Don Cherry, Ron MacLean, Hockey Night in Canada, Hockey Broadcasting

Imagine a scenario. Your local NHL team plays a national television game. It is on NBCSN, which you access via an application because you do not have cable or satellite. You are delighted to watch it, but when you turn it on, you are refused due to a television failure depending on your location.

Another scenario. You live in Philadelphia and bought NHL.TV (formerly NHL Gamecenter Live) to watch your favorite team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, play. That night, the Lightning is in town to face the Philadelphia Flyers. You open NHL.TV, select the game and you can’t watch it because you live in Philadelphia.

In both situations, the ability to watch hockey was hampered by the same thing: a power outage. No, not the blackouts that occur when you lose energy because it’s summer and the power grid is overloaded. This type of failure concerns communication, in particular television and radio broadcasts and who is authorized to receive them.

What are TV outages?

A blackout of the variety of communications intentionally prevents certain members of the public from receiving television or radio broadcasts. In sport, this manifests itself in games that are not broadcast because regional sports networks or local channels have exclusive broadcasting rights. Each of the United States ‘Big Four’ sports leagues – NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA – currently has or has had some form of blackout policy that restricts hearing.

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The NHL and MLB, both of which use digital properties launched by MLB Advanced Media for streaming purposes, have similar prohibition restrictions that are rooted in regional sports networks with exclusive broadcasting rights for the majority of games . For the NHL in particular, blackouts are present to allow regional sports networks to broadcast as many games as possible.

“Prohibition restrictions exist to protect local television broadcasters from each NHL game on local team markets. Breakdowns are not based on arena sales. Keep in mind that the prohibition policies and restrictions are different for each sports package that your system can carry. – NHL Network defense against breakdowns.

So if a game is broadcast on the NHL network, it is broadcast simultaneously with the local broadcast. And, if this game involves the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild, as long as you live outside of these markets, you can watch it. However, if you live in these markets, you cannot watch it on the NHL network and must rely on the regional network to view it.

In addition, games broadcast on NBCSN or Sportsnet in Canada are subject to the same prohibition restrictions. Although in 2013, Rogers signed an agreement that allows it to broadcast any game involving Canadian teams on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nationwide and without cuts.

There will no longer be regional games or local interruptions. Rogers has an exclusive window to broadcast any match with the Canadian team Wednesday / Saturday / Sunday.

– NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 26, 2013

In the playoffs, it’s a little more complicated. Only a few years ago, the regional networks and NBC, as well as its properties, shared broadcasting rights in the first round. This led to power outages similar to those of the regular season. However, as of the 2017 Playoffs, NBC and the regional networks shared the rights and fans were able to watch the first round on local or national broadcast.

Markets? Regional sports networks?

So now you may be wondering, “I know what the television markets are, but what determines them and how are they dispersed?” Just question. For the most part, it’s simple. Typically, a team is assigned a designated television market. The Detroit Red Wings have Michigan and the Vancouver Canucks have British Columbia. In some cases, a team’s market is larger than a state or province and rather encompasses a region. The Boston Bruins market includes the states of New England and the Dallas Stars have Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Then there are the teams whose markets intersect, either because their fans reach that far, or because of several teams in a region. The Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers split Alberta, the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs split Western Ontario. The Buffalo Sabers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils all share New York State. Finally, in southern California, the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks are covered.

Connect regional networks to markets

For the most part, each team’s market corresponds to a specific regional sports network. The Bruins are broadcast on NESN in the northeast, the Canucks games on Sportsnet Pacific and the Stars games on Fox Sports Southwest. In places where multiple markets converge, fans can watch one of these teams’ matches. In western Ontario, that means watching the Jets on TSN and the Maple Leafs on TSN and Sportsnet, and in New York, the Sabers, Rangers, Islanders and Devils are all watched via the MSG network.

But regardless of the market in which you live and the regional network that broadcasts your local team, if the NHL, NBC or Sportsnet network broadcasts the game but does not have exclusive broadcasting rights, national coverage will be obscured in favor of ” regional coverage. .

Who or what to blame for power outages?

Getting to the bottom of who or what is to blame for the television outages is a tricky proposition. There are several potential culprits. Is it the league or the teams? Are these national or regional networks? Could it be one of them, several of them, none of them, or all of them?

League vs team

The NHL’s guilt in the existence of power outages is in two areas. On the one hand, they work out the calendar of the league each season. Specifically, Steve Hatze Petros, who determines the schedule. It takes into account the availability of the arena, team preferences and travel, while working according to planning rules to establish a schedule of 82 games for each team, totaling 1,271 games.

The league schedule has no direct impact on outages, but the best games and teams with the largest fan bases are most likely to be picked up by national networks. And as we know, when games are broadcast nationally, breakdowns occur. The league is also at fault because it negotiated contracts granting national broadcasting rights to the networks.

According to Business Insider, the NHL earned $ 600 million in 2013 from televised transactions. In Canada, Rogers holds the rights while NBC has the contract in America. The current agreement with the NBC, which pays the NHL an average of $ 200 million a year during the 2021-2022 season, was signed on April 19, 2011. In Canada, the NHL has agreed to a 5 , $ 2 billion over 12 years in November 2013. with Rogers, owner of Sportsnet. The deal pays the league about $ 430 million a year during the 2025-2026 season.

Each contract allows the network to broadcast and distribute games across the respective country of the network. In some cases, national networks have exclusive rights to the games, including “Wednesday Night Hockey” on NBC and “Hockey Night in Canada” on Sportsnet, which takes precedence over regional broadcasts. But in other cases, national and regional programs intersect and the national flow is blackened on the teams’ markets. For the 2018-2019 season, Rogers will broadcast more than 150 regular season games while NBC and its properties will broadcast 109 regular season games.

The team’s blame for the television outages is based on the regional sports network with which the team signs to broadcast its matches. These contracts, similar to the league contracts with NBC and Rogers, pay the team annual fees for live matches. Although these contracts are pale compared to other leagues, NHL franchises make a substantial amount of money from local television offerings, much more than revenue from tickets or merchandise.

As expected, the teams with the most lucrative television offerings are also among the valuable franchises with the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Canadians leading the league.

Top 10 teams by annual income from regional sports networks. According to Forbes in November 2013. (Created by Kyle Gipe)

National Vs. Regional networks

NBC and Rogers, because they have national television rights in America and Canada respectively, are allowed to choose the games they broadcast. This means covering popular team matches and clashes that will attract fans. For example, a game involving the Bruins, Maple Leafs or Pittsburgh Penguins is more likely to be chosen nationally than a game in which the Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers or Hurricanes of the Carolina.

But who can blame the networks for having selected games that will attract a large audience? They have paid exorbitant sums for the rights to air games and want to get the maximum return on their investments. The problem is that if you are a fan of a “popular” team and live in the market of that team, you will suffer more outages than the average fan, unless you have access to a regional sports network. And with NBC broadcasting an ever-increasing number of games, the number of crashes will likely follow.

In Canada, Don Cherry (left) and Ron MacLean bring you NHL games in Hockey Night in Canada, a weekly hockey program aired nationwide on Sportsnet. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

With regard to regional sports networks, several problems create problems for hockey fans. On the one hand, they are expensive. In general, regional networks charge several dollars per household on a monthly basis for accessing content. For fans of a sport, in this case hockey, it means that you are presented with content beyond hockey, often programming that you do not watch.

The other problem is that regional networks control the number of viewing options available. Is streaming an option? Are you able to purchase a subscription as a standalone product rather than having a standard television package? These are important aspects because if a person cannot afford traditional television but still wants to watch hockey, the willingness of a regional network to allow access affects the experience. watching a fan.

Something else?

Although the four elements examined above have some culpability in the current existence of blackouts, another aspect remains the most at fault. Although more than five decades old, the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 remains a powerful piece of legislation in America. The act, signed by John F. Kennedy, was a reaction to an earlier ruling that said NFL franchises acting together to sign a league-wide television deal violated US antitrust laws.

The original decision considered NFL franchises to be separate businesses and working on a television deal as a singular entity stifles competition. The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 essentially repealed the earlier decision by stating that sports franchises can combine their interests to generate income in a single unit.

“The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 (SBA) exempted professional sports leagues from federal antitrust laws so that leagues can pool the rights of each team in televised games. These license agreements – including television, radio and digital – grant networks the rights to broadcast games and are an important source of revenue for sports leagues. “(Extract from” A brief history of sports television and the streaming debacle “SportsTechie 25/01/2016)

The article goes on to say that the original intention of the law was to protect sports leagues and the rights of their teams to generate income. However, all he has done since is create and expand outages. Since the entry into force of this law, numerous attempts have been made to repeal it, in particular the law on the promotion of access and networks for sport (FANS).

The FANS Act was introduced by Senators John McCain and Richard Blumenthal in December 2015. Its objective was to amend the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 so that each match in each American professional sports league was available in all markets, either through the format traditional or via streaming. However, the bill was never passed.

Other opposition

In 2012, a group of hockey fans filed a federal lawsuit against NHL and television distributors. The lawsuit indicated that the presence of blackouts in local markets despite the subscription to NHL.TV constituted a monopoly and therefore violated antitrust laws. The trial lasted more than two years before the two parties reached a settlement. The rules included creating single team NHL.TV subscriptions at a reduced rate rather than having to subscribe to the entire league.

The plaintiffs in the trial accepted the settlement when district judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that they could not recover money despite agreeing that the current configuration of the league is a monopoly. So while the lawsuit is considered a victory for those who oppose the blackouts, it has not gone as far as many would have liked. The settlement did not address the prohibition rules, the problem that triggered the trial in the first place.

Alternatives to deal with power outages

The problem with hockey outages is that there aren’t many legal options to work around them. The purchase of a cable or satellite package with the local regional sports network is the simplest option. Add to that a whole league subscription to NHL.TV and you’ll have access to all of the NHL games.

Other than that, if you live in your favorite team’s market and don’t want to pay for cable or satellite, the only other legal option is to move out of your team’s market. This way, you can either access the NBCSN app to watch nationwide TV matches, or purchase an NHL Gamecenter Live subscription to a team to watch your team’s matches. However, you will still face prohibition restrictions when games are played in your local market.

Hopefully, with the increasing popularity of cord cutting and the separation of traditional media, the ban restrictions will be relaxed and access to hockey games will be open to all fans in all locations. Because right now, the NHL, the teams and the networks can increase their profits at ever increasing rates, but the product continues to suffer.