Fox Scores NBA Regional Wins

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Fox Sports Net last week sought to stem the tide of pro-sports franchise departures by inking the National Basketball Association’s Memphis Grizzlies to a long-term rights pact and nearing a deal to keep two Houston-area teams from starting their own network.

In an 11th-hour deal, the FSN regionals last Wednesday reached a carriage agreement with the Grizzlies, effectively ending the club’s effort to launch its own network.

Atlanta-based FSN South and Dallas-based FSN Southwest will telecast 60 Grizzlies regular-season games, which began with the Nov. 3 season opener against the Washington Wizards.

GRIZZLIES NET’S OUT

That contest was slated to appear on the Grizzlies Regional Sports Network, but the team dissolved the channel after reaching the FSN agreement. Deal terms were not disclosed.

The Grizzlies channel had no distribution deals with major MSOs or with direct-broadcast satellite services DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.

FSN Southwest at press time also was close to a long-term carriage agreement with the NBA’s Houston Rockets and Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros.

Sources close to the situation said the two teams could net a combined $50 million per year.

Representatives from the Astros, Rockets and FSN Southwest did not return calls by press time.

The Astros and Rockets, too, were planning to launch a dedicated regional sports network.

The Astros had sued FSN Southwest to terminate a deal that ends in 2009. With the aid of mediator, the two parties have been negotiating a new pact.

With the Memphis deal secured and talks going well in Houston, FSN has effectively dodged the latest in a hail of bullets fired by teams and MSOs looking to take the middleman out of the regional sports network business.

Over the past year, Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable have launched or are preparing to roll out regional sports services.

CHARLOTTE BREAKOUT

Last month, the NBA expansion Charlotte Bobcats debuted the Carolinas Sports and Entertainment Television network after failing to reach a deal with Fox Sports South. Comcast Corp., teaming with the owners of four professional squads in Chicago, launched a service there, wounding FSN Chicago in the process.

In Denver, Altitude Sports and Entertainment Television network — which as of press time had still not reached an agreement with dominant local MSO Comcast — is up and running, taking the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche from FSN Rocky Mountain.

Also, baseball’s New York Mets will team with Comcast and Time Warner to launch a regional sports network in 2006 after the team exercised an option to dissolve its deal with Cablevision-owned Madison Square Garden Network and FSN New York. MSG Networks is awaiting a Nov. 17 hearing in New York state court over a possible restraining order and preliminary injunction against the new channel.

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