Securing English soccer one heck of a Score

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

Long before they went all hardcore on us, a certain Canadian sports network came up with a slogan that said it all about their new direction.

"More than just The Score."

Sure, lots of folks still tune in for that ever-present ticker and the necessary quick fix that catches them up in a matter of a minute or two. But the reporting and analysis have grown, and live events have also become a bigger part of The Score's menu -- a statement that gained a rather significant exclamation point earlier this week.

The Score startled the Canadian broadcast world when it landed rights to all English Premier League soccer telecasts in Canada. With a bid the network indicated was worth $3.15 million US over three years, it was able to wrest the package away from Rogers Sportsnet.

Saturday EPL games had been a staple of the 'Net's schedule since it launched in 1998. The Score previously carried Sunday morning matches, but it reverted back to Fox Sports World Canada this year. Now The Score has that back, and much more.

"We own and control all the games in Canada ... it was important for us to get the whole thing," said Anthony Cicione, The Score's VP of programming and production. "We're very excited to have the EPL back. We had (Sunday games) last season, and the response from viewers was amazing."

Cicione insists the deal will be a money maker for The Score, although it won't be easy. The EPL specifies no commercials can be aired during the game action, which would appear to limit revenue opportunities.

But, Cicione said, "it's not something we can't make money on."

The Score also acquired the rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament earlier this year, and its complement of Raptors NBA games has grown significantly (30 games, more than anyone else).

The network might not be done yet. By the terms of its licence, The Score's programming can't include more than 15% live programming. But Cicione said "we're still well within that."

"We've got some wiggle room to acquire other properties."

Not that there's much available on the market just now. And, the network admits, big ticket properties such as the NHL are probably out of their league from a business perspective.

But this is a network that clearly has a more aggressive attitude. The Score will soon begin refitting its studio for high-definition programming, and expects to begin producing in-house shows in HD within a year.

More than just the scores, indeed.

WHITHER SPORTSNET?: They got outbid by The Score for rights to English soccer and the NCAA basketball tournament. Their Raptors content is down to eight games. Grand Slam curling is now on CBC. So, too, is World Cup soccer, though TSN has to share that loss. It's enough to have some pundits suggesting Sportsnet is spiralling into oblivion, perhaps even down to No. 3 status among Canada's sports networks. Not so fast, my friends. Have we forgotten that Sportsnet will produce 185 NHL regional telecasts this season -- more hockey content than any Canadian broadcaster. A Canucks-Oilers game shown in two regions Monday attracted 541,000 viewers, not exactly a shabby audience. The 'Net is also a rightsholder for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, which will be the biggest sports event on this country's soil in our lifetime. Plans are also moving forward on a new high definition-ready studio, which Sportsnet aims to occupy in early 2008. Does this sound like a dying network? Hardly.

HOCKEY AFTERNOON IN CANADA: CBC's Hockey Night in Canada begins its matinee experiment with tomorrow's Rangers-Senators game -- a 3 p.m. start at Scotiabank Place. Excluding Hockey Day in Canada on Jan. 13, HNIC will air five more afternoon broadcasts this season. "It's a chance for us to test and gauge what kind of an audience we can get on a Saturday afternoon," said Joel Darling, HNIC's executive producer ... Team 1200 and Sportsnet Sens analyst Garry Galley and HNIC's Cassie Campbell will appear in the first intermission along with host Elliotte Friedman. "We wanted a segment of hockey talk," said Darling. Another new feature in the second intermission: Beyond The Spotlight, a Scott Morrison-hosted piece focusing on stories away from the ice. The Sens' Chris Neil is this week's story subject.

AROUND THE DIAL: Fox pulled in a very strong 17.8 rating for its Cowboys-Giants game on Sunday -- the highest number for an NFL regular-season game on any U.S. network in nine years ... Rogers Television will air quarter-final, semi-final and final coverage of the Canada Cup women's qualifier Dec. 18 from the Rideau Curling Club.


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