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Houston Sports Net’s Fate a Jump Ball

CSN Houston’s scheduled Friday-night coverage of the Houston Rockets versus the Dallas Mavericks on Oct. 24 might well have been the embattled regional sports network’s last live telecast, even before the National Basketball Association season gets underway.

That’s because a key hearing in the network’s year-long Chapter-11 bankruptcy case is set for Tuesday, Oct. 28, when Judge Marvin Isgur might approve a reorganization plan that sells CSN to DirecTV and AT&T.

The Rockets, Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros and Comcast’s NBC Sports Group created and own the two-year- old CSN Houston.

The network sought bankruptcy protection from creditors after failing to gain the distribution needed to survive, other than on Comcast and a handful of small systems.

DirecTV and AT&T, which are awaiting federal approval of their proposed merger, want to relaunch it as Root Sports Houston.

DirecTV, AT&T U-verse and Comcast would carry the renamed service in the Houston designated market area and beyond.

Last Wednesday (Oct. 22), CSN Houston personnel delivered their final live studio and news shows, as 96 of the service’s 141 employees will lose their jobs under the plan.

Should the sale be approved on Tuesday, the Rockets game against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday would air on the new channel. Houston’s season tips off on Tuesday in Los Angeles against the Lakers, but that game will be seen nationally on TNT.

Approval is far from a slam dunk. Comcast opposes the reorganization for a number of reasons. The company (also in the midst of a merger, with Time Warner Cable) wants some compensation for the $100 million loan it provided to the network for startup costs and the studio buildout.

It wants fair value for its 22% stake in a network that was valued at $700 million in 2010 but would be sold for $5,000 to DirecTV and AT&T.

Comcast also wants to have no further obligations to creditors after the network is transferred.

Comcast could also fi le to appeal Isgur’s decision, which would delay matters.

Bankruptcy protocol usually mandates that a business continue to operate as usual until the case is resolved. But it was not clear at press time what would happen with CSN’s scheduled game telecasts if ownership remains in limbo. The first Rockets home game is scheduled for Nov. 1.

The teams also would suffer losses in the plan. They would have no equity in the succeeding service, and would abandon claims to some $100 million in rights fees owed by CSN Houston.

Comcast/NBC Sports declined to comment. Root Sports declined comment.

CSN Houston launched two years ago in search of subscriber fees in the neighborhood of $3.40 per month. But it failed to persuade DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, Time Warner Cable, Suddenlink, Charter or Verizon FiOS TV to provide carriage in a five-state TV region that also includes Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico.

That left the RSN without enough a_ liate revenue to afford the teams’ rights fees or pay other bills.