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ESPN May Launch An Outdoors Network

ESPN, buoyant after its purchase of a major fishing outfit, is considering the launch of a new outdoor sports-oriented channel in the near future.

ESPN executives floated the idea after announcing its purchase of B.A.S.S. Inc. (or Bass Anglers Sportsman Society), the largest fishing organization in the world. B.A.S.S. either sanctions or runs over 25,000 fishing tournaments a year and publishes several of the top fishing magazines in the country.

ESPN senior vice president of programming Mark Quenzel said the deal — which sources estimated at $30 million to $40 million — provided the impetus to potentially launch a new channel that would directly compete with Outdoor Life Network and the Outdoor Channel.

"I think [the deal] makes us the perennial player in the outdoor category," Quenzel said. "We have compatible assets and they have a great business. Combined, there's a lot of programming available" for a new service."

ESPN and ESPN2 run weekend morning blocks of outdoor-related programming. ESPN's The Fishin' Hole
has been the staple of its Saturday morning lineup since the flagship network's 1980 launch.

ESPN2 televises ESPN Outdoors on Saturday and Sunday morning, as well as on weekday afternoons.

The Outdoor Channel CEO Andrew Dale said last week he thought the market was large enough to support a potential ESPN outdoor sports service.

"We think it's a validation of the popularity of fishing as a sport," Dale said. "We have a big pond to play in and there's enough room for a lot of players."

The Outdoor Channel claims about 15 million subscribers. Representatives from Outdoor Life Network, with 35 million subscribers, could not be reached for comment.

One MSO programming executive said last week it would be difficult to conceive of three outdoor sports-oriented services in the marketplace.

"It would probably come down to which service has the best programming and the best [licensing] deal," said the executive.