Twins Rights Victory for Fox

In the case of Minnesota Twins telecasts, victory ultimately went to Fox Sports Net North.

The FSN regional service on May 7 recaptured coverage rights to the Major League Baseball team, ending the club-owned Victory Sports channel, which is shuttering its operations.

Deal terms were not disclosed, but sources said the pact spans eight years at around $12 million per season, about twice what FSN North had previously paid.

The reversal puts a mark in the win column for Fox Sports Net, which could sustain a number of defections from its affiliate lineups as more franchises set out to establish their own networks.

Indeed, startup services expected to launch this fall will take pro sports programming away from three affiliates: Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain, FSN South and Rainbow Sports-owned Fox Sports Chicago.

FSN president Bob Thompson said that typically there are distribution issues inherent to the launch of regionals.

“An entity needs to have some leverage. Most of our distribution deals are not just for the regional sports networks, but include other assets,” he said. “Most of these networks only have the rights to the games and a parcel of tickets.”

But Kevin Cattoor, president of Victory Sports, said Victory’s demise doesn’t mean sports teams can’t launch their own networks in relatively small DMAs.

“A lot of people are going to look at this situation and say that only teams in big markets, like with YES [Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network, which covers the New York Yankees] or NESN [New England Sports Network, which televises Boston Red Sox games], can launch their own networks. That’s false. This was a case where a unique situation [the stadium financing] surfaced.”

Cattoor said the death knell essentially tolled for Victory on May 3, when a bill before a state senate committee aimed at providing financing for a new stadium was amended to include a TV provision, requiring just 135 of the teams games to be available to 70% of the state’s cable and satellite customers for the 2005 season.

“Once that amendment came out all of the leverage went to the distributors,” said Cattoor. “We felt we were close to some deals, too.”

Although Victory wielded Twins TV rights, it had only been able to reach deals with about 30 small MSOs serving Minnesota. Victory, with a monthly rate card said to be in the $2 to $2.20 range, had struck out in its attempts to reach carriage accords with Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Mediacom Communications Corp., or with satellite providers.

“This is one of the few markets that isn’t consolidated. I guess they figured that if they could get one operator to crack, others would follow,” said Thompson. “In consolidated markets, the distributor has even more leverage.”