In the spirit of the 50th anniversary of Wide World of Sports, which ESPN Classic celebrated last week with a programming marathon, herewith a roundup of rumors, reports and facts about the constant variety of regional sports networks rights in California.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is in a messy, public divorce with his wife. He took a $30 million loan from Fox, whose Prime Ticket regional sports network holds telecast rights through 2013, to help keep the club going. MLB, concerned that McCourt has been using club monies for personal business reasons, subsequently installed a trustee, Tom Schieffer, a former Texas Rangers president, to monitor daily operations of the club.
But McCourt's not going away quietly. He held an April 27 press conference that gave way to a financial news network press tour the following day, during which he claimed MLB commissioner Bud Selig was ducking him and nixed a 17-year, $3 billion TV rights extension with Fox -- including a $285 million upfront payment -- that would help stabilize the team's fiscal position for a generation to come. For its part, MLB says he's all wrong and the rights deal, under which McCourt would also gain more than a one-third stake in Prime Ticket, is part of a broader financial review of the Dodgers.
For now, FSN remains in limbo: "This is an issue between the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. When a resolution is reached, Fox is prepared to provide financial stability for the team and continue as the Dodgers long-time TV partner," said a spokesman with the programmer.
Will MLB reject the extension as a means to gain a higher bid? If so, would Time Warner Cable -- fresh off its $3 billion rights deal that will tip a pair networks for the the NBA's LA Lakers in 2012 step up to the plate and raise the rights ante? The MSO, which was reportedly poised to extend McCourt $30 million that prompted Fox's loan, wasn't saying. Sources familiar with the situation indicate that Fox, which after losing the Lakers couldn't afford to strike out in its home market with the Dodgers, holds "significant matching rights."
Sacramento Kings: This tale is about a potential relocation to Anaheim, where the club could become the Royals. The Maloof family may or may not want to relocate the team to Orange County because its current home, Arco Arena, is archaic and more revenues streams could flow in the south.
The Kings' abdication seemed a foregone conclusion a while back before reports surfaced the club would spend one more year in the Golden State's capital. The city and state officials, local businessman and sponsors have been rallying commitments for a new building and various levels of funding to keep the club in Sacramento. Relocation papers haven't been filed yet, but the deadline is May 2, a date that has already been extended. An NBA relocation committee would then review the proceedings, make a recommendation that would be voted on by the league's Board of Governors.
If the Kings move, its TV territory would change and Comcast SportsNet California, which sources indicate is perhaps willing to increase its rights fee payment to help keep the team in Sacramento, would have a hole in its lineup. Fox Sports Net, which will have a pro hoops vacancy when Time Warner Cable tips off its Lakers networks, would no doubt embrace the club royally.
Would the Lakers and the Clippers stand to gain from market indemnification rights? The NBA wasn't discussing "hypotheticals" and Fox had no comment. Sources said there could be some reduction in TWC's Lakers' rights fee if the Kings were to relocate.
San Diego Padres: Area reports indicate that this will be the final season for the club on Cox-owned Channel 4. Acknowledging the "noise" in the marketplace, Cox executives said they hadn't "heard anything from the Padres on a deal or who will have the TV rights in 2012," while Padres officials didn't return phone calls seeking comment.
The team is seeking a major bump in rights, which reports suggest Fox would fulfill with a 20-year pact proffering between $17 million to $22 million per season. That could manifest in the way of a dedicated network.
Presumably, the new rights-holder -- or the incumbent paying a higher fee -- would have to succeed in securing wider distribution for the Padres, whose games currently can only be viewed by Cox and Time Warner Cable. The Federal Communications Commission in January 2010 voted to eliminate the exemption from access regulations for terrestrially delivered regional networks like Cox 4. The channel since then has had negotiations with Dish, DirecTV and AT&T, which in March 2009 had its program-access complaint against Cox denied by the FCC.
Cox says it has complied with the FCC's decision and last year made offers reflective of "fair, reasonable and competitive terms," but no provider has accepted Channel 4's proposal.
DirecTV says it has been in negotiations with Channel 4, but U-verse alluded to a pricing differential as an explanation for its continued shutout: "Cox refuses to provide assurances that they aren't charging AT&T and its subscribers more than it charges themselves and other cable operators for their subscribers. We can't accept an unfair deal and costs for our customers."
As famed broadcaster and current Channel 4 play-by-play man Dick Enberg has been known to exclaim: "Oh, my."
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