Root Sports Houston Rides Into Town, Reaching More Subs Than CSN Could

After 14 months of Chapter 11 wrangling, Comcast SportsNet Houston was set to fade to black on Sunday (Nov. 16), giving rise to a new regional sports network owned by AT&T and DirecTV.

Root Sports Houston is slated to tip off at 6 a.m. (CT) today (Nov. 17) — likely in infomercial mode — before televising the National Basketball Association game between the Houston Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies, in Memphis, at 7 p.m. (ET). On Wednesday, the Rockets host the Los Angeles Lakers.

The new network, also home to Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros, will be carried by AT&T Uverse and DirecTV, both awaiting federal approval of their merger, and by Comcast, a combination providing 80% coverage of the Houston DMA.

That’s a major step up from CSN Houston, which only managed to obtain carriage on Comcast’s Xfinity systems and a handful of smaller providers in the Houston market. The network’s TV territory also extends throughout Texas and into Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and parts of New Mexico.

CSN Houston never collected enough in license fees — $4 per month, per subscriber in its central area, and 70 cents elsewhere — to meet its rights fees and other obligations.

Some 96 of 141 CSN Houston employees are losing their gigs, but sources indicated Bill Worrell, Matt Bullard and Clyde Drexler will continue to call Rockets games, and Calvin Murphy will remain a part of the club’s studio shows. Bill Brown, Alan Ashby and Geoff Blum are expected to return for the 2015 Astros season.

More specific details were not available to The Wire as DirecTV, citing legal constraints, declined to comment on plans for programming or for further distribution.

The Houston conversion creates the fourth Root Sports network. The others are Northwest, showing MLB Seattle Mariners and NBA Utah Jazz games; Rocky Mountain, with MLB Colorado Rockies and Jazz games; and Pittsburgh, the RSN home to the National Hockey League Penguins and MLB Pirates.

In the reorganization, the Astros (46%), Rockets (31%) and Comcast (23%) lost their equity stakes. The teams won’t seek immediate payment of more than $100 million in unpaid rights fees. DirecTV and AT&T picked up the RSN for $5,000.

Comcast is still trying to recoup more of a $100 million secured loan that was earmarked for CSN Houston startup costs, after the bankruptcy court said it could only receive $26 million.

In other legal actions, the Astros are suing former owner Drayton McLane and Comcast, and the Houston Chronicle reported the Rockets might also sue Comcast.

HBO Doc Premiere Draws NFL Crowd Seeking ‘Happiness’

HBO entertained a crowd of about 100 press and industry executives in celebration of the Nov. 18 launch of it four-part documentary series State of Play. Former National Football League stars Michael Strahan and Wayne Chrebet took part in the Nov. 13 festivities for the Peter Berg and Sarah Aubreyproduced series, including a screening of the first episode, State of Play: Happiness. The program chronicles the transition of NFL athletes from the exhilaration experienced on the field to retired life.

Strahan, co-producer of the documentary and co-host of daytime talker Live! With Kelly and Michael, called the project a cautionary tale of the potential pitfalls experienced by a top athlete, or anyone at the top of his profession, once retired.

“I think it’s something that isn’t just about sports but it’s about anybody in a profession because it all eventually ends at some point — some when you want it to and some when you don’t,” Strahan told The Wire. “The next question is: What do you do after that to find your happiness?”

— R. Thomas Umstead