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Rogers looks to bring MLB Network to Canada

Rogers Communications has applied to the CRTC to bring the MLB Network to Canada.

DARREN HAUCK/REUTERS

Rogers Communications Inc. wants to bring The MLB Network to Canada, but first it has to convince Canada's broadcast regulator to play ball.

The cable provider and owner of the Toronto Blue Jays wants to offer the U.S.-based service to subscribers. The channel only airs about 150 games per season, but runs baseball-related programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year.

Since launching in 2009, the baseball channel has become the most widely distributed cable television network owned by a sports league. Before it can go on the air in Canada, Rogers must win authorization from the Canadian Television-radio Commission.

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"MLB Network's market research in the U.S. and Canada indicates that Major League Baseball fans have a considerable demand for more information and insight about the sport of baseball," the network wrote in a letter supporting Rogers' application to the CRTC.

"MLB International believes that MLB Network should be added .... in doing so, the Commission will ensure that Canadian consumers are able to access a non-Canadian service that will provide unique programming content in a genre that does not currently exist in Canada."

Rogers has dabbled with the idea of a baseball channel before, having won a licence for "Baseball TV," but the company let the licence expire last year before pursuing the idea further. It offers a subscription package that allows viewers access to hundreds of baseball games a year called Extra Innings, but that is separate from the league-owned channel.

The cable company owns Sportsnet, which has a heavy baseball focus through the season and carries the majority of Blue Jays games. It has seen a surge in baseball viewership for its Blue Jays broadcasts, with data from BBM Canada showing a 42-per-cent surge among adults aged 18-34 this year over last.

Rogers argues in its application that the pay service would be complementary to existing coverage provided by its own spots channel, as well as those operate by RDS and TSN.

"Of the 2,430 live regular-season games in Major League Baseball, MLB Network only features up to 150," the application states. "In other words, the percentage of live games offered on MLB Network is minimal compared to the number of live games that are available through Canadian specialty services like Rogers' Sportsnet. Any overlap in programming is insignificant to consumers today."

Anyone watching the channel today would see a steady stream of highlights from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m., when the network plans to broadcast a game between the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves, before switching back to various highlights-based shows for the rest of the day.

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The application is open for comment until mid-July on the CRTC's website.

Single-sport channels aren't new to Canada. The CRTC has previously authorized the NFL Network, the Golf Channel and Speed for Canadian distribution.

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