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NHL, TVA Sports launch French-language agreement

by Arpon Basu

BOUCHERVILLE, Quebec -- TVA Sports held a launch party Wednesday for its first season as the official French television broadcaster of the NHL.

Commissioner Gary Bettman was among the NHL representatives on hand to help begin what he called a new era for the League in the Francophone market, specifically the Canadian province of Quebec.

"We are going to become even more important, even more passionate to our fans in this province than we've ever been before, because a new era is dawning. It is a new and exciting era filled with commitment, filled with passion for the game, filled with expertise not just in broadcasting, but broadcasting sports," Commissioner Bettman told the crowd gathered in this suburb south of Montreal. "We could not be more thrilled to be ushering in this new era. It's going to be something that will make hockey more accessible, more exciting for our fans."

TVA partnered with Rogers to secure a 12-year Canadian broadcasting rights agreement with the NHL last November, one that begins Oct. 8 with the first game of the 2014-15 season, when the Montreal Canadiens visit the Toronto Maple Leafs.

TVA's portion of that agreement will have 275 NHL games in French on TVA Sports or TVA Sports 2, a channel launching Sept. 12.

"We will have hockey seven nights a week," said Serge Fortin, vice president of TVA Sports.

TVA's programming package was revealed Wednesday and will feature four themed nights of hockey. Saturday nights will be "NHL Super Night," featuring Montreal Canadiens games on TVA Sports and other games on TVA Sports 2.

There will be a "Stars Night" highlighting some of the best players in the NHL, and a "Great Rivalry Night" featuring matchups including the Battle of Ontario between the Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. Beginning in January, there will be a "Fans' Night" on Mondays, giving them the opportunity to vote on which game they would like to watch.

TVA will broadcast NHL tentpole events including the NHL All-Star Game and Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, and will be the exclusive French broadcaster for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Fortin added that TVA Sports has chosen games involving teams that appeal to Quebec fans, with 33 Pittsburgh Penguins games, 32 Boston Bruins games, 28 Colorado Avalanche games, and 28 Toronto Maple Leafs games. TVA Sports will broadcast 22 national Canadiens games on Saturdays.

Commissioner Bettman was asked in a session with the media following the launch event why he decided to sign such a long-term broadcasting agreement with Rogers and TVA, considering how rights fees in sports appear to be continuing to grow. He said if it turns out the NHL is getting underpaid for its rights by the end of the agreement, it will ultimately be good news for the League because it means its media rights are more valuable than ever. He also said the long-term nature of the agreement makes it easier for the League's broadcast partners to justify heavy investments made to deliver the game to fans.

"The purpose of having a long-term deal is so that parties can come together and invest in each other," Commissioner Bettman said. "Rogers and TVA are investing extraordinary sums of money, building studios, hiring talent, doing shoulder programming, being ready to light up a variety of platforms so that the fan experience can be the best that it can be. They are scheduling us, they are going to broadcast us, they are going to promote us as well as it's ever been done, if not better. That's what you get by signing up for a long-term partnership."

Ultimately, Commissioner Bettman added, the fans come out the big winners because of the new ways the game will be presented to them over the next 12 years.

"The great news about all of that is it's great for the fans," he said. "The product we are going to be putting out, whether it's traditional TV or specialty TV or the digital platforms, is going to be unlike anything anybody's ever seen before: More of it in more ways than ever before, and for the fans that should be exciting. That's why we did it."

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