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TORONTO (Reuters) - Rogers Communications Inc has signed a C$5.2 billion ($4.9 billion) deal to broadcast National Hockey League games in Canada for the next 12 years, elbowing out telecom rival BCE Inc for rights to the country's most popular sport.
The landmark deal, announced on Tuesday, will give Rogers, Canada's largest wireless phone company and a major cable television operator, national rights to NHL games. That includes playoffs games and the Stanley Cup finals, guaranteeing it a trove of popular content it can broadcast across all its platforms.
Rogers has agreed to sub-license some of the games, including playoffs, to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, the country's public broadcaster, for four years. CBC will keep its highly rated Hockey Night in Canada program, a national institution that it has aired on Saturdays since the 1950s.
The deal largely freezes out BCE Inc's The Sports Network (TSN) specialty channel, which has relied heavily on NHL games.
"We are surprised that (BCE's) Bell Media is not part of this deal," Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose wrote in a note. "Bell was clearly outbid by Rogers," he said, adding that Rogers will likely resell some rights to Bell, with whom it shares ownership of Toronto's professional hockey and basketball teams.
Rogers has also agreed to sell French-language multimedia rights to Quebecor Inc's TVA network.
The terms of the sub-licensing deals were not disclosed, but Canaccord's Ghose estimated they cover between 60 percent and 80 percent of Rogers' NHL outlay.
The deal gives Rogers rights to show games and other events such as the All-Star Game and the rookie draft on television, radio, online and via mobile devices.
Macquarie analyst Greg MacDonald dubbed the deal a "strategic coup," and raised his price target on Rogers stock to C$50 from C$47.
"It ensures control of the most valuable live content in the Canadian market for the long term, which benefits wireless economics," he wrote, noting that telecom companies need to protect pricing power amid maturing cable and wireless businesses.
Rogers is paying C$150 million in upfront fees over the first two years of the deal in addition to annual payments that start at just over C$300 million and grow to more than C$500 million.
"With exclusive rights across all platforms, we believe this agreement can also meaningfully advance the company's multi-platform strategy (TV Everywhere) with spillover benefits for the cable and wireless segments in what is to become an era of increased cord-shaving and cord-cutting," Drew McReynolds, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients.
Rogers said the NHL deal begins with the 2014-15 season and continues through the 2025-26 season.
"Canadians are passionate about hockey and through this landmark partnership with the NHL we'll be able to bring hockey fans more games and more content on their platform of choice," said Nadir Mohamed, the departing chief executive at Rogers.
Rogers said it expects the deal to boost operating profit at its media division from the outset and also to yield benefits for its cable and wireless operations.
Rogers and the CBC said the popular Hockey Night in Canada brand will be used across all Rogers channels and platforms on Saturday nights and that the two organizations plan to expand their sports alliance.
TSN's existing deals to show some Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens games in their home markets are unaffected.
Earlier this month, more than 1.5 billion pounds ($2.42 billion) was wiped off British broadcaster BSkyB's stock market value after it lost the rights to Champions League soccer games.
Shares in Rogers were down 1 percent to C$46.33, and BCE was off 0.5 percent at C$46.50 at midmorning on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The deal requires the approval of the NHL's Board of Governors and is on the agenda at board's December 9-10 meetings.
Additional reporting by Euan Rocha in Toronto and Sneha Banerjee in Bangalore; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Jeff Benkoe and Peter Galloway