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Hockey games will be inescapable under NHL broadcast deal with Rogers

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to media and fans in Toronto on Tuesday February 4, 2014. The event was to announce that Rogers will be airing 500 games across 13 networks for the 2014-2015 NHL season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to media and fans in Toronto on Tuesday February 4, 2014. The event was to announce that Rogers will be airing 500 games across 13 networks for the 2014-2015 NHL season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

TORONTO - Clear your schedule sports fans, there's about to be a lot more hockey on television.

A whopping 500 regular season games will air in Canada starting next season as part of the blockbuster 12-year agreement between Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) and the National Hockey League.

While the deal was announced last November, Rogers and the NHL will keep the publicity momentum going with a trickle of events leading to the 2015-15 season this fall.

Late Tuesday, the telecommunications giant invited advertisers to a schmooze at Maple Leaf Gardens, once the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, for an event designed to drum up excitement from the media buyers who will help pay off its hefty $5.2-billion investment.

They were told that Rogers plans to broadcast games across 13 different Canadian TV channels, including City, Sportsnet and cable channel FX Canada.

What's still unclear is whether longtime traditions like CBC's "Coach's Corner," and its co-hosts Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, will be part of the Rogers programming umbrella.

"We've had some conversations (with them), but not full conversations," Scott Moore, president of Rogers Sportsnet, said during a media conference after the presentation.

"We will be in a position to announce all our hockey commentators by early May."

Executives kept the focus on plans for Rogers to expand beyond "Hockey Night in Canada," which will still play a major role with 130 games shown on Saturdays throughout the season.

Rogers hopes to build a loyal following around other weekly events like "Hometown Hockey," airing Sunday nights on City. Hosted from different community rinks across the country, the series will feature profiles of NHL players and content about locals, alongside a Canadian team's game.

In total, more than 1,250 hours of nationally televised hockey will be broadcast, Rogers said.

"This is about giving our fans ways to take advantage of every opportunity to connect with our game," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

"We know that we're with the right people, the right partner to evolve and even lead in terms of what the developments will be in sports and entertainment into the future."

Televised games will include regional broadcasts of 82 regular season games played by the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers. Another 53 Toronto Maple Leafs games will be broadcast, with 40 of them carried across the country.

Some of the specifics remain unclear, including whether Rogers will face other regulator restrictions over some regional broadcasts.

"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," Moore said, before stepping back from his vision a little.

"We have national rights to all games Saturdays, Wednesdays and Sundays. We don't have all regional rights across the country — but we have the majority."

Some games will also be shown through a sublicensing agreement with the CBC and TVA, a private-sector francophone network in Quebec, will air about 300 games in the region.

Further hockey content will be available on radio and digital platforms owned by Rogers.

During the presentation, Rogers Media president Keith Pelley encouraged advertisers to think big and consider the various media platforms the company owns.

One of his examples was a special edition of women's magazine Chatelaine with recipe ideas for the hockey playoffs.

"We will leverage the strength of all of our Rogers Media brands," he said.

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