By now, everyone should know that the NHL and Rogers have agreed to a 12 year, $4.9 billion TV deal that starts next season. Under the terms of this deal, Rogers gets full rights to all national broadcasts, digital rights, highlight packages, etc. As a part of this deal, they agreed to allow CBC to continue broadcasting HNIC for another 4 years, but CBC pays nothing for the broadcast rights and gets none of the ad revenue. Rogers will have full editorial control over HNIC. So, for at least 4 years, Rogers will be running HNIC but it will continue to air on CBC. This is huge news for the simple fact that Rogers will get to pick which program the Leafs wind up on. The NHL tweeted a sample schedule of how this past Saturday night might have looked under the terms of this new deal:
Rogers/NHL deal adds value to fans with more games, more content, more choice and more flexibility. Sample Saturday: pic.twitter.com/LD5rhPO52w— NHL (@NHL) November 26, 2013
It would not be a shock if the Leafs rarely (if ever) appeared on HNIC over the next 4 years. But there's something else at play here, and that's the creation of a "tent pole" national broadcast on Sunday nights. From Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
Rogers has three exclusive windows to broadcast any game involving a Canadian team -- Wednesday nights, Saturday nights (including CBC) and Sunday nights. Viewers on Saturday nights will get every game regardless of where they reside and certain games involving two U.S.-based teams. The new Sunday night national broadcast will feature marquee matchups.
I don't think it takes a major leap in logic to suggest that Rogers will save two of those weekly national windows for the Leafs. Probably on Wednesdays and then one of Saturday or Sunday. It would certainly seem that the NHL is interested in creating a Sunday night program that could battle with MLB in the spring and the NFL in the fall.
Sportsnet is expected to win the rights to a newly developed Sunday night telecast that will attempt to emulate the success of the MLB on ESPN and NFL on NBC.
With HNIC only guaranteed to exist for another 4 years, it makes sense that Rogers would try and develop this new Sunday night program into the kind of brand in Canada that the NFL and MLB currently enjoy. With that in mind, there is no team in Canada that draws better nationally than the Leafs. Toronto routinely averages more than a million viewers on Saturday nights. Moving them to Sunday, at least part of the time, would help establish this new "tent pole" national broadcast. It may not mean Toronto moves solely to Sunday nights, but we could see a significant change in the Leafs schedule where they play marquee matchups on Wednesday and Sunday nights. For Sportsnet, this makes sense as they would be better equipped to compete with the NFL or MLB when the top-drawing Leafs are on.
We'll need to wait and see what Sportsnet decides to do. It's possible that they could come out and deny that the Leafs would ever move to Sunday nights; we just don't know right now. The Leafs have been a staple of Saturday night HNIC broadcasts going back to 1931. There seems, at the moment, a good chance this could be coming to the end.