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NHL's 'unprecedented' deal with ESPN has sharp precedent in multibillion-dollar Rogers deal – The Globe and Mail

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National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to members of the media, March 7, 2020, in Sunrise, Fla.

The Associated Press

It’s always a little disorienting when Canadians act like Americans, and vice versa.

In November, 2013, when Rogers Communications announced it had snagged a 12-year agreement for the national rights to NHL games, both the league and the telecom-media behemoth proudly trumpeted that the deal was worth $5.2-billion.

There were multiple reasons to put a public price tag on the deal – bragging rights for the league and Rogers, as well as the need to explain to Canadians why their public broadcaster, which would end up airing the games on its TV network but without the benefit of any revenue – hadn’t actually stood a chance in the bidding. But there was also a giddiness to the announcement – Canadian media companies rarely reveal the grubby details of their business, if they can help it – and a downright American-style swagger.

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Contrast that to the announcement on Wednesday by the NHL, the Walt Disney Company and its ESPN division of a seven-year deal under which the league would return to that sports service for the first time since 2005. Executives called the arrangement, which is largely focused on delivering hockey on a growing array of digital platforms, “innovative,” “first-of-its-kind,” and “unprecedented.”

(The deal will not directly affect Canadian hockey fans, who do not have legal access to ESPN.)

But when a reporter asked Gary Bettman during a news conference, “Are you going to tell us what the value of this deal is on an annual basis?” the NHL commissioner shrugged and said, “I wasn’t planning on it.” Pressed by the reporter as to whether describing the value of the deal as “a substantial increase over what [current NHL rights holder] NBC is paying [would] be accurate,” Bettman gazed off to the middle distance and, channeling his inner Canadian, replied: “The answer to your question is, we think we’ve become more valuable over time.”

If one had to speculate – and in the absence of confirmed numbers, why not? – you might think the league’s modesty stems from the fact that the value of the contract, as reported by the Washington Post, is more than US$2.8-billion, or about US$410-million a year.

Which is fine as far as it goes, but not a number that Bettman is going to scream from the rooftops, given how it pales in comparison to the multibillion-dollar annual rights fees of the NFL, NBA, and MLB. (It’s also not significantly more than what Rogers Sports & Media is currently paying to air its national NHL games.) But in a landscape where some sports-media rights are believed to be at their peak, you can understand why any league would cheer the increase.

Still, there was plenty of swagger in the air when both Bettman and Jimmy Pitaro, the chairman of ESPN and sports content for the Walt Disney Company, laid out the details of the deal, which begins with the 2021-22 season: 25 regular-season games annually as well as four Stanley Cup final series over the next seven years on the over-the-air network ABC; and another 75 national games for ESPN+, the cable channel’s growing streaming service and the subscription service Hulu, which is partly owned by Disney.

An ESPN+ subscription will now also include about 1,000 out-of-market games, which were previously part of a separate package known as NHL.TV. (The NHL also reserved a package of less-valuable games which they’ll sell as part of a separate deal with another broadcaster, possibly NBC.)

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Pitaro said one reason he wanted to bring hockey back to Disney was because the NHL has an enviably young audience that he believes could help drive new subscriptions to ESPN+. “We’ve seen the largest growth in fandom among the major professional leagues since 2005,” with viewership in the current season among the 18- to 49-year-old audience “up around 30 per cent. … All the younger demos are up double digits,” he said.

“That’s all music to our ears. As we look to attract the younger generation, we think NHL content, live games, are going to significantly help us.”

That younger generation is leading the migration from TV to digital platforms, and if the league doesn’t go to where viewers are heading, those fans will find something else to watch.

“This is a transformative time in media, especially sports media,” Bettman said. The new deal “reflects the reality of what the media worlds are looking like. Everybody knows that there’s cord-cutting and everybody knows that the streaming platforms are growing dramatically and we think at some point, probably relatively early on in this deal, there’s going to be a convergence,” as streaming overtakes traditional TV viewership.

“This is an opportunity for our younger fans, to give them what they want on the places where they go for content,” Bettman explained. Though he didn’t say so, he probably also hopes that, by making games more available on digital services, the younger fans who are most prone to use pirated streams may decide to pay for their hockey content.

Bettman and Pitaro kept calling the deal unprecedented, but to Canadians it must have sounded familiar. The Rogers deal, too, led to a bonanza of hockey available on multiple platforms: broadcast (CBC and CityTV), cable (Sportsnet) and streaming (Sportsnet NOW as well as its premium version, Sportsnet NOW+, which, like the new ESPN+ offering, includes hundreds of out-of-market games).

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The fact that a company with the market intelligence of Disney has signed up for a similar deal (albeit with a potential audience of 10 times as many consumers) suggests that those who were skeptical of the Rogers deal might need to give the company some credit.

Mind you, as details of the Disney deal emerged Wednesday afternoon, and hockey fans began to realize it likely means they’re going to have to subscribe to both their regional sports network and ESPN+ if they want to watch their home teams – a situation that is also familiar to many Canadian hockey fans with subscriptions to both TSN and Sportsnet – many cried foul.

That’s the thing about the future: It always comes with a price tag.

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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