See also my story on this in The Gazette.
Though it had seemed cool to the idea previously, Rogers says it is now willing to make a "reasonable offer" to Bell Media to purchase CKGM (TSN Radio 690) and keep it running in its English-language all-sports format.
The revelation came through Rogers's final submission to the CRTC dated Wednesday. Most of it focused on Rogers's position that Bell should not be allowed to acquire The Movie Network. But it also included a proposal to solve the problem of the Montreal English radio market and the fate of the money-losing all-sports station.
The full submission can be read here. The relevant paragraphs are these:
45. Finally, on the separate issue of the radio station CKGM-AM and Bell Media’s proposal to obtain an exception to the Commission’s common ownership policy, the Bell/Astral panel indicated during the hearing that it would consider shutting the station down if the Commission did not allow Bell Media to operate 4 radio stations in the Montreal market. We understand that Bell Media was concerned that if an exception to the common ownership policy was not granted, then radio listeners in Montreal would be denied access to sports radio in that city.
46. With that concern in mind, Rogers Media is informing the Commission that it would be prepared to make Bell a reasonable offer to acquire CKGM-AM and that we would be prepared to operate it as an English sports radio service. Given our sports properties (which include the Fan 590 in Toronto) and the fact that we now have a presence in the Montreal market with our recent acquisition of CJNT-DT, Rogers Media is confident that it has the infrastructure in place to operate the station profitably.
47. If there are concerns that there would be no buyers for CKGM-AM and that Montreal radio listeners would be deprived of a sports service, we believe that our commitment to make a reasonable offer for the station should allay them.
This would seem to solve both the problem of Bell owning too many stations in the market and of wanting to keep an all-sports station here. But there are some caveats. First of all, the station wouldn't be called TSN 690 anymore. Bell has no intention of licensing the brand, and Rogers wouldn't want it anyway. So it would probably be called Sportsnet 690 The Fan (which would be easily confused with Fan stations at 960 and 590).
More importantly, Bell has said that if it sold the station it would not sublicense radio broadcast rights to Canadiens games, instead moving them to CJAD. And CJAD is already the broadcaster for Alouettes and Impact games. So The Fan wouldn't start off with much in the way of local broadcast rights.
Nevertheless, Rogers is obviously aware of this, and feels it can make the station profitable, thanks to its recent acquisition of CJNT, which gives Rogers its first broadcast property in the market. Sportsnet's existing resources in Montreal, added to those that will work on a weekly sports show on CJNT, and the national resources of Sportsnet TV and radio, will also help.
It's unclear if Rogers was one of the two players that Bell told the CRTC had made "informal" inquiries about CKGM. We do know that the other was Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy Media, which has licences for news-talk AM stations in English and French and is waiting for a decision from the CRTC on an application for a French-language AM sports station in the market. Tietolman has not hidden that he would be willing to acquire CJAD in particular, and possibly other stations put up for sale as well.
Rogers was asked about acquiring this station during last year's Bell-Astral hearing. They weren't terribly enthusiastic, but didn't dismiss the idea either. Here's what Susan Wheeler, Rogers's VP of regulatory affairs, told the commission on Sept. 12:
Certainly, we would be interested in expanding our sports radio network across the country. So that's certainly something of interest to us. Whether it's a viable business model without the Canadiens rights I think is something that we would have to do the math on.
But I also, I guess, would question the limitations that Bell, you know, has said in previous testimony that they don't have the rights to sub-license the Canadiens rights. So I'm wondering whether that's something the Commission could look into further.
Bell has until May 21 to provide a final written reply to the commission on this and other issues brought up by interveners based on new information brought up at the hearing.
UPDATE (May 21): Bell says this is the first it hears of Rogers being interested in the station, and "we question the sincerity of this claim." Bell also questions why Rogers is only bringing this up now, instead of in its original intervention or at the hearing.
The full paragraph about CKGM in Bell's reply is here:
Rogers made a last minute claim that they would make a reasonable offer to purchase CKGM and operate it as a English-language sports service. We question the sincerity of this claim or its appropriateness at this stage in the process given the guidelines the Commission set for final Intervener comments. There is no actual evidence on the record that they would or could make such an offer or that they could viably operate CKGM as a sports service. The claim was raised for the first time in the final paragraphs of their final comments after not having even been hinted at one time in the whole course of the proceeding even though the exception to the Common Ownership Policy for CKGM has been a consistent part of our application since it was filed. Even since this surprise announcement, Rogers has not attempted to contact Bell Media about this possibility.