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Rogers and Bell promise more live sports on mobile and other devices

George Cope,President and CEO of Bell Canada (left), MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum (centre) and Nadir Mohamed President and CEO of Rogers Communications hold up Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies jerseys following a press conference in Toronto on Friday December 9, 2011. The Toronto Maple Leafs have some new owners as telecom giants Rogers and Bell Canada are teaming up to buy a majority stake in Canada's biggest sports franchise company, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, for about $1.3 billion. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

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George Cope,President and CEO of Bell Canada (left), MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum (centre) and Nadir Mohamed President and CEO of Rogers Communications hold up Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies jerseys following a press conference in Toronto on Friday December 9, 2011. The Toronto Maple Leafs have some new owners as telecom giants Rogers and Bell Canada are teaming up to buy a majority stake in Canada's biggest sports franchise company, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, for about $1.3 billion. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

A deal by Rogers and Bell to buy a big chunk of the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs is good news for sports fans who want to watch their team live at home or on the go and on any device, the companies say.

Executives from both companies are promising fans of the NHL's Leafs and the other teams owned by MLSE—including the NBA's Raptors and the Toronto FC soccer club—will get more than just live coverage.

"We believe that increasingly that live content is going to be more and more important in the technology world and there is no better live content than the professional sports," BCE chief executive George Cope said Friday.

"It will bring fans closer to the teams than they ever imagined. You will have no reason to miss one minute or one second of any of these sports teams."

Cope and Rogers chief executive Nadir Mohamed say they will be able to deliver a variety of core programming as well digital extras such as multiple camera angles that can be played on computers, tablets and smartphones.

"MLSE offers some of the richest, most sought after content in North America," Mohamed said.

"With the new technology, it is not just linear broadcasting... I think the sports experience for fans is just going to be going through the roof in terms of the experience."

However, just how much the new wireless access or additional features will cost fans was unclear.

Bell already offers Mobile TV and Tablet TV plans for their wireless users for $5 a month. That give users five hours of TV watching on their device per month including popular CTV programs as well as live hockey and NFL games and highlights.

Rogers also offered live Toronto Blue Jays games to its wireless customers with its Rogers on Demand Mobile application which cost $5 per month as well as Sportsnet radio streamed to mobile devices.

Meanwhile, CBC offers hockey games streamed to the Hockey Night in Canada's iPhone application for $2.99 per game or $14.99 for the all the broadcaster's Saturday night games for the regular season, but that would be in addition to data charges by the user's carrier.

Streaming video can use up a lot of the data limit offered by most Internet or wireless plans.

As providers of those services, Bell and Rogers could stand to benefit from an increased viewership over Internet and wireless devices, especially if customers are encouraged to upgrade to costlier high-usage data plans to take advantage of new content.

"I'm 100 per cent convinced that Bell shareholders will make more money as a result of this investment today... and this will allow us to continue to fund the network investments we're making at an even more rapid pace," Cope said.

Bell (TSX:BCE) already owns TSN and TSN2 through Bell Media, while Rogers Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) owns the Sportsnet franchise as well as the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team.

A decision by the CRTC earlier this year means that programs offered on broadcast television may not be offered exclusively by companies like Bell and Rogers to their wireless and Internet subscribers. But the regulator's ruling allows for content produced specifically for mobile devices and other platforms to be offered on an exclusive basis.

The partnership between Bell and Rogers for MLSE isn't the first deal between the rival companies.

Bell and Rogers partnered to win the rights to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. During the Games, Bell offered live streaming of events to users over its network to mobile devices.

However Mohamed was cautious when asked if the partnership would join forces on a bid when CBC's deal with the NHL for the broadcast rights for Saturday night games in Canada as well as the Stanley Cup Final comes up for renewal.

"There is a deal in place and whether any party decides to bid will be something determined at the time," Mohamed said.

The CBC deal with the league runs to the end of the 2013-14 season hockey season and also includes the all-star game and NHL awards.

Kirstine Stewart, executive vice-president CBC English Services, congratulated Bell and Rogers calling it good news that MLSE would remain in Canadian hands.

"Increasingly, sports rights deals are dependent on strong partnerships. We are proud of our partnerships with Rogers on the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014 and with Bell as we prepare our joint Olympic 2014/2016 bid," Stewart said in statement.

Rogers already owns the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and has agreements with the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators.

The company also has deals with Major League Baseball, the National Football League, National Basketball Association as well as soccer, junior hockey, UFC and other leagues.

Meanwhile, Bell, holds through TSN rights for 70 regular season games annually with all games featuring at least one Canadian team as well as for the games in the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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