Leonard Asper gets back in the ring at Fight Network

He looked down for the count earlier this year, but there’s apparently still some fight left in former Canwest president and CEO Leonard Asper. The Fight Network announced today that a company controlled by Asper, who resigned from Canwest in March, has acquired a “significant ownership stake” in the specialty TV channel. Asper will also […]

He looked down for the count earlier this year, but there’s apparently still some fight left in former Canwest president and CEO Leonard Asper.

The Fight Network announced today that a company controlled by Asper, who resigned from Canwest in March, has acquired a “significant ownership stake” in the specialty TV channel.

Asper will also become CEO of the service, which offers around-the-clock coverage of combat sports including mixed martial arts and boxing.

Asper, 46, is the most visible member of a revamped ownership group that also includes former Fight Network shareholders Loudon Owen and Ed Nordholm. While Fight Network GM Anthony Cicione wouldn’t disclose Asper’s ownership stake, published reports have pegged the amount at 30%.

A brief announcement on The Fight Network website this morning said that Asper plans to “re-energize” the network’s overall business plan through “investment in capital, programming, marketing, sales and digital media.”

All indications are that he has a tough fight ahead of him. According to CRTC documents, The Fight Network has not turned a profit since its 2006 debut. According to the most recent CRTC statistics, the channel lost nearly $4.9 million on revenues of $2.1 million in 2008.

National advertising revenues that year were a mere $201,719, a 41% decline from the previous year that Cicone attributed to “the economy in general.”

While CRTC documents peg the Category 2 service’s subscriber base at roughly 521,000, Cicione said it now has slightly less than one million subscribers and carriage on all of the country’s major cable and satellite providers.

“It’s been no secret that the company’s had some financial difficulties over the last couple of years,” said Cicione, who joined the Fight Network in January 2008. “Leonard comes in not only as an investor bringing some capital but as someone who’s operated a major media company. With his support, his contacts and his experience, the plan now is to grow the network.”

Cicione said that the management team, including Asper, has put together a “priority list” topped by a desire to acquire what he called “marquee” programming that has eluded the company in the past because of “financial constraints.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us to really push this network where we’ve wanted it to be for the last couple of years,” said Cicione. “We had to bide our time through the rough spots, but we have a plan, we definitely are excited moving forward, and we definitely feel the potential for this network is unlimited at this point.”

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