It felt for a moment yesterday as though we were being drafted into battle over the announcement that the rights to the Jays' mid-May series against the Red Sox were acquired by CTVglobemedia to be shown on TSN2.
The notion that we - like thousands of other Jays fans - will likely not be able to see those games frustrates us immensely. But at the same time, we wonder how much energy we have to engage in what is surely to be an almost pointless exercise in trying to convince these two media monoliths to give an inch in what seems to be an intractable battle over the sports media landscape.
A few points for the sake of context. TSN gets the highest subscription fees of any Canadian cable channel, meaning that the network has an institutionalized advantage over Sportsnet or the Score when it comes to acquiring content. A few years back, Rogers and Headline Sports both went to the CRTC to ask for significantly larger fees, in part because they saw the way that TSN was bidding up the rights to properties beyond what was rational. They received a very modest increase, but nothing near what they had asked for and certainly not enough to play the money game with TSN.
Before the introduction of the "alternate feed", TSN would timeshift programs that they couldn't fit into their schedule into the wee hours of the morning, usually resulting in a handful of pissed off tennis or Formula 1 fans. It wasn't a great move for the viewers, but in a battle such as this, the execs and programmers generally look at the audience as a secondary concern. (At their peril, but we'll come back to that.)
Now that TSN has evolved from having an occasional alternate feed to a full blown second channel, they are certain to use their institutionalized financial might to bid up the rights to any and all sports properties that they want, regardless of whether or not if they can fit them into their schedule. Think of TSN as the Yankees, having more money to spend and using it to their competitive advantage.
It seems as though Rogers' tactic at this point is to squeeze off access to theis channel from their significant subscriber base, thus minimizing the impact of the second TSN channel on their four allegedly regional sports networks. The thinking seems to be that if they let the second feed wither on the vine, then it will eventually go away. The thing is, TSN2 won't go away. CTVglobemedia is willing to engage in a battle of attrition over this incredibly valuable property, and they have the resources and the will to go to the wall for this.
With this latest salvo between the companies, we can just imagine how pleased the TSN-types are with themselves at having the opportunity to really stick it to Rogers. Acquiring a Rogers property and airing it on a channel that Rogers refuses to make room for has probably resulted in all sorts of giggling and backslaps and attaboys, much in the way that they gloated like shit-eating frat boys at their pointless and petty acquisition of the Hockey Song away from the bumbling navel gazers at CBC.
With apologies to Raptors fans, the acquisition of the Blue Jays games for TSN2 will likely prove to be the true test of this rivalry. Jays games traditionally bring in more than 300,000 viewers on TSN and around 250,000 on Sportsnet, numbers that dwarf the basketball numbers. The question is: How much damage is one part of Rogers (the BDU or cable guys) willing to do to another part of the company (the Blue Jays) in order to maintain their position in an ultimately unwinnable war?
(And following up on that thought: What is going on with the Blue Jays in relation to their corporate parents when they are willing to sell the rights to these games to a competitor who will use the games to rachet up pressure on the Rogers Cable unit to give in on their resistance to carrying this channel? Are the Blue Jays going out on a limb here?)
Our hope is that Rogers and CTV come to their senses and sort these issues out, because the longer that they allow this sort of tomfoolery to go on, the more likely it is that you will Canadian sports fans stepping around the regulated broadcasting system and finding the games that they want to see on internet streams in the unregulated universe. And they might want to ask someone in the music business how easy it is to get those customers back once they leave.
The longer this battle goes on, the more likely that any victory gained between these two companies will ultimately prove to be a pyrrhic one. So really guys: Smarten the fuck up.