Lucrative lotto

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

The highest-rated hockey program this season could air next Thursday, right in the middle of summer.

Even before a game is played in the 'new' NHL, the viewership could peak when a ping-pong ball gets drawn for the team that will land phenom Sidney Crosby. With the lottery still up in the air for after ratification, there's no word who will get this lucrative event, although there's a chance everyone with a camera could set up at the news conference.

Once it's determined which city the Next One will play in, Canadian broadcasters will scramble to fight for the rights to that club's games.

TSN has the draft July 30 in Ottawa and could play a role in the lottery, which is the first of many hockey-related events the network is planning, according to spokesperson Andrea Goldstein.

"We're so happy for the league and hockey fans, we can't wait to put our plans in motion," said Goldstein. "We've been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. There will be several announcements throughout the summer for production elements as well as marketing and PR campaigns we will be putting in place."

There's no certainty the glory days of TV viewership will return. The only consolation might be if fans sit at home instead of flocking to arenas in the belief watching from afar is a protest.

Doug Beeforth, president of Rogers Sportsnet, doesn't believe that will be a problem in places like Calgary, where the network has regional coverage that does very well.

"My gut feeling is that hockey in Canada is such a part of our national identity, it will not take long for Canadian hockey fans to be back at the level of interest they were at before," Beeforth told the Canadian Press. "I'm not so sure that will be the case in the States."

As much as hockey fans will need a program to figure out which players are on each team, viewers will likely need a guide to the broadcasters as well.

Chris Cuthbert has moved from CBC to TSN, giving the network another premier play-by-play man along with Gord Miller. On Sportsnet, Roger Millions will likely have his workload increased as he and Jim Hughson pick up the slack left by Kevin Quinn, who was a casualty of that network's lockout-induced layoffs.

Over on CBC, Hockey Night in Canada will be much like it was before as Ron MacLean goes back to his vocation instead of hosting movie night and Don Cherry returns to his post. But there could be a shift in talent if the CBC brings in another voice from a different network to replace Cuthbert's void.

There should be no shortage of intrigue when business stories are off the front page and sports tales emerge. The league has plenty of potential new rules to unveil this season -- including a possible crowd-pleasing shootout format -- while Crosby and two groups of drafted players try to emerge as stars.

Ticket prices may not drop but investing in the product should be less of a burden for sponsors. Rights-holders have cut the price of advertising blocks to reflect an expected drop in viewership.

Prime time might be a dead area for the league in the U.S. ESPN dropped its contract with the league once the 2004-05 season was officially cancelled and will only come back with major concessions made by the NHL.

Doesn't that sound familiar?

WEEKEND HIGHLIGHT

The perfect final scene at St. Andrews would have the wind howling while Jack Nicklaus walks up No. 18 with the lead. It probably won't happen but it shouldn't stop anyone from setting the alarm to absorb as much British Open coverage as possible this weekend. TSN is picking up ABC's feed for the weekend, where Mike Tirico will be the host announcer. He will be joined by a grand crew of analysts, while TSN has sent James Duthie to report on the event:

* 2nd round, today, 5 a.m., 3rd, tomorrow, 5 a.m., final, Sunday, 5 a.m., Ch. 21

CLASSIC REPLAYS

Back when the hockey business took a backseat to the game on the ice, there were games like this: In 1982, what is now called the 'Miracle on Manchester', the Oilers got up to a 5-0 after two periods on the L.A. Kings in Game 3 of the Smythe Division quarter-finals. The Kings roared back for the win and the eventual series victory, beating a guy named Gretzky. Relive it on ESPN Classic Canada:

* Tomorrow, 10 a.m.

YOU JUST HAD TO SEE IT

A day before the NHL took centre stage this week, Major League Baseball held its mid-summer classic. And guess who still showed up: Kenny Rogers, the same guy who shoved two cameramen a week earlier. The Gambler was heavily booed by the Detroit crowd when he was announced. He entered the game and was promptly taken deep by Andruw Jones. In the highlight package on The Score, Sam Cosentino said: "Cameraman everywhere are ducking for cover right now" as Rogers fumed on the mound like he did that day in practice.


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