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Shaw, Telus pick up Sportsnet One in time for hockey season

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista (R) is greeted in the dugout by teammate Jose Molina after hitting his 47th home run of the season off of Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Brad Bergesen in the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Baltimore, Maryland September 15, 2010.


The announcement that Shaw and Telus are picking up Rogers Sportsnet One comes too late for Toronto Blue Jays fans who've missed a significant part of Jose Bautista's run for the club's home-run record (among other things). Or who have decided to be fans of the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins or Detroit Tigers, who have appeared in the Blue Jays' absence on the rest of the Sportsnet channels. But it does suggest that the PR dumpster fire from the One's launch this past July might not impinge on the NHL season starting early in October.

While Bell, Cogeco and other providers have yet to follow suit in hammering out a carriage deal (Rogers was already carrying Sportsnet One), Telus and Shaw's decision to carry the new channel means there's now a template and a price for the channel that will carry a large inventory of Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks games in 2010-11. It remains to be seen what price will be charged for the channel - it will likely be cheaper in the short term for consumers than purchasing for pay-per-view games.

Rogers was hoping that pressure from hockey fans would force the hand of its rival carriers in negotiations. It took out large newspaper ads throwing the spotlight back on the reluctance of Shaw, Telus, Bell and others to carry the free preview period. But behind the scenes, Rogers' position was undermined by the NHL teams who wanted no part of the Mexican standoff between cable and satellite carriers.

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Sources tell Usual Suspects that had the games been unavailable in their local market because of the dispute, at least one and possibly more of the affected NHL teams would have made the missing games available for free on their website, thus reducing Rogers' leverage. With Shaw's carriage of the western NHL teams, that will likely not be necessary now. But don't expect this to go down easily.

Double Fault

Tennis fans were justifiably miffed when TSN2's coverage of the delayed U.S. Open men's final vanished like the Irish economy in the moments after Rafael Nadal's historic win last Monday night. As Rafa was raising the trophy at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the plug was abruptly pulled for the NFL game in Kansas City. No tennis analysis, no victory lap for Nadal.

For Canadian viewers with basic cable who'd watched the tournament on TSN and CBS, there was no coverage whatsoever on Monday. Granted, the rain delays and the decision by organizers to play the match later in the day, despite a poor weather forecast, did not help. Nor does the United States Tennis Association's decision to leave the main court in Flushing Meadows roofless to prevent such delays and conflicts with previously scheduled events.

In any event, do not blame TSN for the perfunctory conclusion to the match Monday. The Canadian carrier was at the mercy of ESPN, which decided it needed to hype the monumental Kansas City Chiefs/San Diego Chargers tilt rather than linger with the culmination of the U.S. Open, arguably the most important event along with Wimbledon in the tennis world. When ESPN moved on, TSN was left with no signal. Whether they'd have stayed longer given the choice is an interesting question. (Enterprising tennis fans found the rest of the ceremony on the Internet.) But the tennis double fault speaks again to the concentration of events in the hands of a few networks- as seen in the Sportsnet One debacle. Having purchased the rights to so many events, ESPN, TSN and Sportsnet are scrambling to create platforms that will satisfy fans. (Carriers are balking at adding those new channels.) Typically, tennis and motor racing fans seem to get the worst of this patchwork scheduling, trekking from channel to channel like Bedouin tribesmen to find where their sport has been dispatched.

It's insulting to those major events and their fans. But until the Internet takes over major carriage of events or more channels are made available, this is the result.

CFL on NFL Network

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Caught halftime of the CFL on the NFL Network last Friday. Hosting was Stacey Dales, brother of Calgary Stampeders punter Burke Dales and former WNBA star. She reports that the CFL games seem to be finding an audience. "At least the Canadian world is getting seen down here," she told Usual Suspects in an e-mail. "It's especially helpful for guys trying to break into the NFL."

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