Teams Eye Own Sports Nets

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Looking for additional revenue opportunities, several professional sports teams last week were mapping game plans to launch their own regional sports networks.

Major League Baseball's Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox and Cubs; the National Basketball Association's Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets; and the National Hockey League's Colorado Avalanche are all exploring leaving their respective Fox Sports Net regional services to start their own channels — despite the poor track record of such ventures.

Those teams could join baseball's Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles, which all announced plans to launch stand-alone regional sports networks over the next couple of years.

The moves could hurt Fox Sports Net in terms of lost programming and revenue from operators seeking rebates from the services, as well as advertisers who would shift their budgets.

Among the new crop, the Astros and Rockets appear to be the furthest along. The two would team up to launch a Houston-based regional in 2005, when the Astros can exercise an option to exit a long-term deal with Fox Sports Southwest. The Rockets do not have an existing deal with Fox.

Undaunted, the team on Feb. 28 filed a lawsuit against Fox forcing it to match within 30 days a $213 million offer from the proposed Houston Regional Sports Network, according to the Houston Chronicle.

But Fox Sports Networks president Bob Thompson said its contract with the Astros specifically states that the network does not have to match any offer until 2005. Further, the contract states that any offer must come from a third-party vendor, which would the Houston Regional Sports Network, in which the Astros hold a majority interest.

Representatives from the Astros and Rockets did not return phone calls.

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