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Remember this number: $1.4-billion over 10 years. That figure could deliver the most coveted prize in Canadian sports television to CTV-TSN, according to sources.

The prize, of course, is Hockey Night in Canada, the CBC's long-time ratings leader, rights to which will expire at the end of the 2007-08 National Hockey League season.

According to insiders, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has already talked to the CBC and CTV-TSN about the bidding process.

Two well-placed sources say Bell Globemedia, which owns CTV and TSN as well as The Globe and Mail and part of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is likely to proffer a bid that the CBC may find impossible to match -- $140-million a year for 10 years, for a total of $1.4-billion.

That would be for everything: Canadian English-language broadcast rights, cable rights, French-language rights and ownership of Internet streaming.

Right now, the CBC is paying about $65-million a year for broadcasting; TSN's cable deal is worth about $15-million; and CTV-owned RDS's Montreal Canadiens' French-language agreement is for about $12-million.

That adds up to $92-million, meaning a CTV-TSN bid of $140-million would exceed the current amount by almost $50-million a year.

Could the CBC match that offer? Not likely. For starters, it doesn't have a sports cable outlet. Therefore, it would bid only for English-language broadcast rights and perhaps French-language rights for Radio-Canada.

What's more, the future of the public broadcaster's programming mandate is unclear. Committing more than $100-million a year for one sports property would probably be seen as a non-starter.

But the CBC holds two trump cards in dealing with the NHL. One is the tradition of Hockey Night airing on the network since 1952. The second is the threat that the CBC wouldn't bid again if it loses hockey to CTV-TSN.

However, a 10-year offer by CTV-TSN would eliminate the problem of the CBC removing itself from the marketplace.

Ten years is an eternity in the TV business and the NHL wouldn't care what the competitive landscape looked like in 2018-19.

Why would CTV-TSN raise the stakes by putting $1.4-billion on the table?

Hockey telecasts are moneymakers, particularly in the postseason, when advertising rates are increased and more games are televised.

On a good year, it's believed the CBC has been making $30-million and more in profit from the hockey telecasts. The network's current rights fee of $65-million a year, therefore, is viewed by the NHL as a bargain.

If CTV-TSN were to win the rights, CTV would carry the Saturday night doubleheaders during the regular season. TSN also would provide a full schedule of regular-season games.

For the postseason, the bulk of content would air on TSN and perhaps a secondary channel, TSN2, if it received regulatory approval. CTV would air some playoffs games, probably on Saturday afternoons and evenings, then carry the full slate of Stanley Cup final telecasts.

Even if the rights fee paid by CTV-TSN were so high as to be a money loser for TSN, the network's increased access to Canadian games would raise audience figures. Some of the audience would spill over to related programming, such as SportsCentre, to improve TSN's overall numbers. And when the audience needle moves, the ad rates go up.

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