Sports news on cable is starting to look like an endangered species. The latest indication: Starting next month, Fox Sports Net will abandon its National Sports Report
and fill the vacuum with twice-hourly mini-reports and extended news segments on its Best Damn Sports Show Period.
Rainbow Sports Networks' six regional networks are going one step further, eliminating their Regional Sports Report
shows, according to company executives.
The moves follow AOL Time Warner Inc.'s recent decision to close the CNN/Sports Illustrated sports-news service later this year. That service could be converted into a proposed National Basketball Association channel.
Even if plans for a co-owned AOL/NBA channel don't reach fruition, the five-year-old CNN/SI will be shut down.
On Feb. 10, Fox Sports Net's 18 owned-and-affiliated regional services will drop National Sports Report
to air two-and-one-half-minute national sports-news breaks twice per hour beginning at 6 p.m. — at nine and 39 minutes past the hour — on nights with no live event telecasts, FSN executives announced on Jan. 16.
FSN also will air four news breaks per hour during its two-hour Best Damn Sports Show Period. The irreverent talk show airs at 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. when regional sports networks are not offering live sports events, as well as during late-night periods.
Last month, Fox Sports officials had downplayed as "premature" a Multichannel News
report that National Sports Report
was on the ropes.
The national sports-news show struggled to attract viewers, while Best Damn Sports Show Period
is considered more of a success, and the various Regional Sports Reports
generate higher interest among viewers of the regionally focused FSN affiliates.
FSN vice president of affiliate relations Lou D'Ermilio said research indicated 62 percent of FSN viewers would rather see national news presented in more "bite-sized snippets" than within the context of a 30-minute show.
He added that the move would mean 15 to 20 of more than 100 National Sports Report
staffers would lose their jobs.
The six Rainbow owned-and-operated regional sports networks will adopt the extended news segments, and those regionals — FSN New York, Bay Area, Chicago, Florida, Ohio and New England — will eliminate their respective Regional Sports Reports.
"The decision to cancel Regional Sports Report
and Regional Sports Tonight
is by no means a reflection of the efforts of our excellent staff or the quality of their work," Rainbow Sports Networks president Andrea Greenberg said in a prepared statement.
"We are operating in an environment that requires us to evaluate our programming," she added.
The moves closely followed AOL Time Warner Inc.'s decision to scrap its CNN/SI national sports-news network.
Asked to comment about its competitors' cutbacks, an ESPN spokeswoman said: "We're pleased that ESPN continues to be the No. 1 source for sports news."
Two weeks ago, sources said that nearly 200 CNN/SI staffers were informed of the network's impending demise.
The decision was made prior to an agreement the NBA has evidently reached with AOL to convert CNN/SI into a jointly owned network in which the two entities would share any revenue generated from ad sales or subscription fees, sources said.
CNN/SI executives would not comment on the matter, but sources said AOL had made the decision early in order to meet a Jan. 10 accounting-rules deadline.
By meeting that deadline, sources said CNN/SI employees would be eligible for severance packages from AOL. Sources also indicated some staffers would migrate to Cable News Network to cover sports, find other positions within the company or interview for jobs at the new network.