Golden State Sports Rights In Flux


California athletes always
stir up headlines: think Kobe Bryant.
These days, the newsmakers
are the local team owners and their
volatile TV rights. Here’s a scorecard
of rumors and reports of the
constant variety of regional-sportsnetwork
rights there.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Dodgers owner
Frank McCourt is in a messy, public
divorce with his wife. He took a $30
million loan from Fox, whose Prime
Ticket regional sports network holds
telecast rights through 2013, to help
keep the club going. Major League
Baseball, concerned that McCourt has
been using club monies for personal
business reasons, subsequently installed a trustee, Tom
Schieffer, a former Texas Rangers president, to take over the
daily operations of the club.

McCourt’s not going away quietly.

Last week, he claimed MLB commissioner Bud Selig
is ducking him and nixed a 17-year, $3 billion TV-rights
extension with Fox — including $285 million up front —
that would fully stabilize the team’s fiscal position. MLB
says he’s all wrong and the rights deal is part of a broader
fi nancial review.

Fox Sports Net remains in limbo: “This is an issue between
the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. When a
resolution is reached, Fox is prepared to provide financial
stability for the team and continue as the Dodgers longtime
TV partner,” a spokesman with the programmer said.

Should MLB reject the extension as a means to gain
a higher bid, Time Warner Cable might enter the fray. It
reached an earlier $3 billion TV-rights pact with the National
Basketball Association’s Lakers and reportedly was ready
to extend McCourt the $30 million that prompted Fox’s loan.

The MSO wasn’t commenting last week. Sources familiar
with the situation indicate that Fox, which lost the Lakers,
holds “significant matching rights.”

Sacramento Kings:
This is about potential relocation to
Anaheim, where the pro-basketball club could become the
Royals. The Kings’ abdication seemed a foregone conclusion
a while back before reports surfaced the club would spend
one more year in the Golden State’s capital. Locals have
been rallying commitments for a new building and various
levels of funding to keep the club in Sacramento.

If the Kings move, the franchise’s TV territory changes
and Comcast SportsNet California, which sources indicate
is perhaps willing to up the rights fee ante to help keep the
team in Sacramento, would have a hole in its lineup. FSN,
which will have a pro hoops vacancy when Time Warner
Cable tips off its Lakers network with the 2012-13 season,
would no doubt embrace the club royally.

Would the Lakers and the Clippers stand to gain from
market-indemnifi cation rights? The NBA wasn’t discussing
“hypotheticals” last week, and Fox had no comment.
Sources said there could be some reduction in TWC’s Lakers
rights fee if the Kings were to relocate.

San Diego Padres:
Area reports indicate that this will be
the final season for the club on Cox-owned Channel 4 San
Diego. Acknowledging the “noise” in the marketplace, Cox
said last week that it hasn’t “heard anything from the Padres
on a deal or who will have the TV rights in 2012,” while Padres
officials didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

The team is seeking a major bump in rights, which reports
suggest Fox would fulfill with a 20-year pact proffering between
$17 million to $22 million per season. That could manifest
in the way of a dedicated network.

Presumably, the new rights-holder — or the incumbent
paying higher rights — would have to succeed in securing
wider distribution for the Padres, whose games currently can
only be viewed by Cox and Time Warner Cable subscribers.
The Federal Communications Commission in January 2010
voted to eliminate the exemption from access regulations for
terrestrially delivered regional nets like Channel 4. The channel
since then has had negotiations with Dish Network, Direc-
TV and AT&T, which in March 2009 had its program-access
complaint against Cox denied by the FCC.

Cox said it complied with the FCC’s decision and last year
made offers reflective of “fair, reasonable and competitive
terms,” but no provider has accepted Channel 4’s proposal.