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ESPN will launch ESPN West, an RSN servicing Southern CA, NV and HI, beginning October '98 in conjunction with the start of the NHL season. The 24-hour service will include regional coverage of the Disney-owned Mighty Ducks, starting with the '98-99 season, and the Angels, beginning with the '99 season. A full schedule is in development (ESPN). RSN WAR HEATS UP: In L.A., Larry Stewart writes that ESPN West will be the first of what ESPN hopes is a number of RSNs to "combat" Fox Sports Net. ESPN Exec VP/Sales & Marketing George Bodenheimer said ESPN West will carry 40 Mighty Ducks games next season along with 37 Angels games in '99 and 50 in 2000. Stewart notes since Fox has the Lakers and Kings "locked up until 2010," and the Clippers for four more years, that "doesn't leave much local inventory for ESPN West." High school and local college sports are possibilities. While Bodenheimer said no price for the RSN has been set, he said it would be "fair." The ESPN West announcement was made at a cable convention in Anaheim, and a number of cable execs attending "questioned" its creation, "wondering if there is room for yet another sports channel and also how ESPN could make it economically feasible." One source said the Angels and Ducks, combined, are giving up about $8.5M a year in local TV rights fees "by leaving the Fox family." Stewart: "Add to that about $3.5 million in production costs, and ESPN West would need to bring in $11 million a year to break even" (L.A. TIMES, 12/11). In Anaheim, Scott Hettrick reports that ESPN West will reach about 4.4 million homes. He adds that the new RSN "presents a difficult situation for area cable operators, most of which agreed recently to add" Fox Sports West 2 and its coverage of the Dodgers and Ducks. The combined cost to operators for FSW and FSW2 is more than $1.50 per subscriber per month. In '99, Angels coverage will be shared between Fox Sports West and ESPN West before shifting exclusively to ESPN West in 2000. ESPN "plans to fill a large portion" of the ESPN West schedule with feeds from ESPNEWS (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 12/11). In N.Y., Bruce Orwall writes ESPN "is late getting into the regional sports business that Fox has dominated." Orwall adds that forming more ESPN RSNs "will in many cases mean trying to pry teams away from Fox," but ESPN "is confident that it can put together programming packages that are more attractive than its competitors" (Bruce Orwall, WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/11).
The Panthers-Cowboys game on "MNF" drew a 17.6/30 national rating (WASHINGTON POST, 12/11)....NBA.com "did its best to expunge all record" of former Warrior Latrell Sprewell from its site when he was suspended. NBA.com programming coordinator Daria DeBuono: "It doesn't always happen that quickly. We happened to be on top of that one." The Warriors' official home page, hosted by NBA.com, "didn't just erase his bio page, but took him out of the official team stats" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 12/10)....DETAILS reviews ESPN's "SportsCenter" in its "The Good, The Bad, And The Inexplicable Meter": "It naps without [Keith] Olbermann's snaps. Bad jokes, no personality ... why stay up late when you can watch your local sportscaster?" (DETAILS, 12/97).
NBC CEO Bob Wright said yesterday at the PaineWebber Media Conference in New York that NBC will post profits this year of $1.1-1.2B, up from $953M last year, according to Collier & Battaglio of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. But Wright said that there is a limit on how much the network will pay to retain rights to the NFL's AFC package: "Everything has a price." Later during the conference, CBS CFO Fred Reynolds discussed the NFL TV talks: "While we're interested, I don't see the incumbents giving that up" (HOLLY. REPORTER, 12/11). TURNER IN CA: At the Western Cable Show in CA, TCI President Leo Hindery said the "sun has set" on the growth of the DBS industry "and that there will be no more big entertainment deals such as the Disney/ABC and Time Warner/Turner mergers," according to Scott Hettrick of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. But Time Warner Vice Chair Ted Turner said, "There will be more big deals." Turner, noting the restructuring at TCI this year: "It may turn out at some point in the future that these big companies like Time Warner and Disney are too big and unwieldy" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 12/11). Turner and his wife, Jane Fonda, were interviewed on "PrimeTime Live" by ABC's Sam Donaldson. Turner, on Rupert Murdoch: "He doesn't have much in the way of principles. ... You can have a lot of stuff and not have principles." Turner, after Donaldson noted that Murdoch owns the Dodgers: "He doesn't have them yet. I mean, it's got to be voted on by the owners" (ABC, 12/10).
NBC and the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) have agreed to a new four-year TV contract extension beginning in 2000, which keeps the U.S. Open on NBC through 2003. Under the new deal, NBC will continue to retain exclusive U.S. broadcast rights to the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women's Open, the U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Amateur championships. NBC will also continue to produce its U.S. Open Preview and annual Year in Review shows. NBC's current deal with the USGA began in '95 and runs through '99 (NBC Sports). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports that the new contract will cost NBC about $18M a year (N.Y. TIMES, 12/11).