Game not on TV? Blame Leafs

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Thanks to the Grinch-like Toronto Maple Leafs, Londoners can't watch Sept. 18's Philadelphia-Ottawa NHL pre-season game at the JLC on TV.

Unless they're watching a TV set somewhere east of Belleville.

The Leafs exercised considerable muscle in the territorial rights department and booted aside a Rogers Television request to air the Flyers-Senators contest in the London market. A radio inquiry from AM 1290 CJBK to present the game was also squashed.

"London is outside of our marketing territory, but it's within our broadcast territory," said Leafs official Tom Anselmi.

"The league controls where the games are played and we're fine with that. But broadcasting the game in our territory was something we weren't comfortable with," said Anselmi, executive vice-president of business for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

"It would be like us going to play Edmonton in Trois-Rivieres and asking Montreal if it was all right for us to broadcast the game there."

The NHL is hungry to build a bigger audience for its product, but as far as the league is concerned, the Leafs have final say on the matter. Toronto opens its exhibition schedule on the same night in Edmonton -- a game that can be seen on Leafs TV.

"We would've liked to offer the Flyers-Ottawa game, but unfortunately, we were unable to get final approval," Rogers Television regional station manager Mike Patterson said. "We wanted to show the game in the London and Ottawa regions. With broadcast rights, it's not our call. It's up to the Leafs and the NHL."

The Leafs, however, don't control the Ottawa market. Senators vice-president of broadcasting Jim Steel said the game will be beamed by Rogers back to the nation's capital -- one of four pre-season games the station will handle for the defending Eastern Conference champs.

"In terms of broadcast rights, London would fall into Toronto's territory (which is anything in Ontario west of Belleville), but we share a market with Montreal that goes from Belleville east to Newfoundland and no one can stop you from sending the game back to your own region," Steel said. "We'll have the game in Ottawa."

The NHL has encouraged neutral-site games and Philadelphia has often visited the John Labatt Centre, a facility managed by the same firm -- Global Spectrum --part of the company that operates the Flyers. Philly faced the Pittsburgh Penguins last year in a game devoid of the teams' top three stars -- Peter Forsberg, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Greater exposure through TV and radio -- and the on-ice participation of Sens' young guns Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza -- could help stem the frustration some felt last year at Crosby's non-participation. But the Leafs' enforcement of the broadcast rights could create more negative feelings toward the NHL's exhibition season.

"If they're going to get their shorts in a knot over blocking a pre-season game, then that's fine," Standard Radio London's operations manager Barry Smith said. "Our focus is the (London) Knights, anyway. It doesn't matter much to us if they don't want us to do the game."


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