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Amazon Deal With NFL Signals Digital Direction For NHL Broadcasts

It is safe to go on with life. The Toronto Maple Leafs have made it to the NHL postseason in 2017. Hallelujah! After many years of futility, they’re back in the playoffs.

How long they’ll last against the powerful Washington Capitals is anyone’s guess. 

Still, it’s great news for the long-suffering fans of Leafs Nation, whose last Stanley Cup was 50 years ago. It’s also a great relief to the folks at Rogers Media, who may now finally see what they paid $2.5 billion for when they bought Canadian rights to the NHL.

After a Canadian blanchissage last season (0 for 7 teams in the playoffs), the Leafs are one of five domestic teams to make the postseason this time around. While Montreal commands the large Quebec market and the two Alberta teams have strong followings, it’s the Leafs that put the biscuit in the basket for Rogers’ bottom line. 

From the immense southern Ontario media market (seventh in North America), all things flow for the broadcaster that holds those rights. If you don’t think they’re important, just ask the employees unceremoniously dumped by Rogers last summer after the wipeout. After taking a media roasting, Rogers’ higher ups remain notoriously sensitive about any criticism of the NHL deal or whether it will burn them financially.

Having the young Leafs in the postseason will now keys all the potential of the advertising, promotion, cross-promotion, endorsement deals, corporate tie-ins and digital plays Rogers was counting on in its new communications deal. Helping, as well, is the fact that Toronto is a fun team to watch with a blossoming league superstar in Auston Matthews.

Add that to Don Cherry waving the pom-poms for his favourite team, and it’s bliss for fans of the blue and white. If the Western teams advance that would be icing on the cake, but for right now it’s all-Leafs, all-the-time.

That will include digital platforms, too. The lynchpin of the Rogers deal was the potential afforded by internet and portable devices to build a new tradition like the one that grew from the marriage of the infant technology of TV and Hockey Night In Canada in the 1950s. That includes allowing Rogers customers for TV, internet or phone to have exclusive access to content. (NBC controls the U.S. NHL package till 2021)

So far it’s a binary world. While most in the traditional business world still look at TV ratings for reinforcement, the new frontier of technology remains just that. A frontier. The array of providers for consumers to choose from is dizzying, and the accepted carrier for younger viewers is still in some debate. Winners and losers have yet to be decided.

But European PGA Tour commissioner Keith Pelley, who negotiated the Rogers deal with the NHL, says digital is already showing its potential. He cites YouTube and iTunes content viewership for the European Tour reaching into the tens of millions per item. “You can’t just look at traditional TV ratings for the NFL or NHL as a measure of how well they’re doing,” he told The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin. (

“That’s why it was so important for Rogers to get, not only the TV, but also the digital rights. By the end of the (12-year) contract, that’s where the value proposition will be.” In a world where more people are cutting the cable, finding new ways to engage young viewers is paramount. And finding new partners is equally as important.

Indicative of the changes in the communications industry was news last week that the NFL had sold rights to ten games of its Thursday Night Football package to Amazon. What once was an eCommerce site is now pushing to be a content provider under owner Jeff Bezos. Amazon paid $50 M US for the rights to show the games around the world to anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription. They beat out YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for the rights.

It’s the second effort by the NFL to explore the digital world as a future host for its games. Last year Twitter broadcast the games on its online service for a cost of $10 million. While its viewership was not up to the NFL's typical standard (about 243,000 people/ average min. versus 15.4 million people on CBS and the NFL Network for the same Thursday package), Twitter still made some money. And the NFL wanted to try again.

While they’ll likely lose money on their deal, Amazon says there is value in blowing Twitter out of the tub with its massive NFL offer— one Twitter could not afford. Industry watchers see the NFL move as a blow to social network sites like Twitter. ”What we have now amounts to a one-year experiment for the NFL, and it makes you wonder about Twitter's relevance in this space," said Paul Verna, a video analyst at eMarketer told C/Net.

The NFL and NHL are content to let Amazon, Twitter and Facebook battle it out to see who will be the provider of choice to millennials. For now, they’re just happy to see a bidding war for the rights.

And, in the case if the NHL, to see a Toronto Maple Leafs playoff team be their content of choice.

Bruce Dowbiggin the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (