Altitude Sports & Entertainment, the regional sports network owned by Kroenke Sports Enterprises, has cast an acquisition line into the water, hooking a 50% interest in WFN: World Fishing Network from Insight Sports.
As part of the transaction that is expected to be announced Jan. 10, the 24/7 fishing service will consolidate its U.S. operations at Altitude's Network Operations Center in Centennial, Colo. WFN, which reaches some 20 million households in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean will retain its Toronto facility, with WFN president and CEO Mark Rubinstein remaining in those roles.
The deal, terms of which were not disclosed, aligns two of the most prominent sports companies and owners in North America. Stan Kroenke's KSE owns the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and Major League Soccer champion Colorado Rapids, among other assets. For its part, Insight Sports, whose principal shareholders include Larry Tanenbaum through Kilmer Enterprises, also holds interactive gaming channel GameTV and part of NHL Network. Tanenbaum is also chairman and investor in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which controls the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA Toronto Raptors and MLS's Toronto FC, among other properties.
"On the ice, hardwood and grass, there will be good healthy competition. On the lakes and rivers we'll be one," said Matt Hutchings, president and CEO of Altitude Sports & Entertainment, who noted that Kroenke is an avid angler, outdoorsman and conservationist. "He has real affinity for WFN, which is a first-class operation with a great upside."
The only TV, VOD (some 8 million homes) and online platform dedicated entirely to the sport, WFN segments its fishing coverage into instruction, tips, tournaments, travel, food, boating, and outdoor lifestyle via such fare as WFN News, Reel Fishy Jobs, Lost Lake, Hookin' up with Mariko Izumi and Getting School'd with JP DeRose. The programmer also runs WFN HD.
Rubinstein, whose U.S. management team has been headquartered in Denver, said the deal's roots date back some nine months, when he met with Hutchings and Jim Martin, president & CEO of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, to discuss among other things, how WFN could use Altitude's Network Operations Center.
Over time, Rubinstein said those conversations escalated to the joint venture agreement that was reached during the Christmas season.
Altitude will provide technical and back-office support, enabling WFN to concentrate more of its resources on fortifying its programming assets and growing its affiliate base throughout North America. To that end, Hutchings said WFN is being ported over to the same satellite, transponder and data base facilities deployed by Altitude, which counts some 3.1 million subscribers in a 10-state territory.
Systems' collaboration was a critical component of the deal, as WFN will become the first channel besides the RSN to utilize Altitude's Network Operations Center that has the capacity to handle six live sports networks and between 10 and 12 content served-based channels, according to Hutchings.
The parties also expect synergies on the content side. Altitude already presents a regional outdoor programming block and is interested in exposing some of those producers to WFN's national and international platforms, while at the same time the RSN might acquire some of WFN's fare.
"We think the opportunities for regional, national and international exposure goes both ways," said Hutchings, adding that he anticipates that WFN fare will be promoted in the KSE-owned Pepsi Center (home to the Nuggets and Avalanche).
"WFN is going to give pro anglers' jerseys to Nuggets and Avalanche and we hope some of the players will wear them," quipped Rubinstein.
He reminds that more people fish than play tennis, golf and hockey. "There is a large and powerful group of passionate anglers. This is an under-served market that possesses a lot of economic clout," Rubinstein said, adding the partnership with Altitude will help WFN build its affiliate base that currently includes Comcast, Charter, Dish, Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse connections, among others.
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