Despite disappointing TV ratings, Rogers rates first year of NHL deal a success

Chris Zelkovich
·Chris Zelkovich
Chicago forward Brandon Saad hoists the Stanley Cup after a final that produced disappointing ratings for Rogers.
Chicago forward Brandon Saad hoists the Stanley Cup after a final that produced disappointing ratings for Rogers.

Ratings were down across the board, but Rogers is claiming success on its $5.2 billion gamble on the National Hockey League.

``We made money in the first year, which I think is slightly miraculous," said Scott Moore, Rogers' head of Sportsnet and NHL properties. ``It was a big nut to cover as far as rights fees go. We did it with only nine months to turn everything around and start new advertising relationships."

It's not clear on how Rogers accomplished that considering that the Stanley Cup playoffs are what usually produce profits for NHL broadcasters, with the regular season acting as a loss leader.

But Moore said advertisers were happy despite ratings 12 per cent lower than last season's final series. He admitted that some advertisers received make-goods -- rebates for failing to reach audience targets -- but ``we built that into the pricing so that doesn't affect our revenue. Our advertisers were happy.

``Overall the Stanley Cup playoffs were by far the Number 1rated show every single night they were on for two straight months."

As for the drop in ratings, which followed a strong start fuelled by the presence of five Canadian teams, Moore cites a combination of factors. Going up against the women's World Cup and a streaking Blue Jays team sent viewers elsewhere, he said. The presence of Tampa Bay in the final didn't inspire viewers who might have been more excited by the New York Rangers -- or obviously any Canadian team.

He also wonders if the presence of so many Canadian teams hurt ratings in the end.

``The Canadian teams are a blessing and a curse," he said.  ``When they go out of the playoffs, not only do the ratings naturally go down but some of those markets suffer from a hockey hangover.

He also pointed to the failure of the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose early tanking not only drove down regular-season viewing but may have affected playoff audiences.

``Even though our first two rounds were spectacular, the Southern Ontario market was not as engaged as it has been in the past," he said. ``That market tuned out of hockey relatively early this season."

Moore also wonders if broadcasters aren't seeing a migration of younger viewers to other sources. For example, an average of 95,000 Canadians watch every Stanley Cup final online.

``Millennials are tuning in and out a bit more and not watching the full game, and that affects the viewing averages," he said. ``All of that plays a role."

Despite the disappointing ratings throughout the season -- Hockey Night In Canada ratings were off 2 per cent for the early game and 15 per cent for the late broadcast -- Moore says he's not losing any sleep over it.

``For example, CFL playoffs were down 21 per cent and nobody panicked about that," he said. 

Moore believes Rogers did a good job in its first season and will be better next year with a few improvements.

``I'd give us a 7.5 out of 10 in our first year," he said. ``What we did had never been done before, broadcasting and producing more than 450 games. I give us very strong technical marks. Artistic marks vary a little bit. 

``We did things differently, we celebrated the game, had fun, were more casual. It wasn't universally accepted, but that's not going to change the fact that we believe very strongly that sports is supposed to be fun. We're not going to change back to being earnest and looking at the business side of hockey.

``There will be some tweaks next year, including being more dedicated to story-telling, but they will be tweaks, not wholesale changes."

He also believes that renewed hopes in the east (Toronto) and west (Edmonton) will produce big audiences next season.

``I always say that hope is the great opium of sports and there's renewed hope in Toronto and even if the team is not winning there will be an engagement that wasn't there this year," he said. ``And with Connor McDavid in Edmonton and exciting young teams in Calgary and Winnipeg, I feel good about next season."