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Sportsnet forms events division, slides into curling

Curling champion Kevin Martin welcomes Roger’s purchase of the Grand Slam of Curling.

NATHAN DENETTE

Rogers Communications Inc.-owned Sportsnet is moving beyond basic broadcasting, forming an events division that will own and produce the sports events it televises.

The country's No. 2 sports network said Thursday it bought the troubled Grand Slam of Curling from iSport Media and Management and will use the event to establish an events division. That means it will handle every aspect of the event's production – from ensuring the ice is in good shape to paying the prize money.

The deal is about a lot more than curling – it's about controlling the content that airs on the company's television network.

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Leagues have grown increasingly demanding about how their content can be used when striking television deals, and Rogers wants to make sure it can repackage its programming across different platforms to reach the maximum number of viewers.

"Owning world-class content is something we feel is important," said Scott Moore, president of broadcasting at Rogers Media.

"Rupert Murdoch said sports is the battering ram of television – I think it's the battering ram of all media. Being able to use rights across all platforms and not worry about if a league or owner is going to pull back certain rights is going to be increasingly important."

Rogers – which owns the Toronto Blue Jays and a stake in both the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs – said the series is one of the highest profile curling properties in the country. CBC dropped it last year after a financial dispute with its previous owner.

The grand slam series, held every year since 2001, is a series of men's and women's bonspiels featuring teams from around the world. The Grand Slam of Curling Series, as its officially called, is also integral for Canadian teams hoping to qualify for the Olympics.

The deal opens a new front in the battle for sports viewers with rival BCE Inc., which owns the No. 1-rated TSN through its Bell Media division. Both companies are now involved in producing events – TSN owns both the Dominion All-Star Curling Skins Game and Canadian NASCAR events.

Broadcasters across North America have been scrambling to secure the rights to sports properties recently, because live events are still able to attract viewers who want to watch live rather than record the programming for later. That's attractive to advertisers as the TV landscape becomes increasingly fractured as homeowners turn to alternative services such as Netflix and use PVRs to skip advertising.

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Rogers has been aggressively building its sports portfolio. Last week it announced it would spend about $160-million to acquire Score Media Inc., which is licensed as a sports news and information station.

The week before, it became the joint owner of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment with BCE Inc. (which owns the top-rated TSN). Together they own the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA's Toronto Raptors.

With the future of the NHL season in doubt, Sportsnet has acquired programming that has proven popular in the past with Canadians. Curling is consistently among the highest-rated winter sports in the country.

The 2012-13 Grand Slam of Curling series will start with The Masters, taking place in Brantford, Ont. from Nov. 14-18. The series will air on Sportsnet and the CBC, through a licensing agreement. Rogers hopes to expand the series to as many as 12 events a year.

Olympic and world champion Kevin Martin said the deal will help the sport build its base and the stability provided by a large corporate owner could help the series grow to as many as 12 events a year.

"The added coverage, especially for the young teams, they don't get on TV very much," said Mr. Martin. "Now they're going to be on TV more and more."

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