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TORONTO-For millions of Canadians, there's only one thing that could be better than a Saturday night hockey game on the tube. Two games! Back to back.

Break out the Molson-and start counting the advertising revenues.

Starting Oct. 1, for 26 weeks, the publicly-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corp. will build upon four decades of tradition by doubling its Saturday night hockey coverage with two consecutive National Hockey League games nationally. Saturday night hockey has been an institution on CBC television since the 1950s and on radio for years before that.

CBC General Manager Peter Kretz wouldn't divulge projected ad revenues for the plan, but said, "I would say that the second game is a nice piece of change for us in what was before basically off-prime programming. It's not only a go; we're out in the marketplace and successfully selling it."

The reason is cheaper rates. "The second game we're selling at about two-thirds of the rates of the first game. And we've cut some very nice deals so far." CBC wouldn't disclose rates.

The new advertisers include Chrysler Canada and General Motors of Canada, which have signed up for the second game and are expected to join repeat advertisers Ford of Canada, Pepsi-Cola Canada Imperial Oil, Kellogg Canada, the Stentor alliance of telephone companies, Canadian Tire and Fiberglas Canada.

Last season's regular Saturday night game attracted an average 1.4 million viewers in the 8 p.m.-to-11 p.m. time slot, an audience two-thirds male and generally with a middle level income, according to Nielsen Marketing Research. An average of 483,000 men and 231,000 women between ages 25 and 54 tuned in to each game. Of the viewers, 439,000 earned between $25 thousand and $55 thousand annually; 159,000 were owners and managers, and 134,000 professionals.

CBC's idea for a doubleheader of Molson Hockey Night in Canada (production rights are owned by Molson Breweries, the exclusive beer sponsor) goes back about a year, Mr. Kretz said. "We thought there was a market for doubleheader hockey, and there was no real high-profile programming being pre-empted."

"Six hours of back-to-back hockey is an interesting experiment and it bears some risk, but we researched very carefully, and the indication we got was that the diehard along with the general hockey or sports viewer can't get enough sports," said Charlie Gamble, VP-marketing for Molson Breweries.

He added that there should be no shortage of advertisers for game two. "There's a group of advertisers who want to use hockey but simply can't get into the one game that's on air or can't afford it because it's an expensive proposition. The second game gives them a terrific opportunity."

Mr. Kretz explained that the doubleheader concept took a year to get on the ice because of the three-sided negotiations involved. "We buy [the rights to the game] from Molson, and Molson buys [those rights] from the league," he said.

"By mounting the second game for 26 weeks it allowed us to pay for rights increases [in a new contract] without really putting large increases to our advertisers, 5% or something like that and that might depend on multi-year deals," said Mr. Kretz. "The rights costs went up significantly more than that."

He said the increase allowed CBC to successfully bid for the hockey series against Canadian Television Network. "They've been after hockey for a long time."

Advertisers are also pleased. "It's great," said Lisa White, broadcast media buying director, Chiat/Day, which handles Nissan Canada, Canadian Airlines, Microsoft Canada and Toshiba of Canada. "We're looking into it on a purchase level and recommending it to clients."

"It means advertisers who maybe could not have afforded to run in hockey on a national basis before are going to be able to do it and get that exposure," said Aaron LaFontaine, VP-deputy media director, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles.

He said his clients Blockbuster Video Canada and Philips Electronics' electric shavers are interested.

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