Denver Teams Start Regional Net

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Denver-area operators will have a new regional sports network to consider for distribution this fall, as the owners of the area's local National Basketball Association and National Hockey League teams last week announced plans for a standalone service.

The yet-to-be-named channel will compete with Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain for about 3 million area viewers.

Denver-based Kroenke Sports Enterprises LLC, owner of hockey's Colorado Avalanche and basketball's Denver Nuggets, will seek basic-cable distribution for the service, also expected to offer games from the National Lacrosse League's Colorado Mammoth.

The Avalanche and Nuggets are currently on FSN Rocky Mountain, but those agreements expire at the end of the 2003-04 season.

Former Fox Sports Net executive Jim Martin will head the network. Martin said the channel is talking about distribution with area MSOs — including Comcast Corp., which serves the majority of subscribers within the Denver DMA — as well with direct-broadcast satellite providers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.

TALKING TO OPS

Martin would not disclose a rate card, although sources close to the company said the network would cost less than $2 per subscriber.

By comparison, FSN Rocky Mountain, which still holds TV rights to Major League Baseball's Colorado Rockies, costs around $2.10 per subscriber, said sources.

Along with local sports programming, the service will also offer public affairs and entertainment-based fare. Kroenke Sports also owns Denver's Paramount Theater and Universal Lending Pavilion, which showcase music and theater events that could air on the network.

“The advantage that we bring is that this is a local network run by a local company that has tremendous interest and investment within the community,” Martin said. “Enhancing the product with a lot more local and regional product is content directed particularly for and of interest to this market.”

As for FSN Rocky Mountain, Fox Sports Net president Robert Thompson said the network will remain on the air, even though the defections of the Avalanche and Nuggets will mean the loss of nearly 115 events.

“We're not going anywhere,” he said. “While we certainly have a hole to fill, acquiring additional product for that time of the year is something that can be done.”

REBATES IN DEALS

Thompson also confirmed that FSN's operator contracts allow for some lost-programming rebates, but he would not reveal specifics.

“Suffice to say, the amount reduced is not going to cover the cost of the [new network,]” Thompson said. “If the cable or satellite guys do carry it, ultimately the costs will get passed through.”

But Martin said the network should not be a financial albatross for operators, as much of its product has merely shifted from one network to another.

“For the most part the subscribers are already paying for the product, so we're talking about a shifting of funds,” he said. “We'll be taking more than two-thirds of the professional product that Fox Sports Rocky Mountain is currently carrying.”

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