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Network Reclaims Old Name

10/06/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

The name may be old, but SportSouth wants to put a new face — one with a lot more local lines — on its coverage.

Five months after it secured Turner South from Turner Broadcasting System Inc. for $375 million, Fox Cable Networks will unveil the SportSouth moniker on Oct. 13 with the regional sports network’s presentation of the National Hockey League Atlanta Thrashers’ game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes at 7:30 p.m.

As Turner South, the network had grown to reach more than 8 million subscribers in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and central/western North Carolina.

But the SportSouth name harkens back to the moniker that was originally bestowed on FSN South, the channel then jointly owned by Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and Liberty Media, at its 1990 launch. The original SportSouth later joined the lineup of Liberty and News Corp.-owned regional sports channels that formed Fox Sports Net in 1996.

That network was renamed Fox Sports South, and later FSN South, and today reaches 11.8 million in seven Southeastern states.

“In our research, the names sport and south, SportsSouth1 and My SportsSouth, kept coming up,” said Jeff Genthner, who serves as vice president and general manager for both channels. “We didn’t want anything too fancy, so we went back to the original name.”

However, whereas FSN South supplements its game coverage with national backdrop Fox Sports Net programming like Best Damn Sports Show Period, Genthner said SportSouth will play more locally with original series, specials and documentaries.

“We tried to figure out the void between fans and their teams. Southern viewers are very passionate and loyal, almost fraternal about their teams. We want to get inside,” Genthner said, noting that for instance, the network would look to talk with coaches after their film sessions as they look to set up game plans for the next contest.

Elsewhere, SportSouth embedded a cameraman and a reporter within the RV that transported Atlanta Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins and his clan as they drove up to Springfield, Mass. to induct the “Human Highlight Film” into the Basketball Hall of Fame last month.

“Dominique’s wife had just given birth five days before the trip. It was like Clark Griswold,” he said, referring to Chevy Chase’s character in the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies. “There were a lot of things going on in that vehicle.”

Genthner said SportSouth is also producing a special following the Hawks 2006 top draft pick, former Duke All-American Sheldon Williams. “This is a look at what it’s like to go from the big man on campus to being a rookie in an NBA training camp,” he said. “This is the kind of real reality show our viewers want to see, not some paparazzi view or an MTV Cribs.”

The Oct. 13 Thrashers/Hurricanes contest is one of 61 NHL games and 45 Hawks matchups that SportSouth will telecast in the 2006-07 season. Next year, SportSouth will air 55 Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball games, a total that will increase to 80 in 2008. The network will also be home to collegiate action from the Big South and Southern Conferences.

It was unclear at press time what would become of such entertainment fare as Home Makers, Southern Living Presents, 3 Day Weekend and Liars & Legends, which had continued to air in blocks on Turner South during the transition period.

At the time the deal was announced in February, sources familiar with the transaction said those programs could wind up on either TNT or TBS, or be migrated to a broadband platform.

A spokeswoman said Turner is “continuing to explore distribution options” for the Turner South originals.

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