Cable Operators

Sports Net’s Empire at an End

1/23/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

In a rare dissolution of a regional sports network, Adelphia Communications Corp. will pull the plug on its Upper New York state-area Empire Sports Network on March 7, according to company executives.

Adelphia officials said financial losses were too great to continue operations for the 14-year-old regional sports network, which primarily featured Buffalo Sabres National Hockey League games — although no games have aired this season due to the league’s ongoing labor dispute.

Many area MSOs had already dropped or tiered the service, which at its height served some 1.6 million subscribers. Network executives would not reveal how many subscribers the network currently has.

DirecTV Inc. still offers the service as part of its sports tier. It’s unclear what network will replace Empire on the direct-broadcast satellite provider’s lineup.

“The economics do not make sense for us to keep the network going on an ongoing basis,” said Adelphia area vice president of operations Tom Haywood, adding that the Denver-based MSO was losing “millions” of dollars a year through Empire.

Pending Adelphia bankruptcy court approval, Sabres games will eventually air on Madison Square Garden Network, if and when the current NHL labor dispute is resolved. MSGN, which also airs New York Rangers hockey games, will only be able to televise Sabres games to its upstate New York subscribers, due to NHL TV-market restrictions.

The network will lay off 36 people as part of the move, according to Haywood. Adelphia’s 400,000 subscriber Buffalo-area system will replace Empire with NFL Network, which offers some Buffalo Bills-specific programming.

The announcement comes nearly three years after Adelphia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after several MSO executives were charged with fraud regardomg to the company’s financial statements.

As part of the bankruptcy, the NHL took ownership control of the Sabres in 2003. The franchise eventually sold to billionaire B. Thomas Golisano.

September