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The Usual Suspects

Sportsnet taking a pass on Canadian Football League Add to ...

If you caught the Montreal Alouettes-Calgary Stampeders gem on TSN this past Saturday, you’re probably asking yourself what’s not to like? Almost 800 yards of passing offence, comebacks, big plays, a dramatic finish and a streaker. When it comes to CFL football this was more fun than opposable thumbs. Really, who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

Rogers Sportsnet, apparently. While CFL commissioner Mark Cohon is looking for a tidy pile of cash for the league’s next TV rights and digital deal (TSN currently holds an option for a sixth year in 2013), don’t look for Sportsnet to join in the bidding. “We already have a summer property,” says Scott Moore, president of Rogers Broadcasting. “It’s the Blue Jays.”

Which will surprise virtually no one who’s been within reach of a TV remote the past while. Rogers owns the Blue Jays, of course. The team provides Sportsnet with content for one of its five channels almost every night from April to October. Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s cogitations are grist for Sportsnet Radio Fan 590’s programmers. The growth of the young team will be scrutinized in detail by Sportsnet’s new magazine launching next month. The team will be promoted within an inch of its life across the myriad sectors of Rogers’s media empire. The team is cross-platform heaven.

With that commitment, Moore tells Usual Suspects, there’s only so much shelf room at the Big House at Jarvis and Bloor during the summer months. So while he thinks Cohon an estimable fellow, Moore advises him to look elsewhere for someone to push TSN’s monopoly on the CFL. “I just don’t see it fitting in with our strategic plan,” Moore says.

CBC Sports would love to crack TSN’s exclusive deal with the CFL, but with shrinking finances at the Corp tied up in the sitcoms and dramas favoured by head honcho Kirstine Stewart it’s difficult to tell whether it has the cash should the CFL look to break up its TV package as it did in the past. Plus, the additional value of digital and Internet rights will make the CFL a more pricey proposition for CBC. (Shaw/Global talked briefly of getting into sports rights but later changed its mind.)

STRATEGIC ALLIANCE

What does fit in Rogers’s plans to dominate the universe, however, is its new agreement with Quebec’s TVA Sports. The companies plan to unite for co-productions but also join as bidders against TSN and its French-language counterpart, RDS, for the broadcast rights to Canadian sports properties. Until this deal, RDS has had the field virtually to itself (Radio Canada is virtually out of the sports business). “This agreement gives us the chance to sell ourselves in both official languages when we bid on programming,” says Moore, with an eye toward possible NHL, Olympic and World Cup soccer rights in the future. “It gives us a strong established partner rather than having to build one up ourselves.” The deal gives TVA rights to French language broadcasts of the Blue Jays and Ottawa Senators.

While Moore insists it’s still early days to talk about the next round of bidding for national NHL rights in Canada in 2013-14, it’s clear that the TVA symmetry shores up one of the weakest planks in Rogers’s pitch, a viable platform for delivering the NHL in Quebec. The other problem is more vexing, however, should Rogers take on CTV/TSN and CBC for the coveted rights for Hockey Night In Canada and the playoffs. While Rogers boasts CITY, OMNI and a series of specialty channels (including Sportsnet), it lacks a national network such as CTV’s, capable of delivering comprehensive coverage on the main dial. With just five CITY stations and three affiliates stretched across the country, there are large gaps in its reach.

Moore disputes that CITY can’t attract national ratings, pointing to ratings for programs such as Modern Family, 30 Rock and Biggest Loser as proof that viewers will find their favourite programming despite not having a national network. Still, Rogers’s current stations would be less impressive to the NHL in delivering a national package than those of CTV or CBC.

Industry talk holds that Moore, a former head of CBC Sports, might work an alliance with CBC to supplement Rogers’s own TV reach. But that may not pass muster with the Conservative government, whose members are less than enamoured of a public broadcaster taking content away from the private sector. There’s still plenty of time for Rogers to redress this gap in its empire before NHL bidding begins, but it will be hard slogging against CTV/TSN if it cannot fill the gaps.

Wait until last year

Headline in the Montreal Gazette last Friday about Michelle Wie, who was trying to defend her CN Canadian Women’s Open title in Montreal. “Wie 2 Shots Back of Leaders after Hole in 1” screamed the head. The body of the story contained the news that Wie had scored a 1 on the 11th hole for a second straight year. Nice but not true. When asked by reporters how her first round compared to last year’s first round, Wie said it was very similar, “other than missing a hole in one.” Maybe she got her ace on the mulligan.

AND ANOTHER THING

Love Sir Alex Ferguson. The Man U boss recently lifted his ban on talking to the BBC after seven years of dodging the Beeb’s microphones. Sir Alex got hot when BBC made critical remarks about his son Jason. Now that he’s found his tongue, Sir Alex wants to the world to know that... he and Man U don’t get no respect. “The FA may one day realize who has produced more players for their country than any other club in the world,” Ferguson was quoted in The Sun. “Maybe they will get some joy from it at some point in their lives and realize how important we are to England... They treat us like s***.”

Film at 11.

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