Comcast-AT&T Merger Bolsters Sports Network


One of the early beneficiaries of the recently completed merger of AT&T Broadband and Comcast Corp. is regional sports network Comcast Sports Southeast, which will pick up more than three-quarters of a million subscribers by launching in former AT&T systems in Florida and Georgia.

Through the deals, the cable-exclusive service — which offers mostly Southern-based college conference basketball and football games — has become one of the most widely-distributed regional sports networks in the country, with nearly 4 million subscribers.

In January, CSS will launch on the recently acquired 600,000-subscriber Atlanta system, as well as AT&T's former Jacksonville, Fla., operation, which will roll out the service to around 175,000 subscribers.

General manager Mike Sheehey said the network may also pick up former AT&T subscribers in Miami as well.

The three-year old network now reaches systems in nine Southeastern states.

"We're going in the right direction," Sheehey said. "We launched to give Comcast subscribers something that you can't get from some of the other cable providers or from a DirecTV [Inc.]."

Among the major MSOs, only Comcast and Charter Communications Inc. systems currently carry the service, but the network is hoping to buttress its cable base. Sheehey declined to reveal rate-card specifics, but said that the network is "a great value for the price. Our network is available to whoever is interested in carrying it."

In both of the new markets, CSS will have to compete against entrenched regional sports networks.

In Atlanta, where the network will replace a local news/sports/infomercial channel operated by the system, it will not only square off against Fox Sports South, but also entertainment and sports service Turner South, which offers Atlanta Braves baseball, Atlanta Hawks basketball and Atlanta Thrashers hockey, as well as college football games. Comcast Southern division director of communications Reg Griffin said there's enough interest in local sports — particularly on the collegiate level — for all three services to co-exist.

Big market seen

"When the merger was completed we knew we wanted to get that network to our 600,000 subscribers, but we don't see them competing with Fox Sports " said Griffin. "We really feel that there's a big enough market and interest for more college football and basketball games."

CSS offers both live and taped coverage of 100 college football games from the Atlantic Coast, Sun Belt, Southern Conference, Ohio Valley and Southeastern Conferences. It also airs 200 live college basketball games.

Comcast also operates pro-sports heavy iterations of CSS in the Philadelphia and Baltimore/Washington markets.