TV sports cost goes up May 1

By Micaela Wylie-Arbic

Centretown bars will feel the pinch when the cost of showing live sports games goes up on May 1.

Bell and Rogers are both removing Sportsnet, TSN, RDS from the TV packages they offer commercial establishments with a liquor licence.

Those channels will now be available at an extra cost based on “seating capacity.” For some bars, prices could quadruple.

For businesses with 50-person capacity, the two TV providers will start charging about $150 more per month. For businesses with upwards of 300 seats, Bell and Rogers will charge nearly $400 more.

“I think it’s unfortunate obviously as a business, especially as Sens playoffs are currently underway,” said Gyneya Dicks, the general manager of Hooley’s Pub on Elgin Street, where UFC fights and the NFL are popular draws.

Most businesses she’s spoken with are going with new packages, she said, and will make adjustments in other areas of the restaurant if necessary.  While no direct statement has been made by local owners, some independent businesses may have to increase the price of beer or food, or decrease the number of cable boxes throughout the restaurant in order to meet costs.

Franchises on the other hand, such as St. Louis Bar and Grill, don’t have the same flexibility in terms of menu pricing as independently-owned restaurants do, so the spike in cable costs is harder to absorb.

“It makes it a lot harder for us. We already have tons of costs to hold and this just makes one more thing added. It’s just the way it goes, I guess,” said Megan Punnett, general manager of the restaurant at the corner of Elgin Street and Gladstone Avenue.

The restaurant seats about 136 and provides customers with 15 TV options. “They think we’re making so much money off their programs and they should be getting a cut of it,” Punnett said.

Punnett said the restaurant will have to pay an extra $270 a month plus tax to keep carrying the sports channels — nearly triple what the business is currently paying for cable.

At a time where Canadians are spending more on Internet packages than television subscriptions, as reported by the CRTC last year, it’s no secret media companies such as Bell and Rogers are experiencing a decline in TV viewership.

People may be less willing to pay for cable at home, but having sports channels at bars is a draw for many customers – putting those businesses in a tricky situation.

Restaurants Canada, which represents the array of food service businesses throughout the country, understands the frustration of owners and operators who have been put into this situation.

In a press release, the industry association stated: “If you’re a licensed restaurant, it could cost you thousands of dollars more to show Sportsnet or TSN/RDS. Help us fight back.”

“There’s a lot of anger out there,” said James Rilett, the group’s vice president for Ontario. “A lot of people are considering different ways to get their cable.”

It also leaves some small businesses in a position of deciding whether it’s worth keeping the sports channels on at all.

“A lot of restaurants might only have one TV on in a certain room, but because it’s licensed for the entire restaurant, they have to pay for the entire restaurant — even though there may be only four or five tables that have access to that TV,” Rilett said.

In a notice to small businesses in March, Bell said that “many TV service providers around the world have separate charges for sports channels to commercial establishments,” and that the new rates are “designed to reflect the commercial use of the sports channels and the value that these channels bring to your establishment.”

Rilett said Restaurants Canada is currently in negotiations with the cable companies to reach some sort of resolution that satisfies all parties. However, Bell has so far refused to meet with representatives in person.