Canada’s Sportsnet Hits Its Stride in Year 2 of Landmark NHL Deal
A year since Sportsnet secured the largest media-rights deal in NHL history, the Canadian network has transformed into what NHL Production SVP Gord Cutler calls “a hockey factory.” As both the official Canadian NHL national-broadcast rightsholder and the regional-broadcast rightsholder in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver, Sportsnet continues to churn out quality broadcasts to a voracious fan base on a daily basis. This is one factory that never shuts down.
“We’re just trying to do what we did last year and do it better this year,” says Cutler. “Our focus, for the most part here, is, we’re storytellers. All the technology that we use is designed to allow us to be great storytellers. The better we can story-tell all the great events and storylines from the National Hockey League, the better we are at serving the consumer and all the people who watch our shows.”
As national NHL rightsholder, Sportsnet is responsible for three national windows: Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, Rogers Hometown Hockey on Sunday, and the iconic Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. While CBC continues to broadcast the franchise on its airwaves (last year’s rights deal secured it there for four years), Sportsnet took over creative control, including editorial content, on-air talent, production, and any revenue generated — a role that Sportsnet does not take lightly.
“You just have to have some care,” says Cutler. “You’re taking over custody, if you will, of an institution that’s been on the air for [more than] 60 years. It’s been in everybody’s household every Saturday for a long, long time. You have to treat the tradition properly, but I think you also have to remember that our viewing audience has changed a lot and continues to change at a rapid rate.
“Our approach was, there was a lot of good in Hockey Night and there was a lot of tradition in Hockey Night but we had to continue to evolve Hockey Night as well,” he continues. “It was taking all the good stuff and then evolving the rest of it and trying to make sure that the show respected its traditions but still was one that all of the current and the new generation would like and learn to love to watch as well.”
For national broadcasts, Sportsnet deploys about 15 cameras (this number scales down to 10 or so for regional broadcasts), including super-slo-mo cameras and Q-Ball remote-camera systems placed in unique areas, such as in the players’ bench and on the blue line. The network also installed Skycam at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and the Rogers Centre in Vancouver for use on both national and regional broadcasts. Dome Productions continues to be Sportsnet’s principal truck provider.
After debuting virtual technology during last year’s Stanley Cup Final, Sportsnet will continue to use the Orad technology during the regular season.
The epicenter of Sportsnet’s “hockey factory” is its state-of-the-art Toronto studio: 11,000 sq. ft. of space comprising nine separate sets that can handle multiple live-studio and remote game productions at once. With five regional markets and the national window to consider, Sportsnet must often accommodate concurrent games across the country.
“When we started up, instantly, we were a factory,” says Cutler. “It’s not like we do one show a week [and] you have one group that’s focused on one show for a week. [Besides] the big nationals, we have regionals every other night, so we had to develop a workflow that allowed us to staff properly [and] make sure we had enough gear from night to night in the control rooms when we do multiple regions that are overlapping.”
The truest test of the new workflows, he adds, was last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Sportsnet broadcast every game of every round. Sportsnet will again broadcast this season’s Playoffs and Final and also provide exclusive coverage of the Winter Classic, All-Star Game and Skills Competition, Stadium Series, Awards, and Draft. In total, Sportsnet will broadcast more than 500 regional and national NHL games.
Sportsnet’s second-screen offering — Rogers NHL GameCentre LIVE — will deliver more than 1,000 regular-season games, as well as the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Final, the Winter Classic, and the All-Star Game. The mobile experience, unveiled last year, will feature an updated interface, usability features, and improved video player and stream quality.
“What we’re trying to do here in Year 2 is use our tech, use our studio, [and] use our creativity to be the best storytellers we can be,” says Cutler. “We were pretty darn good last year, and I just ask everybody, let’s try and see if we can’t be 10% better this year.”