Moore Is Less At Sportsnet: The Next Cuts Will Be The Deepest
These have to be nervous times for staff at Rogers Sportsnet as longtime executive Scott Moore skedaddled this week. Moore, Sportsnet’s president, announced his departure just as the NHL season got going. And it’s clear that Rogers’ 12-year deal with the NHL, valued at $5.2 billion, is likely a significant reason he’s pulling up stakes.
The 2013 deal, which includes hefty annual escalators payments that may be as much as $25 million a year, has started to bite at the Rogers campus in midtown Toronto. That bump was covered in the early years of the arrangement (the Blue Jays success in 2015/ 16 certainly helped there), but now it’s strangling Rogers.
Digital, the heralded future of the business, has gained ground, but the revenues expected from it in 2013 are not here yet. For that reason Sportsnet did another CBC contract to place Hockey Night In Canada on the public broadcaster— as a guarantee of eyeballs in the traditional hockey market.
Finding new partners in the market to make up the annual cost bump is a grim assignment in a broadcast economy where TV advertisers are going digital— just not at the same rates they paid for over-the-air placements. The low-hanging fruit has now all been harvested. Rogers head honchos, who are phone people—not broadcasters— want answers to where the money will come from next.
(A firsthand indicator of the sensitivity at Rogers came to me when, as a part-time contributor, I wrote a column on a Sportsnet site about the financial stresses of the NHL deal. I was subsequently upbraided by a minor Sportsnet executive and have not been back on the network since.)
It’s a far cry from the early days of the contract. When Moore and Keith Pelley, then-president of Rogers Media, obtained the exclusive rights to national TV and digital rights in Canada, they embarked on an expensive shopping expedition for talent. With rival TSN tying up its big names such as Bob McKenzie and James Duthie at significant numbers for up to a decade, Sportsnet was forced to richly paid the people he recruited.
In many cases the new hires were already friendly with the Rogers execs from their work an analysts on Sportsnet shows or the FAN 590 radio outlet. So Stephen Brunt, Damien Cox and Michael Grange, among others, left their print jobs for full-time places on Sportsnet. They were compensated above previous industry norms. (And God bless ‘em, I say.)
Unfortunately for Rogers, ratings have shown that, despite acquiring the NHL national rights to the payoffs and signing up expensive talent, TSN still commands the high ground when big stories break. Even today, it’s hard to name a new talent who has blossomed as a national figure at Sportsnet during the contract. It’s why ancient Bob Cole and Don Cherry still have large roles on the network.
Now, the onerous costs of the NHL deal are coming home to roost. With the vast majority of its revenues tied up in rights payments, Rogers’ only place to save is cutting back on the people hired under Moore’s administration. While no one is saying, cutbacks are likely why Sportsnet had to let go of play-by-play guy Paul Romanuk and studio host Daren Millard, among others, earlier this year.
With the steady drumbeat of escalators continuing in the NHL deal, Rogers wants a further culling. But Moore is not the kind of guy to give employees he hired bad news. You could hear a fragment of that in his departing remarks when he described himself as a “builder”. The implication being he’s not a strip-down artist.
So he’s gone instead. Rogers now must do the cutting itself, and it won’t always be FOS (Friends of Scott) that survive. For the sake of the people now employed, a long run in the playoffs by the Maple Leafs would be a godsend. How about a Leafs/ Winnipeg Jets Stanley Cup Final?
Or else Rogers can give in and offer TSN a piece of the most lucrative action it swore to keep to itself. Don’t expect Bettman to be sympathetic. He’s told owners they’re getting the money. If that money can’t be found in the market expect things to get really, really ugly at 1 Mount Pleasant.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor 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 a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps AreKilling Pro Sports And How The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.