Pucks for bucks a hit
Canadian teams finding success with pay-per-viewPosted: Friday August 08, 2003 8:34 PM
Updated: Friday August 08, 2003 8:36 PM
By Rob Brodie, SLAM! Sports
In truth, it was a day that simply had to come. As distasteful as some viewers might find it at first glance.
The arrival of pay-per-view Senators telecasts is at hand for capital region hockey fans. And, you should know, it is merely the tip of the iceberg.
At least if what is happening on Canada's Left Coast is any indication.
This, you should also know, is not necessarily a bad thing.
First, a quick recap for those not familiar with the contents of the Senators broadcast schedule released on Wednesday. While the expected complement of games on CBC, Rogers Sportsnet, TSN, The NewRO and RDS are all there, the real eye-opener was the inclusion of two pay-per-view telecasts -- Jan. 8 at Toronto, and March 14 at Edmonton.
The price to tune in: $9.95 per game, or $15.95 for both.
If you're thinking this is just another way for Canadian NHL teams to make money, you're not wrong.
"We'd like to break even or better, but that's not our expectation for the first year," said Jim Steel, the Sens' VP of broadcast services.
"We want to give ourselves a better-than-even chance at success."
"We've maxed out on the number of games we can show on Sportsnet, Hockey Night in Canada and TSN," Canucks COO Dave Cobb told the Ottawa Sun in an interview. "We want to get more games on TV because there's such a high demand. Our feeling is, let's get every possible game on. If people want to buy it, they'll buy it."
The Canucks have the numbers to prove that the market exists for pay-per-view.
"It's been successful far beyond our expectations," said Cobb. "The first year, our objective was to generate 10,000 residential buys and we did 12,500. Last year, we went way up, to over 25,000."
For that reason, the Canucks have increased their pay-per-view content to 17 games (from 12). The team is so confident about its ability to keep selling the games, it has raised its price by a loonie to $10.95. The whole package sells for $130 -- less than $8 per game.
But, the Canucks say, this isn't about converting free games into pay telecasts. It's a matter of making available games which wouldn't otherwise be televised.
Counting the 63 games B.C. viewers can watch on Sportsnet, CBC and TSN, that puts 80 of 82 Canucks games on the air.
Canucks fans have never had it so good.
"We would love to add more Sportsnet games, but it wasn't an option for us," said Cobb, who points out the number of free TV games available to Vancouver fans is almost identical to what's offered in Ottawa (60).
What they get to see for their cash is a broadcast that is commercial-free, augmented by features, analysis and extra goodies like shots from cameras placed in the Vancouver dressing room. Commentary is supplied by a simulcast of the Vancouver radio broadcast. The team pays for all the production costs.
The Oilers, who offered a handful of pay-per-view games to their fans last season, are raising that number to 10 for 2003-04.
Which brings us back to the Senators, who are wading carefully into new waters, but with optimism that they're catching the wave of the future at just the right time.
"[Two games] will be it for us for this season," said Steel.
"But in subsequent years, there may be some games that fall outside our normal broadcast schedule that would be a perfect fit for pay-per-view. So why not?"
The biggest catch?
You need digital TV capability -- via cable or satellite -- to view the games. Otherwise, you're out of luck.
That means investing in a dish or a digital set-top box from your cable company. For two games, it might not seem like a worthwhile investment.
But when the number grows ...
"The digital universe is not quite there yet, but we have to start this at some point," said Steel.
There are other ways to enjoy the show. In Vancouver, the games are available to bars and restaurants who choose to pay for them. And, in a rather creative stroke, the team has struck a deal with seven major movie houses in Vancouver so parents can take their young children to watch.
All of this could someday be on the horizon for the Senators, depending on how fans respond. And how quickly the team wants to move forward -- keeping in mind that the Canucks have a much higher season-ticket base than the Sens.
"Our thinking is let's start small, work our way up slowly and see how it goes," said Steel.