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Zelkovich: Soccer Around The Clock (re GolTV)


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Soccer around the clock

Chris Zelkovich

Toronto Star

583 words

11 November 2005

The Toronto Star




Copyright © 2005 The Toronto Star

How things have changed.

In one of the many great SCTV sketches from the '80s, unscrupulous station boss Guy Caballero tried to extort money from viewers during a pledge drive.

Give us money, he threatened, or we'll start showing soccer.

"Hours and hours of soccer," he cackled, anticipating the viewers' horror.

Well, 20 years later station bosses are airing hours and hours of soccer, not as a threat but as a lure to subscribers.

Give us your money, they're saying, and we'll give you soccer.

The latest soccer channel on the Canadian scene, the second in this country's digital universe, is GolTV.

It's a 24-hour soccer channel featuring 1,500 live games a year.

Available free to Rogers digital subscribers for the next two months or so, GolTV offers games from powerful leagues in Italy, Spain and Brazil.

Also on its roster are lower-rent South American leagues from Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia.

There will also be World Cup qualifiers, with two games this weekend, and UEFA's Champions League coverage.

That's great news for soccer fans.

But you have to wonder if there's room for one more with a sport that's reaching the saturation point.

Rogers Sportsnet, TSN and The Score all air a good slate of afternoon and morning soccer games, with mostly mediocre ratings.

Fox Sports World Canada has been in business for four years, showing mostly soccer.

But it has yet to turn a profit and averages about 2,000 viewers in prime time.

In fact, when its U.S. parent renamed itself Fox Soccer Channel, the Canadians decided not to follow suit.

They didn't believe they could survive on soccer alone.

So where does GolTV, an offshoot of the American channel of the same name, fit into the picture?

President Mark Rubinstein says it's a no-brainer.

"In a multicultural and multilingual country, where soccer is next to motherhood and in some cases ahead of motherhood, there is plenty of demand," he says.

There is also demand from the cable and satellite companies, he says, because sports channels have proven to be among the biggest drivers of digital subscriptions.

Rubinstein says he expects to be in a million Ontario homes by January, which is ambitious considering only 4 million homes are digitally equipped in the entire country.

But Rubinstein says digital is the way of the future.

"We see digital continuing to grow," he says.

"Technology is changing so quickly we have a unique opportunity to establish the brand of GolTV in Canada."

The channel, owned by Insight Sports Networks, probably can survive if the cable companies package it with other sports channels, which is likely.

That means every Leaf TV or Fox Sports subscriber will be putting money into GolTV's pocket, too.

A couple of million subscribers can produce more than $1 million a year, which isn't bad if you keep expenses down.

Meeting the 15 per cent Canadian content requirement will cost a few dollars, but Guatemalan and Honduran rights won't set them back many pesos.

Those possibilities may be why Insight has jumped into the digital world with both feet.

It launched Casino and Gaming Television last month.

Next month, it will cast its lot with a 24-hour World Fishing Network.

Guy Caballero probably never even dreamed of that one.

czelkov @ thestar.ca

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