Attacks Wipe out Sports Net Slates

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The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington wreaked havoc on the sports world last week, as most major college and professional sports contests were postponed.

The suicide airplane crashes that destroyed the World Trade Center and crippled the Pentagon last Tuesday forced the postponements of National Football League, Major League Baseball and major college football games last weekend. The cancellations sent regional and national sports network executives scrambling to find replacement programming to fill gaping holes in their schedules.

For the first time, ESPN interrupted its regular sports schedule for seven hours on Sept. 11 to cover the tragedy, ESPN vice president of communications Chris LaPlaca said. The network picked up ABC News' coverage of the terrorist attack from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. before telecasting an installment of SportsCenter
that focused on athletes' reaction.

LaPlaca said ESPN continued to cut back to live ABC News coverage throughout Wednesday while garnering reaction from the sports community. It had not been determined what ESPN would air in its weekly Sunday night National Football League slot as of press time.

It was too early to gauge the financial impact of lost advertising time, owing to the extensive news coverage of the terrorist attacks, LaPlaca added.

"We're going to analyze the business impact down the road, but for now our focus, thoughts and prayers are on the recovery efforts as well as the victims of this tragedy and their family and friends," LaPlaca said.

Fox Sports Net regional services picked up Fox News Channel's feed for 36 straight hours through late Wednesday afternoon, spokesman Tom Chiapetta said. The network returned to original programming during primetime Wednesday, airing a special sports-news show based on the tragedy and its effect on sports.

Many of the Fox Sports regional networks resumed regularly scheduled programming at noon Thursday, but removed two of the more popular, but edgy and controversial shows —You Gotta See This!
and The Best Damn Sports Show
— from the schedule in light of the tragedy, Chiapetta said.

With no NFL or MLB games scheduled through the weekend, New York-based regional sports networks Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports Net New York last Thursday decided to indefinitely broadcast a picture of a flag flying at half mast, said an MSGN spokesman. MSGN and Fox Sports New York telecast New York Yankees and New York Mets games, respectively.

Since the Tuesday morning attacks, both networks had filled most of its broadcast hours with a simulcast of Fox News Channel and Cablevision Systems Corp.'s NY1.

In Florida, the emaciated weekend sports schedule forced Sunshine Network to scramble to find alternative programming to replace coverage of Florida Marlins baseball and Florida and Florida State college football games, Sunshine spokeswoman Amy Pempel said.

To further complicate matters, the network couldn't get access to new episodes of several local college and pro football coaches' shows because the tapes are delivered via airplane. All U.S. airports were closed from Tuesday afternoon through late Thursday afternoon due to the terrorist attacks. Pempel said the network was planning to run repeats of prior coaches' shows to fill the programming void.

In response to the NFL's decision to postpone its Sept. 16 schedule of games, DirecTV — which distributes the "NFL Sunday Ticket" out-of-market PPV package — created an on-air message to alert package subscribers of the postponed league games. A DirecTV spokesman said that at press time, he didn't know if or when the games will be rescheduled.

Also, Home Box Office's pay-per-view arm TVKO, and Madison Square Garden postponed the Felix Trinidad-Bernard Hopkins middleweight-championship pay-per-view event, scheduled for Sept. 15. It was unclear at press time when the fight would be rescheduled.

"Due to the tragic circumstances and events that took place in New York City, we felt it would be inappropriate to conduct Sept. 15 boxing event," said Home Box Office senior vice president of sports operations Mark Taffet. "We will look to reschedule the event as soon as possible."

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