Fox Sports Claims Victory In Timberwolves Tussle

Fox Sports Net North on Tuesday further cemented its position in the Twin Cities and the north central states it serves — and dealt a setback to upstart competitor Victory Sports Network — when it reported a six-year TV-rights deal with the National Basketball Association's Minnesota Timberwolves.

Despite losing out on the T'Wolves, Victory executives still plan to launch their competing regional sports network within the next 15 months.

FSN North, which reaches some 2.8 million homes in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and parts of northern Iowa, will distribute a minimum of 35 regular season Timberwolves contests, as well as potential playoff games, according to network vice president and general manager Steve Woelfel. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Woelfel confirmed that Fox paid a "fair" increase to the T'Wolves.

"The deal allows us to continue to build upon Fox's strong regional sports network tradition in the upper Midwest," Woelfel said.

The agreement ends a very hotly contested rights battle between FSN and Victory Sports, which is owned by Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins.

Victory was hoping to use the T'Wolves games as a springboard to launch its own regional sports network later this year.

Timberwolves president Rob Moor said a deal with the yet-to-launch Victory Sports Network would have been too risky a venture — especially without an opportunity to become a partner in the fledgling network.

"We felt there was a great deal of risk with the Victory option that didn't result in enough of a return to justify the secure and certain revenues presented by Fox," Moor said.

Victory lost a lawsuit last May that could have brought Twins games to Victory this year.

Victory claimed the team could get out of its current deal with FSN due to language in the deal surrounding an adequate stadium deal for the team.

FSN claimed its contract calls for an extension of its Twins deal through the 2002 and 2003 seasons if there is "an acceptable stadium solution, excluding a new stadium."

The team contended it did not have an "acceptable" stadium deal, but a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the franchise has a lease to play in its current stadium — the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome — through the next two seasons.

Nevertheless, Victory COO Kevin Cattoor said the network still plans to launch within the next 12 to 15 months. Victory holds rights to University of Minnesota basketball and hockey games. Factor in the Twins starting in 2004, and the network will have the highest-rated sports programming franchises in the region, Cattoor said.

"We'll soon have 54 percent of the major sports-programming events in the region, which represents up to 82 percent of all sports viewing."

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.