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Can’t Tell the Players Without a Scorecard

2/06/2012 12:02 AM Eastern

With the thirst for round-the-clock coverage of sports — at
the professional, collegiate and
even high-school levels — the rise
of the regional sports network continues
apace. New entries are on tap
in 2012 with a host of RSNs preparing
for bows this summer and fall.

California and Texas will be home
to new regional sports networks this
year. Time Warner Cable is making
the biggest splash, launching two
new regional sports networks built
around the Los Angeles Lakers. NBC
Sports Group, a unit of Comcastcontrolled
NBCUniversal, is launching
the newest Comcast SportsNet,
in Houston.

Pac-12 Enterprises is gearing up
a new national network and six regional
channels. And Major League
Baseball’s San Diego Padres are
close to completing a deal with Fox
Sports that will bring another new
regional network to Southern California.

Here’s a closer look at what to expect
this year.

LOS ANGELES RSN

Time Warner Cable, looking to manage
programming costs and construct
assets, seized the opportunity
to secure Los Angeles Lakers rights
a year ago as the building block for
two new networks. Fox Sports West
had televised Lakers games for 20
years and, though it was looking to
continue its relationship with the
long-time National Basketball Association
power, the cable operator was able
to swoop in and pay a reported $3 billion,
nearly double what Fox Sports West had offered
over the pact’s 20-year span.

TWC’s Lakers networks — one in English,
the other in Spanish and both helmed by former
Fox Sports and DirecTV network executive
Mark Shuken — are set to launch this fall,
with ex-Comcast SportsNet executive Dan
Finnerty overseeing distribution talks.

The RSNs also have secured the rights to
the Los Angeles Galaxy, the defending Major
League Soccer champions with David Beckham
and Landon Donovan on the team’s roster.
That 10-year pact is for a reported $55
million.

Because the network won’t launch until
the fall, the Galaxy must secure another
local TV option for the 2012 season. The
temporary answer is a local, independent
station in Los Angeles, accompanied by a
promotional campaign alerting viewers of
the RSN’s upcoming launch.

Time Warner Cable senior director of public
relations Maureen Huff said the Lakers’
networks “will be ready to go some time in
October.” As for the Galaxy, she said TWC
is still in the process of finalizing broadcast
plans. Website ESPN Los Angeles reported last
week that independent
station KDOC (channel
56) in Orange County
and Spanish-language
KWHY (channel 22) in
Los Angeles will broadcast
18 games, running
from the March 10
opening match against
Real Salt Lake to a Sept.
30 game against the
Colorado Rapids.

A continued licensefee
battle with the Madison
Square Garden
regional networks in
New York — where New
York Knicks basketball
and Rangers National
Hockey League games
have been blacked out
on Time Warner Cable
since the beginning
of the year — puts the
MSO in a potentially
awkward position, as it
is expected to be seeking
$3 to $3.50 per subscriber
combined for
the two new networks,
according to reports
and sources. Huff said
plans have not yet been
finalized.

PAC-12 NETWORK

The Pac-12 will launch
its new national network
and six regional
channels in August.
The holding date is Aug.
15 as the network expects
to be on the air well before the 2012 collegefootball
season begins.

The college-sports conference has signed
carriage deals with the cable-operator owners
of In Demand: Time Warner Cable, Bright
House Networks, Comcast and Cox Communications.
The pay-per-view and videoon-
demand content aggregator will provide
operations and programming services.

Gary Stevenson, president of Pac-12 Enterprises,
said the network is in talks with DirecTV
and Cablevision Systems, as well as
other cable companies, satellite TV proviiders
and telcos to get them on board before the launch. The network has hired former
MLB Network distribution executive Arturo
Marquez as senior vice president of affiliate
sales and marketing.

“We have a terrific business model with
our four cable partners, and we would love
to have any affiliate that wants to carry us,”
Stevenson said. “We know we have significant distribution at launch. We’re going to
do everything we can to work with Cablevision,
the satellites and the telcos to do a deal
and we think we eventually
will. We believe
our content is strong,
very strong.”

In addition to the
national network, the
Pac-12 will be launching
six regional networks
consistent with
the geography of its
member schools and
charter affiliates.
Those will include
Pac-12 Arizona [Arizona
and Arizona State],
Pac-12 Los Angeles
[USC and UCLA], Pac-
12 Bay Area [Stanford
and Cal], Pac-12 Oregon
[Oregon and Oregon
State], Pac-12 Washington [Washington
and Washington State] and Pac-12 Mountain
[Colorado and Utah].

“We believe we have very compelling
content,” Stevenson said. “We will have 35
live football games and likely feature every
team in the conference twice a year. We
believe it is very compelling in the majormarket
cities west of the Rockies. We have
football, basketball and a bunch of Olympic
sports from the most successful conference
in the country.”

The content would be on basic cable in
the network’s footprint regions; outside of
the footprint, it would likely be on a tier,
similar to the model set by the Big Ten Network
(partnered with Fox). Stevenson said
the networks will provide access to 850 live
Pac-12 sporting events: 350 on television
and 500 streamed on broadband. Non-game
programming will include archive shows,
studio shows, coaches’ shows, spring football
games and “Midnight Madness” coverage
of each school’s first college-basketball
practice. “Keep in mind that, this fall alone,
we had two national champions in women’s
soccer and volleyball,” Stevenson said.

HOUSTON RSN

The newest RSN in the Comcast SportsNet
stable is expected to launch this fall in time
for the beginning of the 2012-13 NBA season.
CSN Houston will carry the Rockets
this fall, as well as Major League Baseball’s
Astros beginning in 2013. The Rockets and
the Astros will partner with Comcast, with
each team having a major equity stake
(combined, it’s just under 80%) in the NBC
Sports Group-run network.

Sports media veteran and longtime Houston-
area resident Matthew Hutchings has
been tapped as the president and general
manager of Comcast
SportsNet Houston,
which will also carry
other regional sports
action and studio programming.
NBCUniversal
will be handle
distribution talks.
Comcast is the major
cable provider in the
market but, as with
other sports networks,
distribution on DirecTV
and Dish Network
will be essential,
as will carriage on
AT&T U-Verse. NBCU
has not commented
on distribution other
than Comcast.

PADRES SHIFT

The Padres have been seen on Cox-owned
4SD, the de facto regional sports network in
San Diego, since 1997. Beginning this season,
the games are expected to air on a new
channel, Fox Sports San Diego, though the
agreement in principle between the club
and the network has yet to be finalized, formalized
or announced. Still, sources familiar
with the plans expect the Padres’ April
5 opener against the Dodgers to be seen on
the new network. Former Fox Sports Ohio
senior vice president Henry Ford is on board
as president and general manager, unofficially.

Cox spokesman Todd Smith said, “Fox
Sports is creating a new San Diego network
that will produce the Padres games, and Cox
anticipates adding this new channel to our
lineup upon completion of our final negotiations
with Fox.”

According to Forbes, the team’s owners
are expected to have an ownership stake. Either
way, the Padres will see TV-rights payments
escalate over what Cox had paid to
carry the games: 4SD was not carried on satellite-TV providers DirecTV and Dish Network
or telco TV platform AT&T U-verse.
Time Warner Cable also operates in the San
Diego market and carried 4SD.

Kevin T. Czerwinski is a contributor to Multichannel News.

September