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The Globe and Mail

Sports Broadcasters ready to wage war in 2011

The story of 2011 should be the clash of titans. No, not Ovechkin versus Crosby or even Brady v. Brees. The biggest Canadian sports story in the coming year will be played off the fields and rinks as Rogers Communications and CTV/TSN size each other up in the wake of some unprecedented managerial shuffles in 2010. Can they co-exist - as they did for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver - or will we see the start of a war for rights and control of the next NHL, CFL and soccer World Cup TV rights packages?

"The cozy world of Canadian broadcasting, where executives traditionally chose sides for life, was shaken by the move of Keith Pelley from CTV/TSN to the presidency of Rogers Communications last summer. The reverberations from that were just settling when Pelley plucked his old running mate Scott Moore from CBC to run the myriad Rogers TV/ radio operations--including Sportsnet and The Fan radio stations. Finally, the dissolution of the BellGlobemedia consortium left Bell largely in charge of CTV/ TSN.

What did it all mean for Rogers, the most bureaucratic of broadcasters? Laden with assets that perform well financially but often fail to dominate in programming, Rogers could use pizzazz. And what did it mean for TSN, the acknowledged leader in the sports cable field? The first signals were benign as the sides resumed their Olympic broadcast consortium lovefest with plans to bid for the 2014/2016 TV package.

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That news led some in the industry to assume CBC was going to be squeezed out of the TV sports rights game as the two communication giants bought up everything in sight for the foreseeable future. Hockey Night in Canada might be no more if the cash-conscious broadcaster were forced to bid against companies that could amortize their rights costs against other profitable businesses - such as cellphones or satellite/cable TV operations.

But Pelley and Moore did not jump to Rogers to be a comfortable second to TSN in the sports field. With its five channels (TSN has two) and full coffers, the time is ripe for an aggressive push to make Sportsnet No. 1. Rogers has exclusive promotional deals with the western Canadian NHL teams and is rumoured to be angling for a piece of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC. Plus, they already own the Blue Jays.

If they seek to leverage all those broadcast assets, it could be a potent power play. TSN acknowledged as much, signing up its key executives in the wake of Pelley's departure. So Pelley looked to CBC, where Moore was vice-president of sports and revenue, for his lieutenant.

The plum is the next NHL TV rights package for Canada, due in time for the 2014 season. If Rogers and TSN want to form a partnership, they could crush CBC, which has controlled NHL rights in Canada forever. But the NHL needs a viable third bidder to keep rights buoyant. And a Rogers-CBC partnership - added to Rogers' properties - could freeze out TSN and vault the regional carrier to the top. Moore knows CBC intimately and could easily effect a partnership with his former employer that keeps Hockey Night at the Corp. but moves playoffs to Sportsnet.

From TSN's perspective, it's important it doesn't get squeezed, so it may explore a CBC partnership as well. TSN could also fire a torpedo at Rogers on the radio side, challenging The Fan's dominance. CTV's sister company, CHUM, runs all-sports formats in Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver. It has a frequency playing ESPN Radio in Winnipeg and, most crucially, the 1050 band in Toronto now playing CP24. Denials abound so far, but the potential is there.

One thing for sure: It won't be boring on the broadcast front in 2011.

Nazem we hardly knew ye

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What with Don Cherry's most excellent Afghanistan adventure on Coach's Corner, we missed The Suit explaining Nazem Kadri's demotion to the Toronto Marlies after 17 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs but no goals. This would be the same Kadri that Cherry insisted was being wasted in the minors. What was different in the Kadri episode - compared to similar campaigns for spares such as Lonny Bohonos and Josh Holden - was the Leafs cravenly acquiescing to Cherry, calling up the callow rookie to dodge the heat. Surely we'll hear all about Kadri's premature evacuation next Saturday? Yes?

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