The MLB Network In Canada

According to several reports, Rogers Communications has applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to bring the MLB Network to Canada.  The application will be open to comment on Canada’s broadcast regulator’s website until the middle of July, but there shouldn’t be any problems with the content considering that the CRTC has previously authorized single-sport channels like the NFL Network, the Golf Channel and Speed for Canadian distribution.

The most surprising element of this news is actually that something along these lines hasn’t happened sooner. It was previously assumed that any hesitancy on Rogers part to bring the MLB Network to Canada was rooted in the corporation’s inability to monetize it to the fullest. That’s why they instead licensed “Baseball TV” back in August of 2009, with the idea that they could combine purchased content from the MLB Network packaged with Toronto Blue Jays and other Canadian baseball content. An agreement couldn’t be reached between MLB and Rogers, and the licence for the channel remained suspended until it expired last year.

At any point since MLB Network’s inception in 2009, Rogers could have attempted to bring the network to Canada, but the corporation remained unlikely to provide the channel to its subscribers without direct equity in it, as it already owned so much of the baseball content being shown on our televisions. This was a major factor in negotiations between the company and the network essentially going nowhere.

However, this most recent news suggests that Rogers has either given in, or sees an increased opportunity to elicit more cable subscriptions through the addition of the network to its offerings. According to the Globe and Mail, Rogers Sportsnet “has seen a surge in baseball viewership for its Blue Jays broadcasts … among adults aged 18-34 this year over last.”

In its application to the CRTC, Rogers states that “MLB Network’s market research in the U.S. and Canada indicates that Major League Baseball fans have a considerable demand for more information and insight about the sport of baseball.” It goes on to say that the addition of the network to Canadian airwaves “will ensure that Canadian consumers are able to access a non-Canadian service that will provide unique programming content in a genre that does not currently exist in Canada.”

In other words, viewers will be spared uniquely Canadian content on the channel, and instead be forced to suffer through copious amounts of air time for the buffoonery of Harold Reynolds and Kevin Millar. That’s something of a win-lose situation.

Unfortunately, the MLB Network hasn’t exactly been a dynamo for cable providers in the United States, where it consistently ranks last among cable networks in terms of viewership. This suggests to me that baseball fans are generally more interested in their favourite baseball team than baseball as a whole. I imagine this to be symptom of a schedule that consists of 162 games per season, and contests on every night.

Such a format creates strong regional interest in individual teams, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into the same type national or more widespread interest. While certainly the content of such a channel is of interest to me, and I assume, the typical reader of Getting Blanked, it doesn’t necessarily hold the same type of appeal to the more casual Toronto Blue Jays fan.

That’s why quoting increases in fan interest in regional games offers no evidence that the MLB Network will find its way to very many television screens North of the Border other than mine.