In a major regional sports network coup, Time Warner Cable and the Los Angeles Lakers have reached a 20-year deal that will include distribution of the reigning two-time National Basketball Association champion's live games via a pair of new HD regional sports networks, including the nation's first Spanish-language RSN.
The Lakers will move their local games from News Corp-owned regional sports service Fox Sports West, as well as KCAL, to the new networks, tipping off with the 2012-2013 season, according to Time Warner officials.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The as-yet-named networks will be available to all satellite, cable and telco distributors in Southern California, Nevada and Hawaii. In addition to Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications and Cox Communications own cable systems in Southern California, which also has significant DBS penetration via DirecTV and Dish Network. Telco AT&T U-verse also has a strong presence in the area.
A Lakers spokesman said the exclusive negotiating windows for FS West and KCAL had expired, and the club was confident that Time Warner Cable would not only build a strong network, but one that will secure plenty of carriage over the next 18 months. "There are no concerns that Time Warner Cable will attain the same level of distribution, if not more," he said.
A Fox spokesman released the following statement: "Fox made an offer to the Lakers that would have paid them one of the highest local TV rights fees in professional sports. We did not believe that going higher was in the best interest of our business or pay TV customers in Los Angeles, who will bear the cost of this deal for years to come."
In addition to the Lakers, FS West has rights to the the National Hockey League's Anaheim Ducks and Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Sister RSN Prime Ticket has rights to the NBA's Clippers, the NHL's Kings and MLB's Dodgers. Fox has long-term pacts with all of the teams, save for the Dodgers, whose contract runs through the 2013 baseball season.
Lakers home games have been airing on cable since 1985, while KCAL has been televising the club's road games since the 1970s.
Shoulder programming, in the form of behind-the-scenes info, profiles and classic contests, also will be available on Time Warner Cable's service, which will also produce magazine and news shows, as well as provide pre- and post-game coverage.
The Spanish-language RSN will showcase dedicated productions -- not SAP feeds. The team spokesman said that Lakers owner Jerry Buss was "ecstatic" about the formation of the Lakers-centric RSN aimed at Hispanic audiences.
For its part, the nation's No. 2 cable operator labeled the Lakers rights as "must-have content."
"This long-term agreement represents a huge win for all Lakers fans, providing destination channels, more content and more platforms for the Lakers, one of the premier brands in professional sports today," said Glenn Britt, Time Warner Cable's chairman and CEO in a statement. "It allows us to secure great ‘must-have' content for our customers in an advantageous arrangement that affords us greater control over our own economic destiny for decades to come. We'll be able to fully leverage our experience in local and regional programming; we have been at the forefront of the industry with 24-hour regional news and 24-hour regional news in Spanish, and now we're breaking ground with the nation's first Spanish-language regional sports network, something that's tailor made for Southern California."
All told, Time Warner Cable manages 34 local channels, nine of which are local sports nets, with another seven featuring sports content. The networks largely sport minor league and collegiate fare.
The MSO's local sports network roster: TWC Sports Central NY 1 & 2; TWC Sports 3 Albany; TWC SportsNet Rochester; TWC SportsNet Buffalo; TWC Sports 32 Wisconsin; Metro Sports 1 & 2 Kansas City; and Metro Sports Nebraska. Local sports are also carried on Texas Channel, TWC SoCal 101, TWC TV New England, NEON (Northeast Ohio Network) and OC16 (Oceanic TWC in Hawaii).
The nation's No. 2 cable operator also has an equity position in SportsNet NY, the cable home of the New York Mets, and has an ad sales partnership with SportsTime Ohio.