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The Globe and Mail

Bell keeps rights to exclusive NFL mobile deal

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning throws for the first down in the NFL Super Bowl XLVI football game against the New England Patriots in Indianapolis, Ind., Feb. 5, 2012.


BCE Inc. threw the challenge flag, and upon further review Canada's broadcast regulator has decided to drop its case against the broadcaster's exclusive mobile deal with the National Football League.

BCE and its Bell Canada division was locked in a dispute with the CRTC over its deal with the football league, which allows it to exclusively offer games to its smartphone customers. The regulator ruled in December that BCE had gained an unfair advantage through the exclusive deal, and ordered it to make the games available to rival Telus Corp. under "reasonable terms."

It was also concerned about a similar deal BCE had with the National Hockey League, but the broadcaster renegotiated with the league in December and is now willing to share that content for the right price. Last month, however, it told the CRTC it couldn't do the same with the NFL games because it wasn't allowed to under its existing contract – something the league backed up with a sternly worded letter to the commission.

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"The commission now has confirmation from the NFL that Bell has no right to sub-license the content at hand to a third-party mobile service provider," CRTC secretary-general John Traversy wrote in a letter to BCE. "The commission also notes that the NFL has expressed opposition to amending the current agreement with Bell. In light of the circumstances, the commission is satisfied with Bell's follow-up report."

The company will continue to offer games to its smartphone users, and said when the contract comes up for renewal it would be open to a less exclusive agreement. The NFL, however, said it prefers to do one-on-one deals with broadcasters around the world.

Neither the NFL nor BCE would say when the contract expires.

"[We]engaged in a competitive bidding process for mobility rights in Canada that included several wireless providers in the market," wrote Hans Schroeder, senior vice-president of media business strategy and development for the NFL. "It was our belief that this model, which is one we have used in countries throughout the world, is the best model for offering this set of rights in Canada."

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