In another push to expand its sports media empire, Rogers Communications Inc. is putting a focus on footy.
The company has acquired 100 per cent of Setanta Sports Canada, a 24-hour television channel dedicated mainly to rugby and soccer matches, including the rights to popular Barclays Premier League events. In October, the channel will be rechristened Sportsnet World.
It's part of a series of changes to the Sportsnet brand that will gather speed in the fall. A new biweekly Sportsnet Magazine hits newsstands Sept. 29, and the makeover of Setanta goes to air Oct. 3. During a conference call on Tuesday to discuss the company's earnings, Rogers Media president Keith Pelley hinted at another "digital initiative" for Sportsnet also coming at that time.
Rogers has been working to build its sports media brand to compete with the No. 1 sports channel, TSN, owned by BCE Inc.'s Bell Media. Rogers launched its second channel, Sportsnet One, last summer. Last January, Rogers rebranded its FAN sports radio stations in Toronto and Calgary with the Sportsnet name, to pre-empt Bell Media's launch of TSN Radio stations.
Before the Setanta Canada acquisition, which closed in May, Rogers held a stake in the channel, which it shared with Ireland-based Setanta Sports, owner of Setanta channels elsewhere around the world.
"We want to continue to bolster, strengthen and build the Sportsnet brand," Scott Moore, president of broadcasting for Rogers Media, said in an interview. "It didn't seem to make sense to us – even though the [Setanta] service was strong and has met with a great deal of success – to support a separate sports television brand."
In the past, Rogers has been hesitant to spend money on marketing for a channel it did not own outright, or to invest in rights to new events, Mr. Moore said. With this deal, Rogers will acquire the right to broadcast the soccer and rugby matches that have previously aired on Setanta. It will also be investing in new content to increase the channel's appeal.
He hinted at new content coming to Sportsnet World, which would be related to a deal Rogers made recently. This was likely referring to the April announcement that Rogers Sportsnet would begin broadcasting Indian Premier League cricket. Those matches could now move to the rebranded channel.
Setanta is a pay-television channel and will continue under its current financial model in which viewers pay an extra fee for its programming.
"There's clearly an avid sports fan base that wants it, and it has made economic sense for us," Mr. Moore said.
In 2009, Setanta Sports Canada brought in $7-million in revenue and $1-million in pre-tax profit.
During a conference call Tuesday to discuss Rogers's second-quarter earnings, chief executive officer Nadir Mohamed emphasized the strong results at Sportsnet specifically, and the rest of the TV channels, "driving margins up to levels, frankly, that we haven't seen in a number of years."
The media division's operating profit rose 39 per cent, to $82-million, in the three months ended June 30. Revenue for Rogers Media rose to $437-million, up from $386-million during the same period a year earlier.