How fitting that today's winds are blowing in the world of television broadcasting, seeing as the NHL and Comcast/NBC just sealed a deal for the new media conglomerate to broadcast (at least?) 100 NHL games per season across its many platforms for the next 10 years...for the cool price of $200 million per year (with all sorts of new money flowing to the franchises). Among the highlights are an NBC-broadcast NHL game on "Black Friday" following Thanksgiving - the earliest nationwide broadcast NHL game in memory - and national distribution of every single Stanley Cup playoff game. The deal also gives Comcast/NBC total control of the digital rights to all of the games that they broadcast over every possible device, leaving me to wonder what's going to happen to the 110% awesome GameCenter Live online package or the slightly less awesome Center Ice television package, but that's another issue for another day.
Point is, today's about hockey on television. And wouldn't you know, I stumbled upon an article today that opened my eyes real wide. It should do the same for you, too.
First, some background. Back on May 6, 1999, the Dispatch reported on the initial Columbus Blue Jackets TV deal in an article entitled, "BLUE JACKETS GO CABLE ROUTE - FOX SPORTS OHIO GETS EXCLUSIVE DEAL 65 GAMES ON IN FIRST YEAR" (Sorry, no link available). In the article, it's released that the CBJ and Fox Sports Ohio agreed to a five-year deal with an option year. Michael Yormark, then-CBJ vice president of integrated sales, said of the deal, "The penetration of Fox locally and statewide is a tremendous benefit to market the Blue Jackets brand." One can't argue with Fox Sports' market penetration even today, but it's not perfect vis a vis the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's widely understood that it's been hard to get the CBJ games at times in the Cleveland area, but that's probably attributable to the popularity of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers up there despite sucking worse than the CBJ.
And then we get to the article that made me sit up. On September 17, 2003, the Columbus Business First newspaper offered an article, "Fox Sports extends TV deal with Blue Jackets; will broadcast more games." Put aside the fact that then-president Doug MacLean was so jumpy that he renegotiated his TV deal after only three years of a five-to-six year deal. What is profound is this little nugget, about the expiration date of the FSO broadcast rights deal (emphasis added):
The Columbus Blue Jackets have extended their television-rights deal with Fox Sports Net Ohio that will allow the cable channel to broadcast the team's games through the 2010-2011 season.Do my eyes deceive me, or does that mean that the Blue Jackets' TV deal is up? I followed up on this with Columbus Business First, whose current reporter covering the Blue Jackets didn't know about the CBJ-FSO deal. I checked with Fox Sports Ohio, and their spokesperson replied, "It is our policy that we do not discuss or disclose details of our contracts." I put an inquiry in to the Blue Jackets and have not yet received a response.
[UPDATE: Channel 10's Rob Kunz suggests that, due to the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, the CBJ-FSO contract was extended for one more season and thus would expire at the end of the 2011-2012 season. Now that wasn't so hard, was it? Still, let's keep the discussion going and consider it a prelude to next season's renegotiation.]
Therefore, I'm forced to go with what I have for information, and that suggests that next season commences a new regional television rights deal for the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's very possible that my historical research is incomplete, but the analysis that I'm about to present below is compelling regardless of the rights contract status:
That works out to an average 1.11 television rating in 07-08, 1.80 in 08-09, 1.39 in 09-10 and 1.09 in 10-11. 10-11's ratings were a whopping 39% lower than 08-09's. OUCH.
- SportsTime Ohio has a pretty robust setup in the Cleveland market. Might they want to grab a foothold in Columbus beyond their Cleveland Indians games and their ancillary Cleveland Browns coverage?
- There's always the possibility that Comcast/NBC would want to expand their regional footprint and get into the Ohio sports world with a new Comcast Sports Net affiliate. This might be of interest to CBJ fans who want to see their team get more nationwide exposure on (the soon-to-be-renamed) Versus, where "bonus games" generally come from Comcast Sports Net teams like Chicago, Washington and San Jose. Ohio has a lot of sports action, but is there enough to keep three regional sports networks afloat when the Big Ten Network siphons so much Ohio State programming away?
- And what of local television? Anyone with a local HDTV antenna knows that every local channel has four HD television feeds (4-1, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 6-1, etc.). While I presume that the CBJ couldn't move the major broadcast networks like NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX off the "dash-one" feed, what about the "dash-two" feeds? A network of local stations around Ohio (and perhaps farther, depending on what the NHL allows) could be build in a manner similar to the CBJ's radio network. I suppose the big question here would be whether it would be worth it to forego cable altogether (keeping in mind that more and more people are cutting the cable cord and going to a combination of rabbit ears and broadband-delivered Netflix, Hulu and other streaming video like the NHL's GameCenter Live). Could such a package deliver ad dollars beyond the epic "Farmers Only" ads of the pre-Hitchcock days, though? ;-)
- Columbus used to also have the Columbus Sports Network (which served as the training ground for "Blue Jackets Live" host Ray Crawford!), but that went belly up in 2008. So it's not a viable option, but it IS an indication that Ohio has an entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to its sports.