TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's fantasy sports geeks may soon have a cable channel to call their own, thanks to Leonard Asper, former head of a newspaper dynasty that fell victim to the rise of online media.
"The League - Fantasy Sports TV" will not feature real sporting events. Instead Asper's proposed channel will air call-in programs and talk shows that cater to the millions of North American sports fans who are now participating in virtual baseball, football and hockey leagues.
Canadian media regulators gave Asper's Fight Media Inc the go-ahead on Wednesday to operate the channel, provided it can find a distributor.
Since timely information is crucial to any fantasy player's success, Asper is betting that The League will have a hungry niche audience.
In fantasy sports, "owners" assemble their teams by drafting and trading real-life professionals, essentially betting the players they select will get hot.
Statistics from real games - say, batting average in baseball, points scored or rebounds in basketball or touchdowns and interceptions in football - go to the virtual team that "owns" each player and aggregate to form the basis for the virtual league's standings.
In Canada, fantasy ice hockey pools are particularly popular, pitting coworkers or friends against each other for cash or bragging rights.
Starting in the 1990s, the Internet made game results more accessible, and virtual leagues easier to manage - Yahoo runs one popular service. Fantasy sports enthusiasts have become a key demographic for sports networks and leagues.
According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, there were 34 million players in the United States and Canada in 2010, up from 9 million in 2005.
Closely held Fight Media already operates Fight Network, a specialty channel devoted to "combat sports" such as mixed martial arts. The company is controlled by Leonard Asper, former chief executive of Canwest Global Communications.
The Asper family founded Canwest Global, once Canada's biggest media company, which crumpled under C$4 billion in debt, filing for creditor protection in 2009, and sold assets to Shaw Communications Inc and others.
Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by David Gregorio