SBD/29/Sports Media

RED SOX SUED OVER CABLE RIGHTS FEES

     Boston's WSBK-TV has filed suit against the Red Sox and
Bruins, its partners in NESN, claiming the teams are "threatening
to run NESN into the ground by grabbing for more of its revenue
than the teams are owed," according to David Halbfinger of the
BOSTON GLOBE.  As owners of NESN, the Red Sox (47%) and Bruins
(31%) supply content, while WSBK (19%) supplies production
equipment and services.  An additional 3% is split among the
three.  The dispute involves the rights fees the teams receive
from games -- originally $.11-.16 per subscriber/per game.  But
Michael Gass, attorney for WSBK, notes that deal was negotiated
when NESN was purely a premium cable service.  However, more
cable systems recently have begun moving NESN from premium to
basic cable, cutting the channel's monthly per subscriber share
from $4-5 to around $.50.  Gass noted that since '85, "to account
for the disparity," the teams accepted lower rights fees.  But in
January, according to the suit, the Red Sox and Bruins labeled
those lower fees an "experiment" and threatened to terminate if
the fees didn't rise.  Gass, on the demands:  "This would put
NESN into the red this year, and further and further into the red
every year after.  And Channel 38 would lose money on the deal.
It's inconsistent with keeping the venture alive."  The GLOBE's
Halbfinger notes the "bad blood" between the Red Sox and WSBK-TV,
the team's broadcast partner for 21 years until a switch this
year.  Also, the $2.1M the Sox are demanding would help balance
$5M in local broadcasting losses under their new deal with WABU-
TV and $4M in national TV losses (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/25).  Red Sox
attorney Daniel Goldberg accused WSBK's owner, Viacom, of being
"far off on their facts."  Goldberg:  "Rather than come back with
a proposal, they came back with a lawsuit" (Jeffrey Krasner,
BOSTON HERALD, 5/25).    BEHIND THE BRIEFS:  The GLOBE's Joan
Vennochi writes the suit "is about revenge, money" -- and the Red
Sox's new TV rights deal, negotiated by team Exec VP John
Buckley.  Vennochi writes that Buckley's deal with WABU for
roughly $9M per year "may have put the team is such a bad
bargaining position, management is anxious to make up the
difference elsewhere --like NESN" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/29).
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