Pittsburgh may be the next regional battleground between
ESPN and Fox Sports Net with the proposed fall launch of a new regional-sports service.
The National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins team,
attempting to eradicate its 12-year cable agreement with Fox Sports Pittsburgh in court,
is planning to launch a regional-sports network, with ESPNews or a yet-to-be-launched ESPN
service as its backdrop, according to sources close to the situation -- whether the
Penguins are part of the service or not.
Plans for Marino Sports Television -- named after Penguins
owner and millionaire Roger Marino -- are being developed after the team two weeks ago
attempted to pull its games from Fox Sports Pittsburgh over what the team termed as a
breach of contract. The team claims that Fox owes it at least $660,000 -- and as much as
$2 million -- in out-of-market subscriber-licensing fees dating back to 1993, said sources
close to the situation.
Fox Sports Pittsburgh immediately obtained an emergency
order in Pittsburgh Common
Pleas Court to stop the move.
Last week, the two sides agreed to keep Penguins games on
Fox Sports Pittsburgh through the rest of the season -- including postseason games -- and
to allow a Common Pleas Court judge to rule on the dispute sometime in June.
Bill Craig, director of development for the Penguins, would
only say that the rights are in dispute and that they will be decided in June.
Representatives from Fox Sports Pittsburgh, which has more than 2 million subscribers,
could not be reached for comment at press time.
Whether the Penguins win in court or not, sources said the
team will still go ahead with plans for the sports network. The proposed service would
provide ESPN with another opportunity to compete with Fox Sports on the regional-sports
level. ESPN will launch a Los Angeles-based service this fall, with Anaheim Mighty Ducks
hockey games as its anchor, to compete against Fox Sports West and Fox Sports West 2.
Representatives from ESPN could not be reached for comment
at press time.
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