Business, Society

Rogers, the NHL, and the demand for “more choice”

Rogers Place

Photo courtesy of CNW Group/Rogers Communications Inc.

In a major announcement earlier today, Canadian telecommunications giant Rogers Communications revealed a partnership with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers for the naming rights to Edmonton’s new downtown arena set to open in 2016. In addition, Rogers is set to introduce multimedia and technology initiatives for the new arena that will significantly impact the “fan experience”.

This news follows the even more significant event from last week, in which the NHL and Rogers announced a landmark 12-year, $5.2 billion media rights agreement that will see Rogers own the broadcast, digital, and media rights for the NHL in Canada, effectively shutting out primary competitor TSN while stripping CBC of its editorial control over the iconic Hockey Night in Canada program.

This kind of agreement is not surprising when you consider that only eight corporations control the 100+ basic cable and broadcast networks in the United States. In Canada, which only has about 10% of the population of the US, the telecom industry is dominated by the “Big Three” (including Rogers) who control about 85% of the wireless market share, a statistic that hasn’t sat well with many Canadians. In fact, the issue of wireless monopolization was recently the topic of a $9 million ad campaign run by the federal government.

Now, when it comes to the Rogers’ initiatives surrounding the NHL over the past week, it is clearly good for business for both Rogers and the league. Rogers will profit from an arrangement that will give them an unprecedented relationship with hockey-mad Canadians across the nation. The NHL, meanwhile, is clearly thrilled with the business prospects of the agreement, which dwarfs the 10-year, $2 billion deal they signed with NBC for the US television rights in 2011.

For fans, these developments could represent an incredibly positive change in their experience of the game. The deal will allow Rogers to use all of their multimedia options (including television, mobile, online, and print) to deliver comprehensive content to fans before, during, and after the game, regardless of whether they’re in the arena or on the couch at home. Without regional restrictions, Rogers could present fans across the country with a unified, consistent experience.

Still, these same fans are still contending with Canada’s highly concentrated telecommunications and media ownership situation in which Rogers is also a major player. As many people continue to be frustrated with their telecom options nationally, could this arrangement also alienate some fans who are loyal to TSN and CBC’s hockey coverage? It’s quite possible that the demand for “more choice” could soon extend to Canadians’ beloved game of hockey as well.

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