Rogers win or lose?

Breaking down the recent 12-year deal between Rogers and the NHL.

In case you were away, Rogers Communications signed this week a 12-year, $5.2 billion deal for national rights to the NHL.

Now, 12 years goes by real fast but what will happen to TSN with Sportsnet showing at least three Canadian teams in prime time a week? We could even lose Don Cherry’s Saturday night rant since CBC no longer has any say on editorial content.

TSN officials should be following statistics which show that hockey really isn’t a big deal for most Canadians.

According to Stats Canada, just 11 per cent of boys and girls aged five to 14 play hockey as a regular activity – fewer than swimming (12 per cent) and far less than soccer (20 per cent).

Among Canadian adults, the most popular sporting activity is golf, which first bumped hockey off No. 1 in 1998.

And University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby has discovered that teenagers’ interest in the NHL has dropped from 45 to 35 per cent in the past two decades, and that only three in 10 adults follow pro hockey very or fairly closely.

Bibby says the sports media assume their own interest in hockey is shared by most Canadians. However, if CBC gets two million viewers for a Hockey Night in Canada telecast – a typical number – it means 94 per cent of Canadians went to the movies or did laundry.

So, while hockey has captivated our nation a few times – 1972 Summit Series and 2010 Olympics – the amount of devoted followers is declining.

One Saturday back in the day, my two roomies and I set an unofficial record for watching NHL games. We had a satellite and started by watching a Bruins’ morning game on NESN. There was an early afternoon tilt, followed by the regular 5 o’clock showing. A game in L.A. capped the night. We caught 12 periods of hockey in between playing cards and talking to our girlfriends during the commercials. You don’t see guys doing that these days.

Meanwhile, Bauer Hockey Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of ice hockey equipment, and Hockey Canada are in a global Grow the Game partnership designed to add a million new players to the game by 2022.

Hockey in Canada has experienced low participation growth rates over the last few years, and today approximately 90 per cent of Canadian families and their children choose not to play hockey.

“We’re starting in Canada because it’s home to not only a deep hockey heritage, but it’s also where Bauer Hockey was founded in 1927,” said Kevin Davis, president and CEO of Bauer Performance Sports. “Some might say our goal is too bold, but the research shows that non-hockey families view the sport positively, and many would ‘definitely’ consider enrolling their kids. With these findings, our focus now turns to breaking down perceived barriers.”

Bauer Hockey and Hockey Canada commissioned an independent research initiative to better understand the considerations and barriers for non-hockey families and their children, as they decide to play different sports.

The findings from the survey show that 73 per cent of non-hockey families would consider enrolling their child in the future, and nearly 40 per cent said they would “definitely” consider enrolling their child.

A major perceived barrier is that hockey is not perceived as fun. Bauer is finding that non-hockey families do not perceive hockey as a “fun” sport. Nearly every other sport in this research, such as soccer and baseball, was described as “fun” by respondents.

Vernon hockey coach and Sportsnet TV freelance guy Tim Milne tells me Canadian sports author Roy McGregor recently delved into the changing Canadian landscape.

“The days of rural hockey, small towns and frozen ponds are finished…replaced forever by hockey academies, winter clubs, spring hockey and dryland training programs,” said Milne. “Like it or not, the hockey development landscape has morphed and shifted forever from rural romantic to urban ugly.”

Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier is assisting Bauer Hockey and Hockey Canada in their efforts to attract additional players to the sport. Messier has been deeply committed to growing the game and has been a vocal advocate for increasing participation and safety.

I had the fortune, or misfortune, of covering Messier’s first year in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He was 15 and playing for the Spruce Grove Mets, coached by his father, Doug. Mark was one of the best and most feared players in a league which featured Darryl and Duane Sutter, Kelly Kisio, Keith Brown, Lindy Ruff and Vernon’s own superstar Terry Lowe.

I was a young sports editor of the Fort Saskatchewan Record in the Fort Traders’ inaugural AJHL season and I was scared to go near Messier. I would interview anybody else but him.

If anybody can convince young people to try hockey, Mess can.

NOTES & QUOTES: Hockey Canada and the CHL will announce the roster for Canada’s 2014 National Junior Team selection camp on Monday. Vernon’s Curtis Lazar (Edmonton Oil Kings) will be on that list and should make the squad for the 38th World Juniors, Dec. 26-Jan. 5, in Malmo, Sweden. Lazar, a first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators last June, captained the WHL Selects in a 3-2 loss to Russia Wednesday night in Red Deer. He wasn’t allowed to play Thursday in Lethbridge since the Oil Kings have three games this weekend. Five games in five nights is of course too much. Lazar has 15-10-25 after recording 38 snipes last year. Vernon’s Cole Sanford (Medicine Hat Tigers) is lights out with 16-10-26. He scored twice in an injury-prone last season.

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