Fight Media will launch specialty TV channel dedicated to fantasy sports

Canadian sports fans will get a chance to let out their inner coach and manager by tuning to a specialty TV channel that will give them a forum for their imaginary teams.

Fight Media Inc. has been given CRTC approval to operate a fantasy sports TV channel, which will have call-in shows and talk shows for fans to get advice on their picks and drafts.

“Clearly, there are a lot of people who played sports and didn’t quite make the big leagues and want to be the general manager now,” Leonard Asper, chief executive of Fight Media, said Wednesday.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has approved the application for Asper’s Fight Media to operate what will be called “The League” specialty channel.

Asper said he hopes to have the fantasy sports channel on the air by early summer and plans to hire about 10 to 15 people. However, he first must negotiate deals with cable and satellite companies to carry the channel.

Asper is the son of the late Izzy Asper, founder of Canwest Global Communications and himself a former president and CEO of Canwest, which had broadcasting and newspaper properties that were later sold during a restructuring.

Fantasy sports leagues, including baseball, football, basketball and NASCAR, allow players to build imaginary teams by choosing real-life players.

“You can trade players. Let’s say you have 40 players on your roster, you have to decide which 24 to start,” Asper said in an interview from Toronto.

The new channel shares the same name as the FX TV series called “The League,” a comedy that focuses on a group of friends involved in a fantasy football league.

Fantasy sports participation has grown more than 60 per cent the past four years with over 32 million people now actively playing in the United States and Canada, says the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Asper expects social media to play a big role in how the channel covers fantasy sports.

“It’s not what the official team statement is. Does Robert Griffin III have a bad knee,” Asper said, referring to the Washington Redskin’s quarterback.

“It’s what does Robert Griffin’s best friend say on Twitter?”

Asper said he wants the channel to be the “CNN” of fantasy sports.

“We’re clearly fulfilling a need that is only partially fulfilled by current sports networks,” Asper said.

“We’re like any niche sports channel. It’s not a mass audience appeal channel. It’s for the people who do watch it and they watch it in a large number of hours and we expect it to be their home channel.”

However, the new channel won’t be able to devote a lot of time to live professional sports.

A condition of the licence is not more than 10 per cent of all programming during the broadcast month be comprised of live-event professional sports programming, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said in its decision to approve the licence.

Fight Media Inc. is Toronto-based parent company of The Fight Network. The Fight Network is a combat sports channel, including boxing and martial arts.

Asper said his late father would approve of his efforts.

“He loved entrepreneurs. I think he would be proud,” he said. “You sort of build things brick by brick. It’s a very similar way, I think of how Canwest started with one little station in Winnipeg.”

Asper resigned as Canwest’s president and CEO in 2010, saying he intended to “pursue other business opportunities and avoid any conflict of interest” with the ongoing restructuring of Canwest.

Asper noted that when he started over, he told himself: “This time I am going to build the kind of channels I personally like, that I think are popular. I am a psychotic sports fan. So I play everybody sport in the world and I try to watch them.”