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HOW THE WEST WAS WON: ESPN MOVES IN ON FSN'S TERRITORY
Published December 11, 1997
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).