Why Changes At Rogers NHL Hockey Is Troublesome

By TSM

 

“It’s a magical day, a transformational day for our industry and certainly for Rogers Communications,”

“It’s a game changer for the way Canadians will watch this great game of ours.

 

Keith Pelley  Tuesday. November 25, 2013

That was then.

This is now:

“Two years ago we made some changes to Hockey Night in Canada, We were enthusiastic. At the end of the day, they did not resonate with hardcore hockey fans.”

Sportsnet President Scott Moore

If you build it, they will come.

Pretty much sums up the popular view around Rogers when the deal was announced bring all Canadian hockey vieiwing under the Rogers house.

“It will be everywhere… We all want to grow the game at every level,”

Several things changed and now, after two short seasons in an Ice Aged long term, Rogers has firmly hit the panic button retreating it’s coverage across the board.

Basically the regional feel to Rogers hockey has been completely eviscerated as Rogers has retreated to much of what the product looked like when it was split between rights holders.

Fish where the fish are”

Is how a long time media executive described the new plan.  Focus on pleasing the audience you have today, worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

So why the doom and gloom?

Well, in my humble opinion it’s a retreat in philosophy from what Rogers was built to be. While many things have been said and written about how the company operated, (especially at the end) under Ted, one thing was evident; Ted was a visionary.  He wanted to be leading. It appears that Rogers has lost it’s entrepreneurial spirit in making the changes they did this week.

How else can you explain what they did this week?

 

“It’s a play he engineered. It was Mr. Pelley, not outgoing Rogers’ chief executive Nadir Mohamed, who pushed the deal forward with deputy chairman Edward Rogers, according to a source.” that’s what was written when the deal was done.

I’d have to believe that when the strategy planning was going on surrounding this deal, someone took a look at the numbers and said what if this goes south, what if ratings don’t grow at a rate of 20% year over year????

I would imagine that a place like Rogers, with the amount of money at stake, someone stood up and said we the stomach to see early loses out.

Clearly that didn’t happen given the whack of recent changes…

Is the problem that Pelly is gone?

“Rogers went out and created network programming focused on a studio show but never got leadership with experience in producing studio shows“. A TV guru told me last week.  “How could they create compelling content without having anyone  on the team with the requisite previous experience?

So what’s the strategy now?

Glenn Healy, P.J. Stock, Billy Jaffe, Chantal Desjardins, Corey Hirsch, Leah Hextall, George Stroumboulopoulos and Damien Cox are all front of camera faces who are gone(Damien is now co-hosting PTS with Bob McCown 40 weeks of the year).

The hardest cuts are the ones we don’t hear about; the countless behind the scenes folks who were effected.

Sportsnet also confirmed it recently laid off five production staff members on its hockey broadcasts, and “less than fourteen” total production and on-air staff.

Let’s hope that number is accurate.

Sportsnet intends to reduce the number of regional pre-shows it produces for games across the country. Moore said the station will now focus resources on its weekday Hockey Central 6:30 pm broadcast as a lead-in to regional games. “One national show will allow us to use the resources better,” said Moore. “It hasn’t changed the number of games we’re going to do. We want to give the staff a focus. The focus is on our national nights, in particular Saturday nights.When you produce as many shows as we were producing there was a tendency to forget Saturday night needs to be special.

So, no longer magical, no longer everywhere.

Fish where the fish are.

See, the problem is sports networks in North America are all facing diminishing ratings.  I would hope that Rogers, a media leader would continue to take the lead on being ahead of others on where the market is headed.

The focus on short term is a focus on the older demographic.  I don’t know too many media companies placing their bet there.

So as a consumer I am concerned that the rights holder has no long term vision or plan for an incredibly more digital/online consumer world.

If “kids” aren’t buying cable or watching games on cable, the solution is to forget the kids?  That’s not very progressive is it?

This deal has more years left than a standard goalie contract handed out by the New York Islanders!

Someone better figure out a plan for the younger demo pretty soon.

 

The other problem?

The MacLEan effect.

I think many people clamoring for his return forget how he was viewed when the changes were made.  While many weren’t thrilled with the new choice, the loud chorus (at least on this site) was that it was time for a change.  In bringing Ron back not only are the not evolving they are retreating to place that wasn’t all that awesome to begin with.

 

What’s more concerning is apprently what the show looks like or feel like from the production side.  Insiders on both sides of the mic have been expressing their deep concern on what life will look like in a MacLean world.  “Ron’s ego was enormous when he did battle with CBC last time; I can’t imagine what’ it’s going to be like this time.” said one potential “colleague” who requested anonymity.  “Ron will show up before the show and change everything that’s planned; he quarterbacks from the set it’s how he operates.” Offered another.

The general disdain for MacLean in the weeds this week has been unlike anything I have seen since writing this blog.  The words : “no one wants to work with Ron” have been echoed to me all week.

Once again as I have stated, this is a panic move by the network.

It’s been a brutal perfect storm for the right holder.

You had a diminishing audience walking in to the deal. You had a business deal that was modeled in fantasy land and then you had all Canadian team drop into irrelevance.  None of that spells growth.

So Ron, George or Foster Hewitt with Dave Hodge could have been hosting this show and Canadians weren’t going to watch in the dreamed about numbers.

In Toronto the audience is used to the team stinking.  Several years of ownership and management have accustomed us to that.  What we weren’t prepared to accept was last season’s group of malcontents.  That team, Dion and Phil’s team were HATED in this market.  That is where the general fan tuned out.  That team has had lingering effects on the fanbase.

Winning, cures all.  If Montreal (sans PK) is winning, Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa and Edmonton are improved that leaves only Vancouver on the outs.  Toronto has reason for enough excitement given the Matthews, Marner, Babcock “thing” to make the team more watchable ( I didn’t say a winner- I said watchable).  If these things happen ratings will improve.  That will not be effected by the changes Rogers made.  You will not hear that from Rogers then.  If Ratings improve you will see more back slapping then you’ve ever seen before.

Some FAQ’s:

 

Were the cuts what you had heard?:   For the most part they were.  I will admit there were three more senior on air folks who I was told were being looked at and they did not get cut.  That surprised me given the banter.

What about play by play teams?” I have not heard a word about play by play teams.

Is the Andy Frost axing part of the Rogers moves?: No, I don’t believe they have anything to do with it.

Are the cuts done at Rogers?: I don’t work at Rogers (or Bell for that matter) so I have no clue what Sr. management is thinking.  What I can say is that in my experience corporate moves like this are never “over”.  Is this round over? Yes, sounds like it.  If the season starts and ratings plummet another 20-30 points I don’t think they will simply ignore that..

What’s next?: Well, I think they use the summer to let people’s minds clear and let the audience forget about the negative noise of change.  I think we will see changes in the play by play area and other planned improvements will filter out as we move closer to traning camps and World Cup.  The big question would be what happens if anyone Sr. leaves Rogers.  If any of the folks who are responsible for Rogers Hockey leave or are dismissed what is the waterfall effect of that.

This has been a relatively nasty 8-12 months for some really good peope in the sports industry.  Sports on the field/court/ice is a business of change.  It is very unsual to see this amount of change in a tiny country like Canada where there are so few players. As someone who covers “the beat” simply for fun, it’s really troubling to watch.  Whether we like them on air or not, ultimately they have to put food on the table and they are losing the privilege for working in an indutry I’d like to believe they love.  With respect to this round of cuts, the front of mic people cut are not going to find it easy finding the same type of work unless they are prepared to move.  For those behind the scenes, they are without question the unsung heros who are unfortuantely unkown.  I can only hope that the producers, enginers and editors are able to find great work with great companies soon.

 

The problem with if you build they will come is that in this country the number of “they’s” is not growing.  The game of hockey isn’t going to grow without significant change in our society.  The game has to be cheaper to play and way more accessable in order for it to grow.  This is only a country of ~36 million.  The average “hockey fan” isn’t as much a fan of the game as much as they are a fan of their team.  They will watch their team on TV,check in on the radio, online etc; maybe even attend a live game or two a year.  When the midweek out of market game is on they are not watching.  There are too many choices of personalized entertainment.  The average fan in Toronto is not interested in that Columbus v Nashvile game.  The average fan in Toronto isnt interested in Vancouver playing Anaheim, or Montreal vs. Calgary even.  I am not talking about the die hards who will watch anything.  I am talking about the averge fan. It’s the average fan that you need to tune in more to drive up your numbers.  The reality is that in a country of ~36m people the opportunity was never as big as anyone dreamed. You aren’t going to become the NFL the USA teams enjoy in terms of audience in tiny Canada.  Not on broadcast TV.

If he plan was to use NHL hockey to increase brand awareness and to sell other properties I get it.  To build a plan around a phantom sized audience  was a fool’s promise.  Better performane by the Candian teams will rectify the loss in audience.  It won’t grow it to the inlfated dreams but it should take it back to zero. Put the Leafs in the late stage of the playoffs….. then we can talk growth.

 

Couple of random thoughts:

PK out of Montreal, Taylor Hall out of Edmonton and Stamkos staying in Tampa, three things media executives in this country could have done without this week.

Great coverage of the Jays game in the marathon on Friday.  Three man booth is getting better with age.

Huge hat tip to Yahoo! sports, the late night online NBA free agent show was AWESOME!!

How badly did you feel for Mallard, Kypreos and Johnson yesterday who sat around and waited for the Jays game to end????

Overall reaction I’ve heard to Argos at BMO- “Glad I went once, wont’ go again

I can’t imagine the thought process in not bringing Andy Frost back to the ACC.  Of all the things that need to be fixed….

No, not a rumour but if we are chaning players, uniforms and public address announcers, what about radio teams????

You know I love twitter but two things I don’t get: 1. If you don’t like my tweets, why do you follow me? 2. If you block me, why do you try to follow me??  Odd.

To all those who take the time to reach out to Mike and or I behind the scenes etc we thank you.  To each of you who takes the time to read what we write, to comment (without bashing each other or the media players) we hope you all have a great weekend and excellent summer!

This is not a last post for the summer, but just a natural, easy time to say thanks…

 

The quotes above came from here and here

 

Jonah

 

 

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