Oilers Snubbed on 2021-22 Canadian National TV Schedule

The Edmonton Oilers 2021-22 broadcast schedule has been announced by Sportsnet, which is the exclusive home for all 82 of the team’s contests this coming NHL season. Coverage begins with Edmonton’s season opener against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place on Oct. 13.

There will be 60 regional games on Sportsnet West, featuring play-by-play calls from Jack Michaels, alongside game analyst Louie DeBrusk and reporter Gene Principe.

That leaves just 22 Oilers games among the more than 160 exclusive English-language matchups that Sportsnet will air coast-to-coast across Canada. Sportsnet’s national NHL coverage consists of Hockey Night in Canada (which simulcasts on CBC), Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, and Rogers Hometown Hockey on Mondays.

The Least Televised Teams in Canada

The Oilers are tied with their provincial rival Calgary Flames for the fewest games that Sportsnet will broadcast nationally of the seven Canadian NHL franchises. The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the way with half of their schedule, 41 games, airing across Canada, followed by the Montreal Canadiens (31), Ottawa Senators (27), Vancouver Canucks (24), and Winnipeg Jets (23).

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl
Edmonton Oilers teammates Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Why more Oilers games are not being broadcast to a broader Canadian audience is a bit puzzling. Edmonton features the greatest player on the planet, Connor McDavid, and another in the top five, Leon Draisaitl, both capable of making a highlight reel move at any given moment. The Oilers are an up-tempo team that creates lots of offense and are expected to be one of the top teams in the standings. They’re skilled, talented, exciting, entertaining, and fun. In short, the Oilers are everything that everyone wants to watch.

Demographics Don’t Always Add Up

It makes sense that Toronto and Montreal would have the most national broadcasts. They are in Canada’s two largest markets and further boast the largest out-of-market fanbases. One look at all the Leafs and Habs jerseys in the stands when those teams visit another city says it all about those Original Six franchises’ Canada-wide popularity.

Vancouver has the largest population center in the country, but it’s Calgary and Edmonton after that. No other center in Canada has more than one million residents, as of the 2016 census. And based on the orange and blue that dots the crowd at rinks across Canada, it’s fair to suggest the Oilers are the country’s third most popular NHL club. Edmonton’s dynasty teams of the 80s with Wayne Gretzky and a cast of future Hall-of-Famers captured the imagination of a generation, and those fans have remained loyal to the Oilers, passing that love on to today’s generation, who themselves idolize McDavid and Draisaitl.

Oilers Take Starring Role in U.S. on TNT

Sportsnet’s announcement of the Oilers broadcast schedule came just after Turner Sports unveiled the schedule for its inaugural season of NHL coverage, which will see the Oilers appear nationally in the United States on TNT six times. That’s the most of any team.

As part of a new seven-year national broadcast deal, TNT will air 50 games throughout the 2021-22 season, with broadcasts every Wednesday night beginning Oct. 13 and on Sunday afternoons in March and April. The NHL also has a seven-year agreement with The Walt Disney Company to carry games on ESPN and ABC.

These are monumental partnerships for the NHL as it looks to grow in the United States and reach new audiences. Turner’s award-winning National Basketball Association coverage is widely viewed as the standard-bearer in sports broadcasting and has been instrumental in the NBA’s explosion in popularity over the last generation. Turner is going all-out for its NHL coverage, bringing Gretzky on board as a lead studio analyst.

Suffice to say, they know what they’re doing at Turner Sports, which is why it speaks volumes that the Oilers will be the most-seen team on TNT, especially considering that Canadian markets don’t factor into the American network’s ratings. A game featuring the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, for example, brings built-in viewership from two population centers; a game featuring the Oilers and L.A. effectively halves that potential in-market audience. That’s why even at the peak of Vince Carter superstardom in the early 2000s, or when they were NBA championships a couple of years ago, the Toronto Raptors rarely grace Turner screens.

Even so, Turner sees ratings gold in putting McDavid and Co. on in primetime for an American-only audience for half a dozen nights, nearly twice as much as the average number of times (3.4) that the league’s 25 American-based teams will appear on TNT. By contrast, the other six Canadian teams will appear on a Sportsnet national broadcast an average of 28 times in 2021-22, half a dozen more times than the Oilers.

Residents in Oil Country won’t have to worry, of course. They’ll be able to watch every second of the Oilers this season. Fans outside the region can only hope that their favorite team goes on a Stanley Cup run that translates into increased nationwide Canadian coverage in the years to come.

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