Comcast Forming Chicago Sports Network

Comcast Corp. is teaming up with the ownership groups of four of Chicago’s professional-sports clubs to form a new regional sports network serving the Windy City and environs.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago will bow Oct. 1, 2004, carrying a total of 248 regular-season games from Major League Baseball’s White Sox (95) and Cubs (72); the National Basketball Association’s Bulls (42); and the National Hockey League’s Blackhawks (39).

These are the same number of games that were scheduled to appear on current cable rights-holder Fox Sports Net Chicago.

Under terms of the deal, Comcast -- which also owns two other sports networks serving the Philadelphia and Baltimore/Washington, D.C., areas -- will have a 30% stake in the Chicago network, but it will have management control and be able to brand the channel.

Groups affiliated with Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Bulls and White Sox; the Wirtz family, with ties to the Blackhawks; and Tribune Co., which runs the Cubs, will divide the remaining stake, according to sources.

It was unclear at press time, though, what percentage each of those entities would hold. It was also unclear what impact the launch would have on FSN Chicago.

Officials could not be reached for comment by press time.

However, in the past, senior vice president and general manager Jim Corno indicated that the vast majority of cable subscribers in the Chicagoland area are assured of continuing to receive FSN as part of their basic package well beyond 2004.

"We’re excited by the deal. Chicago is a big market for us," said Amy Banse, VP of programming investments at Comcast, noting that the MSO will be looking to ink distribution deals with other MSOs serving the DMA, as well as satellite providers.

Banse said Comcast reaches about 80% of the inner market.

Comcast was also attracted to the deal due to the price containment it should bring. "This long-term deal has price escalators built in that we believe are significantly less than what we would have to pay a third party [FSN Chicago] over time," a source familiar with the negotiations said.

As part of the deals with Rainbow Sports and FSN Chicago, the teams had an option to back out of the agreements if they gave the network five years’ notice before exercising the out clause. The clubs’ contracts were set to run through 2009.