The Montreal Canadiens opened their season Thursday night, but if you don’t watch French Television, you might have had trouble watching it. That’s because Rogers, the NHL broadcast rights holders in Canada, with a contract as long as Shea Weber, decided the game was only worth showing on their least popular network, Sportsnet 360.
Usually I like to flip around during a game, catching parts of each broadcast until settling into one for the third period but Thursday night was spent entirely in the company of Pierre Houde and RDS. That’s fine too.
I grew up English in Montreal, which means I only speak French about 25% of the time. Watching French television isn’t an issue, but if all other things were equal, I’d probably watch in Englsih
In 2014, at the start of the season, Sportsnet 360 had 5.8 million subscribers, a couple of million less than Sportsnet’s 8.2, and behind Sportsnet One’s 6.1 million. CBC, of course, is available in most Canadian homes. So how exactly did one of the marquee games of an NHL season come to be broadcast only on Sportsnet’s least popular property?
Sportsnet, which is really Sportsnet Ontario, Sportsnet East, Sportsnet West, and Sportsnet Pacific, was airing Game 5 of the Dodgers vs the Nationals. Each of the four unique channels broadcast the exact same baseball game. All of those channels and not even Sportsnet East, nominally, the Sportsnet serving Montreal, could be bothered to air the Canadiens season opener, which Rogers was still covering on a different station.
If you’re a Montrealer living in the most populous city Sportsnet East serves, would you rather watch the season opening game of your beloved Montreal Canadiens or a baseball playoff game featuring the remnants of a team that was ripped away from you?
Sportsnet One, slightly more popular than 360, and a separate specialty channel from the other ‘nets, went with a Week Six Thursday Night Football game.
So opening night, an event hockey fans spend their whole summers looking forward to, was relegated to the lowly Sportsnet 360, with fewer than 75% the subscribers of the main station. This is what you’re worth to Rogers Habs fans, and there is nothing to suggest things will get better.