Saturday, October 25, 2014

NHL and I no longer BFFs

Apparently, I'm not doing my part to support NHL hockey. When I lived in Montreal, I used to go to live hockey games featuring my beloved Montreal Canadiens. It's hard to do that now, living in Calgary, especially since my team of choice doesn't come out here much to play Calgary's team. I love watching the Habs play, it's the only sport I spectate, and I am satisfied to watch them most Saturday nights on Hockey Night in Canada. Or at least, I would be satisfied if the Toronto Maple Leafs didn't own the airwaves west of the Quebec border.

So if I was just depending on the CBC, I might get to watch a few games per year on Saturday nights, plus the smattering of Canadiens games that TSN used to carry. Fortunately for Habs-fans-living-outside-of-Quebec, the french version of TSN, RDS, had the rights to broadcast almost every Habs game throughout the entire season, which I could add as an a-la-carte channel to my cable lineup. Don't even get me started on the fact that we don't get RDS in HD on Shaw cable. So I had to watch my games in little blurry squares.

Well, last year Rogers bought the rights to NHL games and suddenly the whole hockey-on-TV landscape was made unrecognizable. There are now more players in the game. Habs games are broadcast on RDS, TVA Sports, CBC, City-TV and various Sportsnet channels. There's only one problem. Outside of the Habs' region, their games are blacked out unless they're picked as national broadcasts. The NHL completely re-wrote the rules regarding distribution and broadcasting and fans of teams living outside of that team's home region are screwed.

According to my sources, the NHL would rather that if you live in Calgary, you should become a Flames fan and watch them instead. Not going to happen. Not only is Montreal a better team, it has a storied history, the best record historically in the entire league and is the team of my childhood home.

There is a way I can watch more Habs games this year, but it would cost me $200 to do it. My cable company can sell me a subscription to NHL Centre Ice (NHL CI), which gives me access to most of the games unless they are being broadcast nationally. It's a huge money grab by the NHL though, because for example I can't watch a Habs game on NHL CI (because it's blacked out) if it's being shown on another network nationally. Which means that if I want to see the most games, I need to subscribe to every channel that shows hockey games nationally. What's the matter NHL? Isn't $200 enough to grant me unrestricted access to my team of choice?

Oh wait, I can't even get NHL Centre Ice because my cable box isn't compatible with an mp4 video stream. So here's a giant double middle finger directed at both the NHL and my Shaw cable provider.

The good news is that Rogers did fulfill their promise of offering much more hockey choice than CBC did. This season, between CBC, City, Sportsnet and Sportsnet 360, I'll get to watch 28 Canadiens games in HD, which is probably 20 more than I would have gotten with CBC the old way. But I want more.

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