As much as we like to vilify Gary Bettman, (those of us in the Hamilton area, anyway) you have to hand it to the guy that he has expanded the value of the NHL exponentially. The $5.2 Billion, 12-year deal just signed with Rogers Communications means that every NHL team will reap an average of $14 Million annually—all 30 of them. Canadian money is propping up franchises across the continent.  That includes the lowly Blue Jackets of Columbus and the Coyotes of Phoenix. For a team like Phoenix where you can get good seats for less than a hundred dollars it is the equivalent to putting an additional 3500 fans every night in a building that, typically, has roughly 3500 to 4000 empty seats. A major problem solved for a struggling franchise. Last year Phoenix lost over $8 Million but they won’t next year. We’ve come a long way from the days when Tim Horton founder Ron Joyce was offering $50 Million for a hockey franchise. Forbes magazine issued a chart last month, before the Rogers deal was factored in, showing the average NHL franchise is now worth over $400 million—the top franchise being Toronto at over $1 Billion and the Blue Jackets bringing up the rear at $175 Million. The bad news with all of this is that it diminishes whatever glimmer of hope that existed  for a city like Hamilton to gain a franchise. The NHL has made it clear that the next Canadian city to receive consideration will be Quebec, and who knows what after that. The $40 Million that we spent building Copps Coliseum seems like chump change compared to the $300-plus million the proposed Markham Arena will cost. The CBC part of the deal is interesting. They will get the NHL rights for the next four years for free but will not get any advertising revenue. All they will get in return is the chance to promote some of their Canadian programming during station breaks. It sounds like a lousy deal, but it may in fact not be that much different than the CBC is currently getting. It was they, after all,  who drove up the price of NHL games  in bidding wars over the years, and they may well have reached a point where they were not making a profit, which means the only benefit was the chance to expose their programming promos to a large audience, which they will still get with the Rogers deal. I remember in what seems like  100 years ago, that CHCH dropped Wednesday night hockey, because the station couldn’t make a profit (paying what now seems like a miniscule $100,000 per game).  For Rogers it gives them a 4-year transition period in which they can get consumers used to the idea that someday the CBC will not be carrying the NHL so you had better sign up for Rogers Sportsnet. No doubt Rogers has made a gutsy move in the NHL deal, but that was always the hallmark of Rogers. Back in the 1980’s when Rogers was investing heavily in the then nascent wireless phone business, industry observers were shaking their heads at the amount of debt the company was assuming. Back then, broadcast TV was seen as the king of the communications hierarchy and Rogers was not a strong player, operating ethnic television only. Now when you look at the Rogers empire even with this blockbuster deal, Rogers only gets 13 percent of its revenue from broadcasting—the rest comes from wireless and cable, and it is by increasing the subscriber base to those platforms that Rogers hopes to recoup its NHL investment. In its most recent financial statement Rogers posted an almost $5 Billion profit on sales of just over $12 Billion. As the boys at Fuccillo Chevrolet in Buffalo say, “Thats Huuuuuge!”

John Best has had a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

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