NHL hockey makes it to the big screen

By Drew Davidson

Ottawa Senators fans have five more games to look forward to this season, but if they want to watch them, they had better be willing to pay.

The Senators are following the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs by teaming up with pay-per-view services and Cineplex Entertainment to offer the additional games this season. Subscribers to Bell ExpressVu, Rogers and Starchoice can order the games for $10.95 per game or $49.95 for all five. The games, however, will not be provided as part of the Centre Ice package, a subscription offered by Bell and Rogers that shows games outside the local viewing area.

On Nov. 28, the club also announced fans can watch the games at all Cineplex movie theatres. The price of one adult ticket is the same as one pay-per-view game.

“We’ve been biding our time waiting for the market to catch up with the digital world,” says Jim Steel, vice-president, broadcasting for the Ottawa Senators. “We decided now was the right time to go digital.”

Steel says 50 per cent of the market now has access to pay-per-view services compared to 15 to 20 per cent when the club first started looking. Numbers like these made the club realize it had enough of a market to make broadcasting the games worthwhile, he says.

But, what about the 50 per cent of Senators fans who don’t have access?

“That’s why we go to the commercial establishments and develop deals so they can show the games to their patrons,” says Steel.

So far, the Senators have signed deals with more than 90 bars in the Ottawa region in time for the first pay-per-view game on Dec. 12 against the Detroit Red Wings. This includes deals with local bars and chains like the Royal Oak.

Jonathan Hatchell, vice-president of operations and business development for the Royal Oak Pubs, says this service could be a great way to bring patrons into his pubs.

“We’ve heard out west they have had a lot of success in the pub and restaurant trade with ordering Pay-Per-Views,” he says.

“The bars with the service seemed to attract a lot of people and were able to increase the traffic.”

Hatchell says the Royal Oak has decided to do a pilot project of sorts to see if they get the same results. The bars have ordered the package in five of the its 10 Ottawa locations. The two Centretown locations are excluded for now, but will be added if the results from this experiment are good.

“We need to have some empirical data to look at and compare,” he says.

One Centretown location that will be showing the games is D’Arcy McGee’s on Sparks Street. General Manager Jeff O’Reilly says watching the game at his bar is more affordable compared to paying to watch them at home or the movies.

“I’m not going to charge cover or anything for them to come here so it gives them a viable option,” he says. “The first game is against the Detroit Red Wings. That’s going to be a good game and they can have a good time here watching it.”

O’Reilly says while the local Cineplex may be popular for families during the playoffs, his bar provides a more personal setting with the option of drinks.

“I’m a big fan of having a beer in my hand while I’m watching the game and I don’t think Cineplex is going to be licensed for that,” he says.

But, Hatchell says getting people to hold the beer, the ticket stub or the remote may be the club’s biggest problem. He says if the Senators continue to lose games, they are going to have trouble attracting viewers no matter what the price.

“If the Senators are winning, the fans will find some way of watching the games,” he says. “If not, I’m not sure how many people will be out.”