negotiations to begin as well.

I'm curious to see how the NHL uses this new-found revenue when it comes to re-investing in the game. Will we see a chunk of this money go towards women's hockey and youth hockey initiatives and programs? Will this money be used to line the pockets of 32 NHL owners as they seek to restore the wealth they believe they lost over the pandemic?

I know the easy thing to do is to take this money and run, but the NHL isn't the only league that has been affected by the pandemic as the AHL say its players playing for 48% of the value of their normal contracts in order to make ends meet. Will we see NHL owners step up and fill the other 52% of those contracts with this new-found pile of cash?

Are we ever going to hear serious talk from the NHL about a professional women's league? With all of the streaming options they have available to them, the opportunity to have a professional women's league seen by more eyes has never been greater. With the ability to stream and broadcast across multiple networks, one has to wonder if these questions were asked by broadcasters during the negotiations. I'm hoping they were, but we'll likely only know if the NHL's radio silence on a professional women's league remains intact.

Whatever the case may be for women's hockey, you'll now be able to catch more hockey on TNT and TBS and HBO Max and wherever else Turner Sports wants to inject it. I do hope that women's hockey will find its way into these deals, but I shouldn't hold my breath. The NHL looks out for the NHL first, and it seems they have their TV deals with ESPN and Turner Sports locked up for the foreseeable future with long-term dollars rolling into its bank account.

When NHL owners cry poor and want to "make right" while selling off pieces of their uniforms for advertising, point to the billion dollars annually the NHL receives in broadcasts and tell them to pound sand. No one, especially those hard-done-by owners, is losing money in the NHL when broadcast deals promising hundreds of millions of dollars are being signed in the midst of a pandemic.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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