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Keith Pelley, President of Rogers Media Inc. speaks during an interview in Toronto, Ontario, Canada a Rogers Headquarters. (Deborah Baic)
Keith Pelley, President of Rogers Media Inc. speaks during an interview in Toronto, Ontario, Canada a Rogers Headquarters. (Deborah Baic)


Pursuing MLSE a survival strategy for Rogers Add to ...

Rogers Communications may or may not buy into Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (still waiting for the entertainment), but there's a compelling reason it should. For an unprecedented second consecutive quarter in the United States, cable TV subscriptions have declined. In the industry it's now called cutting the cable. Yes, the U.S. economy is in tough. But it also means that consumers are finding ways around conventional delivery of their TV.

Apple TV. Bunny ears for the new over-the-air digital signals. Netflix. Outright piracy. These are among the many ways consumers have found a way to stick it to the huge corporations that force unwanted tiers, call-centre charm and open-ended service appointments upon them.

It is a reckoning that scares the coaxial cable off the big boys. Why pay for 600 channels when you only want 10? Will consumers, disgruntled and feeling put-upon, simply skip the middle man and deal directly with content providers - as in the Apple TV model? The cable industry sees what happened to its pals in a music industry that collapsed beneath its avarice and stupidity and wonder, "Are we next?"

Here in Canada we're less prone to such insubordination. Canadians like big stuff. We like big government, big science and big communications companies who've made a fortune by simply acting as a relay for U.S. content. But when the chance comes to get even with your cable or satellite provider for the disembodied voice from Bangalore who calls to tell you you're overdue five minutes for $5 on your pay-it-forward scheme, even docile Canadians love the idea of socking it to The Cable Guy.

Thus the reported Rogers play for MLSE, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and other properties. The middle man becomes content provider (or close to it). The purchase smoothes Rogers' transitions to the portable media future of iPads and iPhones and such. As Rogers Communications president Keith Pelley told Usual Suspects this week, "There will always be a need for linear programming, but that won't be enough, because consumers are demanding that they experience it the way they want to.

"The key is that whoever controls the content will not be able to distribute it in isolation. They're going to have to be across multiple platforms." Translation: If Rogers (or Shaw or Telus) doesn't get you now with their cable they'll get you later with their phones. Provided they control MLSE's broadcast rights as they do those of the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and more. It's not a business proposition, it's a survival strategy.

CBC Squeezed?

We've talked about the CBC box before. With no secondary business to help it amortize its costs in pursuing NHL, Olympic and other rights, CBC needs allies in providing enough outlets for its content. While it's accepted wisdom that a Rogers/TSN behemoth could blow the Corp. out of the water on the next NHL bid, don't be too hasty to assume the cable boys will merge their interests. Sportsnet under Pelley wants to be No. 1, and TSN stands in its way.

As well, to max its profit on broadcast rights, the league needs more than one significant TSN/Rogers entity bidding in Canada. That brings CBC into the fray. The NHL knows the institutional capital it receives from partnering with Hockey Night in Canada on CBC. It saw how the costly transfer of the Hockey Night song to TSN fell flatter than a tortilla on the private network.

For the same reasons, we've always been amused by the threat of Don Cherry jumping to the competition. As we said in our book How Hockey Explains Modern Canada, Cherry at the august CBC is like having impure thoughts in church. Take him to TSN or Sportsnet and he's just like the rest of the analysts - unreconstructed hockey pucks. Context is everything. Outraged Suzukified CBC types are part of the act. At TSN he'd be just like the expensive Hockey Night song - an unpaid homage to Hockey Night in Canada.

Red Carded

Speaking of embracing your inner villain, nice to see the International Association Football Federation (FIFA) playing its black-hat role Thursday on ESPN as it was bribed to give, er, awarded the World Cups to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022). Everyone knows FIFA is corrupt, but selling out to the petrogarchs of Russia and Qatar was simply a master stroke of evil genius. Green this, world!

Shulman Promoted

As we suggested here recently, Dan Shulman has finally received the call to replace Jon Miller as the play-by-play voice on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. He's being joined by Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine. Which could make Shulman the Maytag repair man of sportscasting, waiting for a chance to get a word in.

They're back

When Hockey Night in Canada canned its Punjabi version of the show, it cited budgetary restrictions as the cause. Apparently CIBC was listening. This Saturday, Pujabi Hockey Night - sponsored by CIBC - returns to the air. Hanarayan Singh, the Punjabi Bob Cole, is back with the play-by-play. He's joined by new analyst Amarinder Singh, who previously worked Ontario Hockey League games on Rogers Television. "Mahriaa shot, keeta goooooal!"

A Pro's Pro

Finally, we didn't know Jim Kelley as well as some, but let us praise the Buffalo-based journalist who died this week at 61. That he filed a story barely 12 hours before he passed away is the central message of his career. We dreaded meeting him in 1998 outside the Buffalo dressing room, because we were doing a book with Dominik Hasek, who'd recently tried to wring Kelly's neck. Unlike some in our profession who live to do vendetta, Kelley couldn't have been more forthcoming and friendly when approached that day. He made our book easier.

So when Sportsnet was nudging him aside on Prime Time Sports in 2009, it was our turn to return the consideration. Kelley quietly asked us to play down his very serious health problems. He knew the faint whiff of illness might be all some needed to phase out a middle-aged reporter who still wanted to pursue his craft even as he did chemotherapy. It was one story we were content to get scooped on.

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