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Chicago Teams to Opt Out of FSN Deals

Fox Sports Net Chicago will lose telecast rights to four major area sports teams in 2004 after the teams announced their intention to exercise out agreements in their multiyear deals with the regional sports network.

The National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls, Major League Baseball’s Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs and the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks will terminate their respective 10-year deals with Fox Sports Net Chicago that were set to run through 2009.

As part of the deals, the teams had an option to back out of the agreements if they gave the network five years’ notice before exercising the out clause, according to the Chicago Tribune, the parent company of which, Tribune Co., owns the Cubs.

The Tribune also reported that Comcast Corp. may step in and help to develop a new regional sports network in the area.

Comcast has been in talks with Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Rainbow Sports division to gain Rainbow’s majority interest in FSN Chicago -- where Comcast controls most of the cable homes -- as well as in Rainbow's FSN Ohio, FSN Bay Area, FSN New England and FSN Florida.

But sources said one caveat toward purchasing the regional service was its ability to secure long-term deals with the area’s pro-sports teams.

Also, the Tribune reported that any Comcast involvement may be complicated by the MSO’s negotiations with Tribune over a new contract to carry Tribune’s WGN Superstation, although it’s unclear when that deal is up.

Representatives from Comcast and Tribune could not be reached for comment.

Jerry Reinsdorf owns the White Sox and the Bulls, while Bill Wirtz runs the Blackhawks.

The move would decimate the programming lineup of the nearly 4 million-subscriber FSN Chicago.

Senior vice president and general manager Jim Corno said in a prepared statement: "Fox Sports Net Chicago will continue to be the cable-television home of the Bulls and Blackhawks through the upcoming 2003-04 seasons and we look forward to televising what will undoubtedly be another exciting season of Cubs and White Sox baseball in 2004."

He added, "The vast majority of cable subscribers in the Chicagoland area are assured of continuing to receive Fox Sports Net as part of their basic package well beyond 2004. We are confident that Fox Sports Net -- with its high-quality, 24-hour sports programming -- has a long-term future in the Chicago market."