'Mad, frustrated, but living with it': Ottawa sports bars facing rising TV bills

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'Mad, frustrated, but living with it': Ottawa sports bars facing rising TV bills

Ottawa sports bars owners and managers said they may have to hike up the price of beer and food to cover the cost of Rogers and Bell's new monthly fee to broadcast live sporting events. 

St. Louis Bar and Grill on Elgin Street is lined with TVs that play TSN and Sportsnet 24/7.

On game days, the location fills with Ottawa Senators fans to watch the game. Now, the location could have to pay an additional $3,300 a year to keep broadcasting what it offers now, according to the location's general manager.

"It's unfortunate," said manager, Megan Punnett. "It sucks, but what are you going to do, right? We've got to show these sports."

The location's bottom line can be tight to start with and this extra monthly cost won't help, said Punnett, who is worried she may have to increase the price of beer.

"If we have higher costs, we have to accommodate for that."

Canada's two media conglomerates, Rogers and Bell, are asking businesses across the country to pay an additional fee on top of their existing cable bill to air sports channels that broadcast live sporting events, such as TSN, RDS and Sportsnet channels. 

The St. Louis franchise chain sent out a memo to all its owners across Ontario with the new rates. 

Both Bell and Rogers quoted the company an additional $270 a month to keep airing TSN and Sportsnet, on top of its regular cable bill, at its locations licensed to serve 150 people, according to an email from St. Louis Franchise in Toronto. 

Larger locations that can serve up to 300 people would have to pay between $368 and $380 to air the two channels, the document reads. 

'You're stuck'

Two brothers who own separate sports bars in Ottawa are surprised and frustrated by the news. 

Tasso Vasilas already pays $1,000 a month for Rogers' premium package to air almost all sports channels on almost 50 screens at his bar, Hometown Sports Grill. Now, that $12,000 annual bill could go up.

"You're stuck," said Vasilas. "They're painting you into a corner. I don't agree with it ... I don't know why the [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] doesn't see that and do something about it."

His brother, Dean Vasilas, just celebrated his 25th anniversary as the owner of Local Heroes Bar & Grill in Nepean. He said when his Rogers contract is up in 2019, he will be hit with the change, too.

"Mad, frustrated, but living with it," said Vasilas. "What are you going to do? We just eat it like we do everything else. It's just unfortunate that they're taking more money out of our pockets."

Both brothers said the cost of labour, minimum wage, and hydro are going up, and this is just the latest fee having an effect on the bottom line.  

The Vasilas' don't want to increase prices to customers, but down the line said they may have to. 

Local Heroes patron Spencer Helgeson, told CBC he wouldn't be happy about a price hike, "but I'll still come out." 

Live sports attract big crowds

Rogers Sportsnet said live sports attracts big crowds to bars and restaurants and its new rates reflect that.

"For many years, these venues have paid rates for sports content that were not reflective of the benefits they've enjoyed, due to the high volume of patrons that gather to watch sports and the revenue it generates for these establishments," the company said in a statement to CBC News.

"Our new commercial package aligns with the value sports services brings to these establishments." 

Bell's new sports package for businesses comes into effect May 1 and prices vary with the size of the business and the channels they want, said the company.

"There are significant and growing costs to delivering the premium-quality Canadian and international sports programming that our business clients provide to their customers," said Bell in an email.

The new rate models are set by the content owners Rogers and Bell, said a Shaw spokesperson. They're offering the channels on a month-to-month pick and pay basis. 

"We understand the impact to bars and restaurants, especially given the economic downturn in Alberta, and we want to be sure we can offer solutions that are as flexible as possible for our customers," said Shaw in a statement.