Cox Tips Hornets-Centered Net In N'awlins

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Regional sports network Cox Sports Television, slated to launch today (Oct. 28), spent part of last week rounding out its programming roster.

Cox Sports, whose key piece of programming is a package of 65 New Orleans Hornets games — the National Basketball Association franchise starts its first season in the Crescent City — has signed an agreement with ESPN to provide college-sports events and news programming.

In another announcement, Cox Sports said it would also develop year-round programming for the National Football League's New Orleans Saints, including various magazine and game-wrap-around shows.

At launch, officials said Cox Sports would be available in 600,000 homes — mostly subscribers to Cox Communications Inc. — out of a potential universe of 1.7 million subscribers in the Louisiana, southern Mississippi, western Alabama and Florida panhandle areas.

Rod Mickler, vice president of regional sports for Cox Communications and head of Cox Sports, said the network is in negotiations for carriage on several other area MSOs, but had not reached affiliation agreements by press time.

Mickler would not reveal the network's rate card, but said the service is "very competitively priced" compared with other regional sports networks that reach some of these markets, including Fox Sports Southwest and Fox Sports South. He said Cox Sports expects to conclude deals with all surrounding operators in the near future.

Calls to a number of Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications Inc. systems in the regional network's coverage area — as well as several small MSO-owned systems in Louisiana — were not returned by press time.

The Hornets moved to New Orleans from Charlotte, N.C., after the conclusion of the 2001-02 NBA season, and Cox obtained both cable and broadcast rights. At this stage, there are no plans to make any of the club's game available on over-the-air stations, according to Mickler. DirecTV Inc. said it does not plan to carry the service now.

Under the deal reached with ESPN Regional Television, ESPN's college programming-distribution arm, Cox Sports will have access to 125 events, including football and basketball games from such schools as Tulane University, the University of New Orleans, Louisiana Tech, the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

ESPN Regional Television, which also distributes programming to a number of other RSNs, will give Cox Sports an assist with women's basketball and college baseball within the Sun Belt. ESPNews programming will also function as backdrop programming for Cox Sports.

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