MKTG Insights: Big Changes to the Small Screen
One year ago, the reveal of Rogers' 12-year, $5.2 billion deal to acquire national NHL television rights stopped the broadcast world in its tracks. Given hockey's standing as the largest mass passion point property genre in the country, the NHL rights battle between Rogers (Sportsnet) and Bell Media (TSN) was the domino waiting to drop for both media properties and corporate sponsors across Canada. And while many pundits were quick to speculate on the negative implications that the loss of NHL rights could have on TSN, "Canada's Hockey Network", few recognized the power in the opportunity for brands investing in sports outside of hockey.
With Rogers staking its claim to an ownership position in hockey, TSN was afforded the opportunity to - for the first time in a generation - provide a country that is increasingly multicultural, and increasingly interested in sports beyond hockey - a broadcast experience that reflects their shifting interests and ever evolving passions. The clean slate of programming born out of losing NHL rights has lead to a shift in strategy that will bring newfound exposure to a host of sports. TSN responded to the Rogers-NHL deal by launching an additional three additional networks (TSN 3, TSN 4, and TSN 5), following a model similar to ESPN in the United States. While the network still holds regional team rights for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, and Winnipeg Jets, TSN will be leveraging the open programming slots to ratchet up its presence in sports like NBA Basketball, CFL and NFL football, ATP and WTP Tennis, Curling, and more original programming.
The impact of these shifts will be felt on both sides of the sponsorship equation. For sponsors who have already committed funds to a property, or an athlete within a certain property, increased exposure will lead to greater value. For example, this year TSN aired over 300 hours of US Open tennis, leading to a 24% increase from last year's viewership. Brands in endorsement deals with featured athletes like Genie Bouchard or Milos Raonic would have experience increased exposure. U.S. Open sponsors like IBM, Emirates Airlines, or J.P. Morgan with camera visible signage received heightened exposure to the Canadian marketplace. Sponsors who have made tennis a key part of their sponsorship strategy will benefit from likely momentum to the fan base as a result from more airtime.
Similarly, property genres gain value from the increased exposure that may lead to an eventual sales opportunity. The more athletes like Bouchard and Raonic are on TV excelling, the larger their followings will grow. Both the athletes themselves, the umbrella organizations that they represent (Tennis Canada), and domestic tournaments they star in (Rogers Cup) will receive greater brand interest.
With the hockey season starting, and with the attention of the marketing community on Rogers, MKTG explores the property genres to watch on TSN:
1. Basketball: The Northern Uprising movement that occurred during the Toronto Raptors 2014-15 playoff run led to the team's highest ratings in franchise history. TSN will be looking to capitalize on that momentum. With the Raptors poised for another successful season, a wave of young Canadian stars on NBA rosters, TSN will be increasing their basketball content (both live games and analysis). The young and ethnically diverse audience that accompanies basketball presents a growth opportunity for the network.
2. Curling - TSN will be bringing more Curling coverage than ever before to their networks, through Seasons of Champions coverage and made-for-TV proprietary events like Pinty's-sponsored Curling Skins Games. The Skins Game has added women's version of the contest which will double broadcast hours.
3. U.S. College Sports: Through its relationship with ESPN, which owns 20% of the network, TSN has Canadian rights to hours of U.S. College sports programming. The niche fan base was previously alienated by Canadian broadcasters with minimal choice. Expect more college programming to come to the network, specifically around College Football Bowl season, NCAA March Madness and NCAA hockey including the Frozen Four.
How to Win In Sponsorship during the New Era of TSN: Regardless of the network, or the era, there are tried and true principles to supporting your sponsorship with traditional media. These inherent truths are amplified during level set moments like the one that occurred between Rogers and TSN over the last year. Brands should react to TSN's blank slate with innovative features that communicate brands value and enhance the viewer experience. Sponsors have the opportunity to influence programming by working with TSN to either create "made-for-TV events" or to bring their sponsored sport to broadcast. Examples of this include the Curling Skins Game, which was a legacy property for TSN from 1986-2003, however, was re-ignited in 2007 with the purpose to attract sponsorship dollars (in additional to Canadian Content). Those who go beyond the :30 second spot will win. Further, with more niche sports receiving air time, TSN has the opportunity to build loyalty with audiences that were unfamiliar with the network. The network has the chance to delight new viewers with serious and compelling coverage. For sponsors, airtime for niche sports means the opportunity to listen and watch for breakthrough, and uncover ownership opportunities in an uncluttered space.