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Defeat for Victory in Minnesota

5/10/2004 5:55 AM Eastern

In the case of Minnesota Twins telecasts, victory ultimately went to Fox Sports Net North.

The FSN regional recaptured coverage rights to the Major League Baseball team Friday, effectively ending the attempt by Victory Sports to launch a club-owned channel. FSN North aired Twins-Oakland Athletics games Saturday and Sunday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources familiar with the situation said the pact will span eight years. Published reports put the average rate around $12 million per season, or about twice what FSN North had paid previously.

Although Victory had secured the Twins’ TV rights, it had only been able to secure deals with about 30 small MSOs serving Minnesota.

With a monthly rate card said to be in the $2-$2.20 range, Victory had struck out in its attempt to reach carriage accords with major operators Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Mediacom Communications Corp., or with satellite providers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network. As such, the team’s games for the first five weeks of the season were unavailable to most fans in the state.

An attempt by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in April to bring the parties together for mediation and have the games televised by any distributor that entered into those conversations also whiffed.

Victory -- headed by Kevin Cattoor, who had launched FSN North predecessor FSN Midwest -- is in the process of shuttering operations.

An FSN North spokesman said the service had not yet finalized its Twins schedule for the 2004 season, but the network “hoped to get around 90 games” in. In previous years, FSN had produced 130 Twins games, airing around 105, with the balance available over the air.

For 2004, Victory had reached a one-year pact with independent WSTC channel 45, which will fulfill those obligations, according to Cattoor.

As for other fare that was slated to run on Victory, Cattoor said that as part of the deal with FSN North, Victory assigned the rights to the University of Minnesota's basketball and football games to the regional sports network.

The FSN North spokesman said he anticipated that negotiations with rights-holder ESPN Regional Television would commence soon.

The death knell essentially tolled for Victory May 3, when a bill before a state senate committee aimed at providing financing for a new stadium for the Twins was amended to include a television provision.

The amendment -- which Cattoor described as "simple, but painful" -- called for the council not to issue bonds for stadium financing "unless a legal agreement was reached" for 135 of the team's games to be available to 70% of the state's cable and satellite customers for the 2005 season.

"Once that amendment came out, all of the leverage went to the distributors," said Cattoor, who will continue to serve as executive vice president of Twins Sports Inc. "We

felt we were close to some deals, too."

In Cattoor's view, the proposal -- which was defeated by a 15-13 vote on the state Senate committee last Monday and was then deadlocked 13-13 in the House Ways & Means Committee last Friday -- is not dead. He said the governor -- who supports a new facility for the club -- could attach it to another piece of legislation, something he believes will happen this week.

Cattoor noted that the sports and television communities should not view the demise of Victory as evidence that sports teams can't launch their own networks in smaller DMAs.

"A lot of people are going to look at this situation and say that only teams in big markets, like with YES [Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network, which covers the New York Yankees] or NESN [New England Sports Network, which televises Boston Red Sox games], can launch their own networks,” he added. “That's false. This was a case where a unique situation [the stadium financing] surfaced.”

 

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