Hockey deal crucial: CBC sports boss

And the Ceeb's got big, albeit still secret, plans to exploit its rights as early as the 2007 playoffs.

The head of CBC Sports is defending his network’s new deal for NHL broadcast rights, and dismissed the suggestion that the Ceeb will lose money on the six-year contract, despite reports that it will be paying $100 million or more per year – 50% more than it is currently.

‘We did this plan based on hockey being profitable and that it provides a positive margin for the corporation. That’s why we’re keenly interested in it, not just as a brand, but as a business,’ says Scott Moore, adding that the deal was financed with the network’s private money from advertising. He notes it was ‘crucial’ to re-sign with the NHL and retain its ‘pillar’ program Hockey Night in Canada.

Under the deal – which takes effect after the 2007/08 season and was announced Monday by CBC TV chief Richard Stursberg and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman – the network will air more regular season games, but fewer involving the marquee franchise Toronto Maple Leafs, and keep HNIC on Saturday nights. CBC has also scored the rights to Internet streaming, video on demand and other multimedia platforms such as mobile.

‘You will see us exploiting those rights pretty much immediately. There will be hockey content streamed as part of the 2007 playoffs,’ says Moore, though details are still being worked out. CBC retains exclusive coverage of Saturday-night regular-season games involving English-Canadian teams, and of English-Canadian teams in the third round of the playoffs, the Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL awards and the NHL All-Star Game. (Montreal Canadiens games air on RDS in Quebec.)

But the Ceeb will have to share first- and second-round playoff games involving English-Canadian teams with an as-yet unnamed ‘cable partner’ — presumably TSN, which has yet to sign its new contract. CBC will be able to pick the top two teams it wants to cover in the playoffs. ‘If, in two years, four Canadian teams are all in the playoffs, then two of those series could end up on the cable partner,’ says Moore.

The NHL is ‘absolutely happy’ with the new agreement, according to spokesperson Gary Meagher. ‘The CBC and HNIC is an important institution and partner for the league. It is a business relationship, but it’s also a cultural relationship,’ he says, adding that Bettman and Stursberg began negotiations in September.

Bettman will now focus on the cable talks, Meagher says, but he did not provide a time frame. Meanwhile, Rogers Sportsnet boss Doug Beeforth is also pleased with the CBC/NHL deal, noting ‘it appears to be good for us because it increases the windows where we can show regional games.’ The cable outlet deals directly with regional teams for broadcast rights.

Beeforth believes there may be a chance for Sportsnet to show NHL games on Saturday afternoons. ‘On Saturday nights, CBC does two games, but on some weekends more than one of the western teams are playing. We could work with the teams and the league to have them play their game on Saturday afternoon and then we can show it live,’ he explains, adding that Sportsnet would work around its Blue Jays schedule.

This story first appeared in Playback Daily.