Los Angeles -- ESPN's fledgling regional-sports
service has signed its first affiliates, and they're not cable operators.
DirecTv Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. will
distribute ESPN West, which is based here, when the network launches this fall, said Steve
Raymond, vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for ESPN's Western division.
It is unclear, however, how both direct-broadcast satellite
services will package the new network, which is owned by The Walt Disney Co. Nevertheless,
Raymond said, the deal is the first of what he expects to be many affiliate deals with
"It's a starting point, and it gives us momentum
going into the National Cable Show," he added.
The network will have an uphill battle signing affiliates.
Fox Sports West and Fox Sports West 2 are already distributed on most systems in the
market, leaving little channel space for a third regional-sports service. Raymond would
not reveal the licensing fee for the network.
"We understand what we are up against, particularly
with [channel] capacity issues," Raymond said. "But we think that we can provide
a lot of value through the brand."
At least one area operator is not quite ready to embrace
"We still haven't seen what they have to bring to
the table," the operator said.
The network will launch in October with Anaheim Mighty
Ducks National Hockey League games, and it will add Major League Baseball's Anaheim
Angels next season. Both teams are owned by Disney.
Games from both teams had been distributed by Fox, but each
club chose not to renew its contract last year.
The network will also offer live programming from
ESPN's sports library, including Big Ten college-football and college-basketball
games, other out-of-market college product and a local version of ESPN News at certain
Stephanie Campbell, senior vice president of programming
for DirecTv, said in a prepared statement that the company "recognized the importance
of bringing ESPN West to Southern California -- especially the Mighty Ducks and Angels
The company said it had not decided which of its
programming packages will include the service.