Big kick out of Premiership

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

Almost suddenly, it would appear, it's become a Canadian sports television property to covet more than ever. And one to mourn when it's lost.

We speak of the English Premiership soccer matches that continue to gain a stronger foothold in the broadcast world with each passing year. Then again, the passion of the supporters who follow these games -- and hallowed football clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool -- runs so deep that it's almost impossible for the broadcast gang to ignore.

Consider the reaction at Fox Sports World Canada, a digital channel which is ecstatic about regaining the rights to the Sunday 11 a.m. Premiership matches, beginning with Chelsea-Manchester City this weekend. FSWC also plans to air a match each Saturday on delay, and selected live games during the week.

"It's a great coup for us," said network spokesman Dan Kenning.

And a great loss for The Score, which aired the Sunday games a year ago but lost out on a renewal when Fox Soccer Channel -- the U.S. supplier of the matches -- decided to keep the English fare in the family when it negotiated a new soccer deal this year.

"We'd like to still have it," said Dave Errington, The Score's senior vice-president and GM. "We're hoping to find something to replace it, but it won't be as good as (the Premiership). That's the best you can find."

Rogers Sportsnet, meanwhile, will again present a Saturday tripleheader along with a 7 a.m. preview show and its own in-house product, SoccerCentral, at noon.

"We've got the (soccer) equivalent of Sunday afternoon NFL games," said David Akande, Sportsnet's VP of content.

A new player might soon join the picture. Setanta Sports, which is airing 90 Premiership matches in the U.S. this season in a partnership with Fox Soccer Channel, is rumoured to be considering a kick at a Canadian TV licence.

Setanta USA's schedule this weekend includes Arsenal-Aston Villa tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. and Man U-Fulham on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. -- matches that aren't available on a network in Canada (both can be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio, which broadcasts 5-6 Premiership matches live each weekend along with the always fun World Soccer Daily show weekdays at 1 p.m.).

Akande, for one, thinks the record audiences produced by the recent World Cup can't help but fuel the interest in the league play.

"I'm optimistic," he said. "The World Cup was so compelling and the audience numbers exceeded our expectations.

"Hopefully, it means greater soccer interest. And being a carrier of the No. 1 league in the world puts us in good stead."

A thought shared by Fox Sports World Canada, no doubt.

THINK TANK: Two years after its planned launch, Think Hockey -- a series of instructional tips for youngsters -- has been revived by Hockey Night in Canada. The clips will air twice each Saturday, during the pre-game show and between the doubleheader games. CBC had the ambitious series in its plans for the 2004-05 season, but had to shelve it because of the NHL lockout. "It adds a different element to the broadcast that we haven't had ... (since) Howie Meeker was doing it in the '70s and '80s," said Joel Darling, HNIC's executive producer. Among the instructors you'll see are 67's coach Brian Kilrea and Senators bench boss Bryan Murray.

PIGSKIN POINTS: In a sports TV first, Joe Buck takes over as host of Fox NFL Sunday while retaining his place on the network's lead play-by-play team with Troy Aikman. How, you ask? Because Fox is taking its pre-game show live to the stadiums where Buck is calling the games. Buck replaces James Brown, who now heads up CBS' NFL Today studio show. Curt Menefee also joins Fox NFL Sunday as a halftime and post-game host ... Sportsnet has inked a multi-year deal to broadcast two U.S. Thanksgiving Day NFL games and the Pro Bowl ... The Score is picking up ESPN's Thursday night NCAA games in September and October.

AROUND THE DIAL: New face arriving soon on the local TV scene: David Bastl, who'll take over as The Score's Ottawa reporter while Patricia Boal is on maternity leave. Bastl earlier filled in for Calgary correspondent Deb Matejicka in the same capacity, but the Winnipeg native has a full-time posting with The Score in his future ... Bonnie Bernstein, formerly of CBS, will be back on the gridiron sidelines this fall as a college football reporter for ABC.


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