thescore

Impact of the Rogers-The Score deal varies across the border

What sports fans primarily think of when they read about The Score probably depends on where they live, and that probably also has a lot to do with what impact Rogers' acquisition of the company's TV side (and some digital rights) for $162 million will have on their sports habits.

In Canada, the company's long been known mostly as the third sports channel, operating on its own unlike the conglomerates of TSN/Bell Media and Sportsnet/Rogers Communications. They've had some success with that, trying to appeal to a younger demographic and fans of certain sports (basketball, wrestling, Canadian university football) that were underserved by the other two companies, but it's been tougher and tougher for them to compete in an era of escalating broadcast rights fees.

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However, what they've become most known for in the U.S. and internationally is their innovation on digital fronts, between their popular stable of sports apps for mobile phones (ScoreMobile, ScoreFC and Sportstap) and their website content (including The Basketball Jones podcast and blog, Justin Bourne's Backhand Shelf hockey blog and more).

The digital side would seem to have the most value here, and that's why it's particularly notable that it's not directly included in the sale (although Rogers is taking a 10 percent interest in the spun-off digital side).

You never know exactly what's going to happen in the wake of a sale, and it's possible The Score's digital strategy could still change dramatically after this, but all the information about the sale that's come out so far would seem to suggest the digital side will largely be following the same philosophies that have led its past success. Digital is being spun off into its own unit, which will be run by current Score Media CEO John Levy, and it sounds like they're going to keep and build on the content and apps they're currently producing. In fact, the digital side could perhaps expand substantially following the spinoff; Rogers is taking the aforementioned 10 percent stake as part of this deal and providing "$12 million to initially capitalize Score Digital," so the digital side will now have backers with deep pockets to work with. That could perhaps lead to something really ambitious; given the current digital foothold The Score has built in Canada, the U.S. and around the world with limited funding, there could be an opportunity to go big on the digital side and reap the rewards. 

If they do decide to really step things up on the digital side, what form could that take? Well, there are plenty of opportunities out there. The Score could go in even harder on the mobile phone side, improving its apps and developing more content specifically for phones (video can be strong here). The company could certainly build on its improving positioning as an international outlet, using the credibility of the people it already has to lure more prominent writers and challenge sites like Grantland. Alternatively, they could use elements of both those approaches while also trying to develop a Canada-focused strategy, as the Canadian sports internet really isn't that full (especially in sports other than hockey). Regardless of what way they go, though, those who enjoy the company's existing apps, blogs, podcasts and the like probably don't have to worry for now, and that's the main extent of this internationally. (Also, Blogs With Balls this fall is reportedly unaffected.)

The implications of this move on the Canadian media market could be more substantial, especially when it comes to the TV side. The Score doesn't have a ton of rights, but some of the ones they possess have notable fanbases (like wrestling), and some of the sports they cover don't get a huge amount of attention from Bell or Rogers (like Canadian university football). What's most notable about the acquisition is that Rogers lands another sports channel, though, and one that's already in a relatively basic tier of most cable packages; that will give them more platforms for their content, and it could embolden them to challenge TSN/Bell Media for more rights. The Score's TV side on its own isn't necessarily worth a ton, so the $162 million price tag would seem a little high if it was only for that, but the 10 percent stake in the new Score Digital and the agreements to license/develop mobile phone software certainly carry plenty of value as well.

This does mark the further consolidation of the Canadian sports media landscape, and that carries its own perils. This may escalate the Bell-Rogers war, and fans don't necessarily win there, so this could carry some downsides for Canadian viewers. Plus, it was great having a third independent TV sports channel; too much of the sports landscape up here has become polarized between TSN and Sportsnet, so it was nice to have a different perspective and more of a focus on some sports given lip service by the larger conglomerates (basketball, American college football, Canadian university sports, etc).  However, the digital side of the company seems the most promising both domestically and internationally, so the news that it will remain largely independent, likely follow similar paths to the ones that have won it fans in the past and gain more resources in the process certainly seems relatively positive for sports fans—no matter where they live. 

Disclosure: I once worked with The Score as a website affiliate partner during their old Sports Federation days, but haven't been in business with them since that shut down in July 2011. 

Andrew Bucholtz

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing. He also covers the CFL and other sports for Yahoo! Canada.

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