Every once in a while something comes across the wire that just makes you think, “Huh. That’s… interesting”. That statement couldn’t be more true than when I heard that Rogers Communications has applied to allow MLB Network into Canada. Why is it odd? MLB Network almost directly competes against Rogers’ owned Sportsnet from April through October. Both show live games almost every day (sometimes the same games are on both channels). Not to mention that Rogers has a contract with MLB Network to broadcast six hours of MLB Network’s original programming every week on Sportsnet. Currently those programs are Fast Pitch (Monday through Friday) and the Best of Intentional Talk on the weekend. Rogers also once wanted to launch it’s own Canadian version of MLB Network. That was before the CRTC opened up the sports section of Canadian broadcasting, making the launch of Sportsnet One possible in 2010.
The license for the Canadian “Baseball TV” quietly ran out almost a year ago. Even with increased baseball on Sportsnet since the launch of Sportsnet One two summers ago, many baseball fans still want a channel devoted to their favourite sport. Hockey fans get NHL Network (make jokes about TSN also being devoted to only hockey here), basketball fans get NBA TV, soccer fans get GolTV and football fans get NFL Network. Hell, there are even American imports Golf Channel and Speed for even more niche sports. There was always the thought that a Canadian media corporation would sponsor MLB Network in Canada; however, there was no chance for approval without the support of Rogers, who control baseball content in Canada. Now with Rogers backing, and a sure carriage agreement with Canada’s biggest cable TV provider, it doesn’t seem like anything will stop this application from going through.
One thing that does make me wonder though, what is in this for Rogers? Surely MLB Network will only take away viewers from Sportsnet baseball broadcasts. Maybe not a significant number, but I can’t see MLB Network resulting in more baseball fans. If anything large amounts of baseball on Sportsnet will result in more MLB Network subscribers. Surely it has more to do with the cozy relationship between MLB International and Rogers Communications. Rogers owns all English-language MLB broadcast rights in Canada (Sunday Night Baseball is sub-licensed to TSN). The 2009 World Baseball Classic, distributed by MLB International, was also on Sportsnet. Both Major League Baseball and Rogers have a vested interest in the growth of baseball in Canada. I think this is one of the underlying factors in this decision by Rogers.
Here are some quotes from the “MLB Network Application for Addition to the List of Non-Canadian Programming Services Authorized for Distribution” document. I have only posted key points, and I have bolded a few key remarks within those points. The full document is available at the bottom of this article.
It is worth nothing that MLB Network will show 150 live MLB games per season in Canada, if approved. This is different from NFL Network, which has a special Canadian feed with no live games due to rights restrictions.
MLB International understands that, should MLB Network be added to the List, the service would be available to all distribution undertakings in Canada.
MLB Network telecasts up to 150 live Major League Baseball regular-season games as well as a collection of spring training Major League Baseball games. These programs will support and enhance Canadians’ ability to watch Major League Baseball content.
With all these various original programs, MLB Network will complement and promote the Major League Baseball games that are currently telecast on Canadian services, as well as other MLB Network programming offered while satisfying the Canadian demand for more baseball content and coverage of Major League Baseball in Canada.
MLB International submits that a decision to add MLB Network to the List will comply with the Commission’s general policy that non-Canadian services on the List not compete with existing licensed Canadian specialty or pay television services. The programming offered on MLB Network is dedicated solely to Major League Baseball. No pay or specialty television service operating in Canada today dedicates its entire schedule (or even a majority of its schedule) to programming relating to baseball. MLB Network will not be directly competitive, in whole or in part, with any Canadian programming service.
The niche offering and target audience of the MLB Network is comparable to the niche offerings and target audiences of other non-Canadian services devoted to a single sport that have been added to the List. These include the NFL Network, the Golf Channel, and Speed.
There is no significant overlap between the programming distributed on MLB Network and the baseball programming broadcast on Canada’s pay and specialty services.
Currently, some MLB live games are offered by Canadian specialty services. Rogers Sportsnet broadcasts the most live MLB games in English. TSN broadcasts live MLB games in English, and RDS offers some live games in French. MLB International understands that Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., the licensing entity of Major League Baseball, will continue to license MLB games to these distributors if MLB Network is added to the List.
As noted above, of the 2,430 live regular-season games in Major League Baseball, MLB Network only features up to 150. 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.
To the small extent that there is program overlap in that MLB Network will also provide some live games, it is MLB International’s submission that MLB Network will complement and supplement existing baseball coverage and grow interest in the sport of baseball in Canada.
Between now and July 13 you can submit comments to the CRTC on whether MLB Network should be approved for carriage in Canada or not. You can do so by agreeing to the terms and filling out the submission form here.
You can read the entire MLB Network submission to the CRTC here (note: it is in PDF format).