TORONTO (AP) — Canadian television networks stand to lose broadcasts that attract millions of viewers and generate millions of dollars in advertising revenue if the NHL lockout extends into the regular season.
CBC President Hubert Lacroix acknowledged this week that a delayed or canceled season would be "a cash flow challenge for us."
While Lacroix said CBC has "replacement programming", it's still not fully clear how networks will fill the void created by a lockout.
"In Canada, if you want to start a conversation, you either talk about hockey or the weather — and now we're reduced to the weather," said Jim Hughson, the play-by-play announcer for "Hockey Night in Canada." ''There isn't any hockey at the National Hockey League level to talk about, and I just don't think that the networks have found adequate replacements for that."
This is the NHL's fourth work stoppage in 20 years. Preseason games for September already have been called off. The regular season is scheduled to begin Oct. 11.
In previous shutdowns, the networks aired more major junior and American Hockey League games. But Hughson said the ratings and revenues do not justify the production costs, which are about on par with NHL telecasts.
"With all due respect to all of the networks, we've not found anything that can replace the numbers," Hughson said.
Paul Graham, a TSN vice president and executive producer of live events, said his network is not worried about what will happen short term because it has plenty of programming tied to CFL, NBA, NASCAR and other events.
"At the end of the day, everyone wants hockey," he said. "That's the sport of our country, and that's the sport that brings in the most consistent ratings on our network."
TSN said it could expand its slate to include additional live events, news, talk shows and documentaries. Some potential additions include expanded Major League Soccer playoff coverage, more NFL programming and increased world junior hockey championship coverage.
With the first regular-season telecasts not scheduled until Oct. 11, representatives from CBC and Sportsnet say their networks are taking a wait-and-see approach and will be prepared to roll out a different programming plan if necessary.
Hughson suspects that lost games will not harm long-term ratings in Canada. But he is concerned about the potential lasting impact on American TV ratings.
He is wary that the NHL will lose audience gains that resulted largely from a new NBC contract, the annual Winter Classic game played outdoors and the HBO documentary "24/7" that focused on the lead-up to the Winter Classic. He believes the threat of losing the Winter Classic and "24/7" will force the league and players to try and work out a deal sooner than expected.
"Those are huge events in the United States," he said.
Hughson is also worried about the impact on producers, directors and technicians as well as businesses that earn considerable sums from TV broadcasts. So is Larry Isaac, a 30-year veteran freelance producer who works an average of 65 to 75 games a season airing Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers games.
Isaac has produced games for "Hockey Night in Canada," TSN, Sportsnet and others since 1982. He now works exclusively on hockey for Sportsnet while working for the other two networks or event organizers on other sports.
He cut down on hockey broadcasts a few years ago after working on 15 Stanley Cup finals for CBC, but took on more work than usual this summer, such as the final two rounds of the Canadian Women's Open golf tournament, Rogers Cup tennis and Davis Cup tennis, to offset the effects of the anticipated lockout.
"With the various work stoppages that started in the '90s, I started to get a sense that I should not lay all my eggs in the hockey basket," he said.