In three weeks the Blue Jays could meet the Boston Red Sox in an unexpected battle for first place.
Fans from coast to coast can flick on the TV remote to watch -- but not in Toronto. Not if you happen to be one of the 2.5 million subscribers to Rogers Cable -- the primary supplier in the GTA.
The series will be on TSN2, whose ownership has been unable to reach agreement to have the TSN2 signal distributed by Rogers.
It is the latest potential debacle in a corporate battle that has been a source of frustration for sports fans since TSN2 launched in August.
While Rogers had no trouble raising cable rates in February it failed to deliver access to 25 Raptors games on TSN2.
NHL fans missed a rematch of Stanley Cup finalists Detroit and Pittsburgh, they didn't have access to some first-round playoff action, and, if the Detroit-Anaheim matchup goes seven games, guess who's shut out?
"It's frustrating for Rogers. It's frustrating for us. And the fans are frustrated because they're caught in the middle," said Phil King, president of TSN, yesterday. "It's not a situation we expected; not one we're pleased about, frankly. We've got a deal done with every other big cable and satellite company. Everyone else seems to acknowledge that this is a station that people want. One company has not."
This was expected to be settled months ago. Now it has reached a point where the Rogers-owned Blue Jays might be seen everywhere except on their own cable network.
Awkward. "People say how does Rogers allow that? But we are our own little side show," said Howard Starkman, the Blue Jays vice-president of special projects. "We were hoping the TSN2 thing would've been resolved." The May 19-21 series is one of five Jays games on TSN2. There are another 20 on TSN, plus 124 televised by Sportsnet which is owned by Rogers, which competes for viewers against TSN and, now TSN2 which is owned by CTVglobemedia.
"It's complicated but all the guy in the street cares about is: 'Where is the game', " admitted Starkman.
Problem is, this is more than just about a sports network. It's giant corporations fighting over giant profits. How much trouble is it worth to Rogers to keep a competitor off its cable distribution service? Enough that they gave freebies worth hundreds of dollars to customers who complained about not getting those Raptors games.
Normally, cable companies pay the content providers (in this case TSN2) a fee for carrying their channel. "It hasn't been that big a fight about the money. It's a complicated process with many tentacles," said King. "If we were doing a deal for just TSN2 it would be done by now."
King said he couldn't divulge financial issues because they could "derail" negotiations. But, face it, this thing hit the ditch weeks ago.
Cable industry sources say TSN2 is asking for "less than one penny a day" from Rogers cable. To compare that, industry sources say TSN gets about $1 per home, per month. So, if you're a Raptors' fan paying a $1,000 a year cable bill, how happy are you to find out that if Rogers had been willing to pay TSN2 just $3.65 of that, you wouldn't have missed one-quarter of the team's games?
"When every other company can come to a deal except Rogers it shouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out ... Rogers is holding sports fans hostage," said an industry source.
King takes a conciliatory approach, noting negotiations were slowed by the death of Ted Rogers. King is hoping the recent appointment of Nadir Mohamed as Rogers' new CEO will precipitate a solution.
He also notes that while he understands fans frustrations at not having access to TSN2, much of what it provides would not have been available anywhere a year ago -- except for maybe those Raptors games. TSN outbid Sportsnet to acquire them for their secondary channel.
King says any suggestion the buy was a ploy to put pressure on Rogers to pick up TSN2 would be wrong-minded. "There's only so much we can cover on TSN. We couldn't fit in another 25 Raptors games. If I can (televise) 40 on TSN next year with or without Rogers carrying TSN2, we'll do it. We're not holding fans hostage."
Try explaining that to the guy holding the remote.