MTS and Shaw have hit the city's minor-league rinks with big-league prices to watch the Winnipeg Jets on television in their lobbies.
Several of the city's neighbourhood indoor rinks were shocked to discover that to receive the TSN Jets channel, their television provider is charging them a non-residential rate. Shaw is billing them $60 monthly while MTS's charge will hit $900 (about $180 monthly) for the rest of the season.
"They're treating us like a commercial customer but we're a non-profit," said Murray Harding, recreation director at Richmond Kings Community Centre in Fort Richmond, which is an MTS customer.
"That's pretty steep for what it is," Tom Cardinal, general manager of the Southdale Community Centre, a Shaw customer, said. "For that money, I don't know if we'll bother getting it."
TSN Jets is a regional channel that broadcasts all team games that aren't carried on the main TSN network or CBC. Home subscribers are charged $9.95 monthly by Shaw and MTS.
Community centre officials said they installed flat-screens TVs in their facilities -- some in the lobby, some near the canteens -- as a courtesy for parents, giving them something to watch before the kids' games.
The TVs are all tuned to a sports channel and those contacted by the Free Press said they took advantage of the free channel preview offered by MTS and Shaw to tune in the TSN Jets channel. The free offer from MTS ended at the end of October; Shaw's free view continues until Dec. 1. The last regular season game broadcast on the TSN Jets channel is April 5, a home game against the New York Islanders.
Harding said MTS told him the high monthly charge had been imposed by Bell Media, which owns the rights to the TSN Jets broadcasts, adding the higher commercial rate was rationalized because there's a belief the non-profit rinks can make money off the Jets channel.
But Jacques Levesque, general manager of the Dakota Kings Community Centre, a Shaw customer, said there is no comparison between a sports bar and a community centre arena.
"I don't know many people who'd get off their couch at home to come to watch the games in our canteen," Levesque said.
Greg Pultz, Shaw's vice-president of operations, said the non-profit community centres are charged the same rate it applies to all commercial operators such as sports bars and restaurants.
Pultz said several non-profit hockey facilities in Alberta have licensed venues that are profit-making, adding he assumed the Winnipeg facilities operate on the same basis.
Pultz said Shaw will review a request from any non-profit community centre to have the more expensive commercial rate rescinded.
"We'd look at each one on a case-by-case basis," Pultz said.
MTS spokeswoman Selena Hinds said in an email response its cost to pick up the TSN Jets channel from Bell Media was expensive and it has to pass that along to its subscribers.
"So we have to charge for it," Hinds said.
Hinds said MTS does not differentiate between non-profit rinks and sports bars, adding the non-residential rate is based on the potential seating capacity of each facility.
Hinds did not explain why MTS's charge to the community rinks is almost three times that charged by Shaw, but said its rates are competitive.
Steve Kazubek, manager of the Varsity View Community Centre, said bars and restaurants can easily recover the higher cost of the Jets channel through liquor sales, something the non-profit community centres cannot do.
"We have the TV in the lobby for the parents who are killing time before their kids' game starts," Kazubek said. "We're not making money from it. I'd rather spend the $900 to lower the ice rates before I give it to MTS."