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Tempers flare off the ice in Jets-Shaw spat

Winnipeg Jets' head coach Claude Noel is upset at Shaw Communications for glitches in the cable company's Jets broadcasts. REUTERS/Fred Greenslade


Shaw Communications Inc. has had a tough few days, especially in Winnipeg.

In just six days, the Calgary-based company managed to infuriate fans of the city's beloved Winnipeg Jets and irritate the team's head coach. If that wasn't enough, Shaw also reported a 32-per-cent drop in quarterly earnings and saw its share price trickle downward by week's end.

The problems started last Monday when thousands of Shaw cable television customers in Winnipeg missed the first period of the Jets game against the Pittsburgh Penguins because of a technical problem at Shaw. The glitch would have been disaster at any time, given the city's excitement about the return of an NHL franchise after 15 years, but it was even worse that day because the Jets played their best hockey of the season in that period and went on to record their first win.

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"It's a mea culpa to all of our customers. We screwed that up. It was a technical anomaly, that's the best I can put it," Shaw president Peter Bissonnette told the Winnipeg Free Press on Tuesday. The company said that to compensate customers, it would extend a free trial offer for the TV package of Jets games, which costs about $10 a month.

Two days later, Shaw reported that its fourth-quarter profit dropped to $82.5-million from $121.6-million a year ago, mainly because of a decision to abandon a wireless phone service. Revenue increased 2.5 per cent to $1.18-billion, but the results sent Shaw's share price down 49 cents on the Toronto Stock Exchange to $20.60. The share price lost another 20 cents Friday.

By Saturday morning, Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel was taking shots at Shaw. Shortly after the team practised, Mr. Noel began grumbling to some reporters about lousy Shaw cable service at his home. The issue came up later during a press conference before a game that night between the Jets and the Carolina Hurricanes.

Mr. Noel was asked if he was frustrated by the play of his team, which had still won only one game at that point. "I'm frustrated with Shaw cable," he replied. When a reporter asked if he was more frustrated with the players or Shaw, Mr. Noel replied: "No, Shaw right now is the top of the list. The worst is they keep you on the line for half an hour and try to guide you through it."

His frustration at Shaw had not subsided the next day, even though the Jets beat Carolina 5-3 for their second win of the year. "Does anybody know anybody from Shaw cable?" he asked at the end of a press briefing Sunday about the team's next game. "They are not taking any blame [for the bad service] It's not their fault. They are telling us the game was on. We're telling you we didn't get it."

Officials from Shaw were unavailable for comment. The company can take some satisfaction that Mr. Noel is even a customer. The Jets have a close relationship with Shaw's main rival in the province, Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. The team plays in the MTS Centre, practises at the MTS Iceplex and MTS provides all telecommunications services in the arena. MTS also broadcasts the same package of Jets hockey games on its MTS TV, at the same price and without any major problems to date.

It's not clear if Mr. Noel will switch services.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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