Many Canadians will walk into their offices Monday and begin crunching numbers as they prepare for the hockey pools that they’ve been waiting on since October.
The news that the NHL lockout is over will no doubt have execs at the Canadian TV and radio rightsholders breathing sighs of reliefs, knowing that their ratings king will be back for at least an abbreviated season.
But, a compressed NHL schedule, with a playoff that will likely go to the end of June, will likely mean some TV headaches for three Canadian MLS teams.
Last season, TSN, the Canadian national rights holder for MLS, did not broadcast a Toronto FC, Montreal Impact or Vancouver Whitecaps match between April 8 and May 11. Both of its channels were occupied with the early rounds of the NHL playoffs, which left few holes in the schedule for soccer. You can’t blame TSN; hockey is the ratings driver, and the sports channels need to take advantage of the revenue-generating king.
So, what happens this year? The lockout ended early Sunday morning. No schedule has been released. But we do know that the league plans to run a compressed schedule, meaning less days off for the six Canadian teams, plus more broadcast opportunities over a short time span. As well, to get a decent season in, the NHL has floated the idea of pushing back the playoffs, which means the Stanley Cup may not get decided till late June.
So, it’s reasonable to think that TSN, the national rights holder for MLS, could have a glut of playoff broadcast through May and early June. Yes, it still will have Saturday evenings, because CBC takes NHL for Hockey Night in Canada, but last year showed us that when hockey is available, all other sports move to the back.
As well, with a compressed schedule comes a concentration of media interest, which means newspaper editors, websites, sports shows and magazines will focus on the NHL much deeper into an MLS season than what we’ve seen in the past.
(For our American friends, it will be interesting to see how NBC and its sports networks handle the split, as the peacock network is the rightsholder for both MLS and the NHL).
And, with hockey likely going much deeper into June, the timing is poor for MLS. Because, this season, MLS is starting earlier (meaning more conflicts with a compressed NHL schedule) so it can run a light July schedule to accommodate the Gold Cup. So, when MLS is finally free of NHL, it won’t have as many games on offer.
It’s hard for an emerging league to find holes in the busy sports calendar in which to showcase itself. We see that, in the U.S., the MLS Cup simply can’t find a niche in a late November-early December slot that’s filled with college and NFL football.
The Canadian sports market is most crowded in the spring, when NHL playoffs rule our airwaves. But, thanks to a hectic, compressed hockey schedule in 2013, the three Canadian MLS teams will find it more challenging to stand out.
TSN releases national MLS broadcast schedule (CLICK)