Will the Rogers-NHL Deal Bring Hockey to your Smartphone and Tablet, or Will Rogers Blow It?

Rogers Media announced plans Tuesday that shot some detail-filled pucks into our nation’s net of curiosity.

The monumental $5.2 billion, 12-year agreement with the NHL announced last November essentially gives Rogers the national rights—on all platforms—to every NHL game (including playoffs, the NHL draft, the All-Star Game and the Stanley Cup Final) through the 2025-26 season. The digital component of the deal, NHL Centre Ice and GameCenter Live properties, are also included in the agreement.

Did you know that according to the Canadian Press, the news of the Rogers NHL deal was the biggest business news story of 2013? I sure didn’t. It shouldn’t be a surprise; hockey is such a huge part of our national psyche.

So what new information do we have now, and how does it affect us from a tech standpoint?

If you just spent over 5 billion to take over hockey for Canada, you should probably look good while doing it. So, according to a Sportsnet.ca report, “Rogers is constructing a new 13,000-foot NHL studio set in Studio 41 of the current CBC building from which to broadcast all of that hockey.”

Rogers will be focusing their hockey broadcasts on three nights: Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. Hockey Night in Canada will persevere on Saturdays, with CBC retaining rights to broadcast. Games will also be seen on City, Sportsnet, Sportsnet ONE, Sportsnet 360, FX Canada (yes, that FX Canada), TVA, TVA Sports, and TVA Sports 2. Sundays will be known as Hometown Hockey, with games airing at 7pm EST on City.

Each game will feature a Canadian team and be hosted in a different community rink across Canada. Additional matchups will also air Sundays on Sportsnet and Sportsnet ONE. Wednesdays will be set up much like the current Wednesday Night Rivalry on TSN and NBCSN, dropping the puck on more nationally televised games featuring superstar matchups and storytelling. Sportsnet ONE will also air a game between two US teams.

Fans of the Canucks, Flames and Oilers need not worry: Sportsnet will air all 82 regular-season games from the Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton teams. A minimum of 53 Toronto Maple Leafs games will be shown, with at least 100 all-American contests shown nationally on Sportsnet ONE and Sportsnet 360. SN360 will also be the home of a regular Thursday-night broadcast.

This is all good news for hockey fans, but what’s missing is an update on the developments from the digital side. From a tech perspective, the only crumb we get on this plate of hockey news is the possibility of installing an overhead wire camera that would provide a fresh angle for all games. Cool enough, but what does the future look like for NHL GameCenter Live?

NHL GameCenter Live is a hockey-loving cord-cutters dream. Or at least it could be. At Tuesday’s announcement which took place at former Leafs’ home Maple Leaf Gardens, Rogers Sportsnet president Scott Moore said, “I would not only expect, I would demand that all our games will be available on your smartphone, on your iPad, wherever you want to go.”

The future of watching live hockey, particularly in the next decade as the Rogers contract enters into the latter half of the lengthy agreement, will depend upon Rogers perfecting the mobile experience. As it stands currently, NHL GameCenter Live could probably be improved upon. Watching a game on an iPad or on your TV via Apple TV, PS3, or other streaming device is a hit and miss affair; generally the picture is great but there are far too many times where the stream cannot catch up to the action. This results in a grainy picture—not exactly optimal, especially compared to watching on regular cable.

The inconsistencies of the digital experience can be chalked up to bandwidth: streaming a live event in HD is more taxing than watching something on Netflix. As picture quality morphs from HD to Netflix’s Super HD to 4K TV (which is being embraced by Netflix as well—even “House of Cards” Season 2 was shot in 4K), the big issue for all industries is going to be bandwidth. Even if you have a brand new 4K television, your Internet access will need to handle that heavy stream coming down the pipe.

Watching a game in HD is the norm; we’ll expect nothing less. Once the digital platform matches the picture quality of cable, those thinking of joining the ranks of the cord-cutters will have one more big reason to take the plunge.

Which leads us to the most interesting detail of the whole Rogers deal: where do the media company’s priorities lie? If the mobile experience matches that of Netflix, will consumers flock towards digital? Seems like Rogers is staring down at one large puck-shaped paradox.

Photo: Canadian Press