In a major sports coup, the fledgling Turner South network
has picked up the exclusive cable rights to the Atlanta Thrashers expansion team in the
National Hockey League.
Turner South, scheduled to launch this fall, will carry 46
Thrashers games as part of a 10-year deal between the team and the network, TBS
Superstation and Turner South president Bill Burke said. The games start this October as
part of the 1999-2000 season.
The service -- which will be distributed to cable and
direct-broadcast satellite affiliates in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina,
Tennessee and parts of North Carolina -- will also carry other local sports events,
including 30 Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball and 15 Atlanta Hawks National Basketball
The Thrashers are the first major area professional sports
team not distributing games on regional sports incumbent Fox Sports Net South. Prior to
the deal, Fox had made noise about taking action against Turner South if it offered sports
Fox maintained that when it acquired then-SportSouth from
Turner in 1996, a noncompete clause in the deal barred Turner from airing sports on a
A Fox Sports spokesman said the Thrashers deal is "an
obvious and clear violation of the [noncompete] agreement," and the company intends
"to take all actions necessary to protect our rights" if the matter is not
For Turner South, the Thrashers games are a major
programming acquisition, adding to the network's appeal to operators.
"The Thrashers are very important for us," Burke
said. "The network will now offer a broad range of entertainment programming,
It's still unclear how much the service will cost
operators, but Burke said the network is already in negotiations with several MSOs for
distribution. "We're in ongoing negotiations with operators; the feedback thus
far has been good," he added. "We want to have as many subs at launch as
While one MSO executive said the Thrashers deal boosted the
network's value, that operator had not yet reached an affiliation deal.
"We're still evaluating Turner South," the executive said.