Hey sports fans: they are fighting over you.

Next week’s hearing at the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in Gatineau is not really about ownership of Canada’s largest English-language television network.  It is about the millions of Canadians with their Blackberries, iPods, iPhones and next generation cell phones who will want to pay a few dollars each month to receive sports highlights and updates on their hand-held, hi-definition connection.  And sports fans are just one of the markets being fought over.

It is CTV who’s ownership is being argued next week. This is the network that paid an outrageous price to buy the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games to squeeze out the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  And then they lured away the CBC’s best people to help them make it happen.  (These are the same kindly people who then demanded that cable and satellite companies pay to carry their local off-air TV signals.  Mind you, the cable and satellite companies did them one better.  As the dust settles, the cable and satellite companies own everything.)

So who wants to buy CTV?  It is not like there was a bidding war or any other crass financial argument over who would win the prize.  After all there are not many Canadian companies that could casually come up with $3 billion from the petty cash drawer.  Bell Canada Enterprises is back in play, again.  Even BCE had to leave about half the money in subordinated debt.

Behind the war of words next week, the war over sports fans is just warming up.  The CBC has teamed with Shaw Cable (which owns Global) to challenge the Rogers-CTV consortium for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics.  This will be the more interesting challenge as many will root for the CBC-Shaw underdogs.

We are about a year away from the more interesting battle over Hockey Night in Canada.  This is forecast as a three-way battle between the incumbent CBC, the Bell-owned CTV/TSN and Rogers’ Sportsnet.  At the same time, TSN and Sportsnet are expected to go toe-to-toe for the National Hockey League’s cable package.  The CBC-Shaw consortium’s last gasp might be the fight over the Canadian Football League.  If the CBC loses there, the once great network might as well close its doors as a viable network.

With CTV’s TSN starting its own radio network shortly, all the bases are being covered.  BCE will have a totally integrated communications empire that can do pretty well anything it wants.  And sports fans, you will pay for it.  You will pay and pay….

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