The Maple Leafs in-house TV network is fading to black.
More than 20 years after the team launched Leafs TV, rebranding it Leafs Nation Network in 2017, the specialty channel will not be back in its current form.
“Thank you for your viewership,” the pay channel advised customers who tuned in the past few days. “As of Sept. 1, Leafs Nation Network TV services will no longer be on air.”:
Multiple staff confirmed the news to the Sun they’d been informed a few weeks ago. But it’s believed few if any jobs will be lost, as many of the functions LNN provided will likely go to the digital format. A Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
When it debuted in November of 2000, it was a game changer in the National Hockey League. Given the enduring popularity of the Leafs across much of the country, it made sense at the time to gain an advantage on the various networks who were in competition to show their games, particularly regional, and produce that content themselves.
Leafs TV began with a strong presence for practices and games, home and road, dedicated pre and post-game talk shows, weekend roundtables with guest journalists from across the league and a share of the lucrative broadcast pie.
Former NHL broadcasting executive John Shannon was brought in to oversee the roll-out, complete with an off-site studio, as well as get Raptors TV off the ground. Regular hosts such as Paul Hendrick and the presence of Leaf broadcasters Joe Bowen, Marlies’ Todd Crocker, analysts Harry Neale, Jim Ralph, Mark Osborne, Bob McGill, Greg Millen and others who’ve since become regulars at other networks gave it instant credibility. It began HD simulcasts in 2006.
Though it was an arm of MLSE, initially Leafs TV staff and guest contributors were encouraged to be critical. A club record dry spell of seven years missing the playoffs certainly tested that policy.
But the selling of the franchise by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to majority ownership of the Bell-Rogers communications consortium a decade ago, worth $1.32 billion for all sports properties including Leafs TV, began to make the channel redundant. And the mega-deal Rogers made in 2014 to be the dominant NHL network allotted a reduced number of games to TSN and left Leafs TV without any live content of its namesake.
LNN had been getting by on such features as the popular ‘classic’ games and interviews from as far back as the 1960’s and 70s, as well as edited game highlights and live Marlies’ AHL contests. However, the advent of streaming, plus Twitter, other social media and approval for companies such as Amazon to produce a Leaf documentary on the 2021 season became the go-to platforms for team-exclusive content.
“Leafs TV was a big bargaining chip at the time of the (Rogers-Bell sale), but they’ve come to see that (lack of game broadcast presence) doesn’t work,” a source told the Sun.
But many other NHL teams have copied the Leafs TV model.
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