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Astros Owner Jim Crane yesterday said Comcast's proposed carriage agreements for CSN Houston were "way under water," off by about half from original business projections for the fledgling RSN, and would have crippled the club's investment in the venture. He said what Comcast was "proposing would have saddled us with so much debt, it would have wiped our equity" in CSN Houston. Crane added, "Nobody wants their equity diluted to nothing, but that's what could have happened." The Astros on Monday filed a formal objection to the involuntary bankruptcy proceedings for CSN Houston, arguing Comcast's move was legally improper and could leave the club crippled in its local TV rights revenue. Crane: "No one's happy here, but TV rights are very important. There's no secret this is a very big deal for us, and (the league) supports our position." The initial bankruptcy filing arrived just days before the club intended to file a breach-of-contract complaint for non-payment of rights fees by Comcast. The Astros were set to receive "a little north" of $50M in total local TV rights fees, but that has not been paid since before the All-Star Game.
TWO TO TANGO: Crane remains open to selling his equity in CSN Houston and selling his TV rights to another provider, but only "at a fair price." Crane declined to specify who a new partner might be, but said "there were other bidders for this prior to our doing this deal" with Comcast. He acknowledged, however, that any plan will require some sort of relationship with Comcast given the company's extensive distribution reach in greater Houston. A hearing on the club's move to dismiss the bankruptcy proceeding is scheduled for Oct. 28, but that date is in some jeopardy due to the federal government shutdown. The bankruptcy court at this point is certain to stay open through Oct. 17, pending further developments. Meanwhile, Crane said the club's relationship with the Rockets, also a partner in CSN Houston, is fine, and said the NBA team stands at risk of losing its equity investment as well. He said, "We're both in the same position. At this point, they're not going to get paid (rights fees) either." Crane also said the club's ongoing youth-driven rebuilding effort remains unchanged, despite the ongoing turbulence in this matter. Crane: "The plan remains the same. We're making progress, though you can't really see it yet (at the major league level). But we're staying on that course" (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer). Crane said of selling the Astros' TV rights, "We feel there is legitimate interest from other parties, but people will probably stay to the sideline until this piece is sorted out." He said that if the partnership "is restructured, the Astros would be interested in increasing their 46 percent share 'if we thought it was a good bargain' and that carriage agreements with Comcast, the area's largest cable provider, remain in force" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/9).
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds wrote given the RSN’s "governance issues and the hearing date of Oct. 28, it’s highly unlikely that the Oct. 30 tipoff of the Rockets season will spur any new carriage agreements in time for the start" of the '13-14 NBA campaign (MULTICHANNEL.com, 10/8).
PBS' "Frontline" last night debuted its "League of Denial" documentary, and "not surprisingly, it was damaging to the NFL," according to Josh Katzowitz of CBSSPORTS.com. The NFL's "denial about the concussion problem for so many decades was fascinating to experience." Most of the "knowledge that emerged from the film has been documented in various media outlets throughout the last decade or so." But that it was "all put together in this narrative was devastating for the league." Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue "didn't come off well in the film, as the former lawyer orchestrated the league's initial response." In fact, he "blamed the concussion issue on pack journalism" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/8). SPORTS ON EARTH's Patrick Hruby offered five takeaways from "League of Denial." The first was the players "didn't know what they were signing up for." In addition, the "Big Tobacco analogy is apt" and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is "part of the problem." The NFL "deserves skepticism, not trust." Finally, "where was the union?" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 10/8).
FINDING PROGRESS: Pro Football HOFer Harry Carson said, "I’m happy that the story has been told in the largest possible platform, so that people can make up their own minds about what they need to do before deciding whether their kids can play or not." He added, "It doesn’t exactly paint the NFL in a favorable light. The players know how the NFL operates. And people who were unaware, like [former NFL team physician] Bennet Omalu, he said it best in the film -- about how the NFL can squash you." Asked whether that remark will make him unwelcome at Giants President & CEO John Mara’s house, Carson said, "I don’t think it will be a problem. The Giants organization knows I’ve taken a very strong stance on this issue for about 20 years. So it’s nothing new." He added, "I even shared with them prior to the season that I was working on the documentary, and said that if it’s a problem, they should let me know. When I go on the air and do the (Giants First and Ten) show, I talk football. I’m not talking concussions, so there’s a separation there. If there is any kind of blowback, it probably would have already occurred. And if there is down the road, so be it" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 10/9). For additional reaction, check out today's Morning Buzz.
TBS’ ALDS doubleheader yesterday, which featured A’s-Tigers Game 4 and the series-clinching Red Sox-Rays Game 4, averaged a 3.6 overnight rating, a 24% increase when compared to a 2.9 on the sixth day of LDS coverage in ’12. On the comparable day last season, two of the three games played were potentially series-deciding matchups.
TRENDING UPWARD: TBS’ MLB postseason coverage through Monday is averaging a 2.3 final rating and 3.55 million viewers. While the rating is flat through the same period in ’12, viewership is up 2% from 3.47 million viewers. The net is on pace for its most-viewed postseason since ’10. Meanwhile, TBS’ opening week of postseason coverage earned the net the top spot among cable nets in primetime viewership (THE DAILY).POSTSEASON MAGIC: In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch writes MLB is "putting on a terrific show, arguably the best, and most competitive postseason in years." TBS might have "initially regretted not having a New York hook for its ratings sweeps, but little by little, the playoffs have turned into must-watch TV." Klapisch: "Here we are, now on the doorstep of not one, but two Game 5 scenarios that no one saw coming." Execs in both leagues "still think the World Series will inevitably distill into an East-West faceoff -- Red Sox versus Dodgers -- but this is nevertheless the homogenized tournament that Bud Selig wanted all along" (Bergen RECORD, 10/9). In DC, Thomas Boswell writes it is possible MLB has "never had a better single day than the 12 hours from 1 p.m. Monday afternoon until after 1 a.m. Tuesday morning." Almost everything "good about the game, especially its warped but wonderful postseason, was on display." The "best and worst aspect of October baseball is that you have no idea who will win or why or which heroes will emerge." The better team "usually wins, but not often enough to claim that baseball’s format is any model of fairness." Instead, it is the "epitome of entertainment, but one that is so spread out that it demands hours of attention, or good luck, to see the best of it" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/9).
SI is "testing a paywall that lets readers access its print articles early if they watch a 30-second video ad first," according to Lucia Moses of ADWEEK. Selectable Media, who is providing the technology, has been "testing consumers' willingness to watch video ads" for free content. This is its "first public test with a major consumer magazine." The SI experiment is "modest for now," as it has been "applied only on the desktop and to a range of SI stories, which typically are only immediately available to paying subscribers." Viewers are "offered a choice of ads to watch," which recently included spots for Del Monte vegetables and "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." The thought is that "if people get a choice of which ad to watch, they're more likely to recall it and buy the product. Once the visitor watches the ad, the article is "unlocked for a 24-hour period." Selectable said that in general 50-70% of visitors "will view videos that are implemented this way and that SI’s results fell into that range" (ADWEEK.com, 10/7).
FAN NON-FICTION: MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds reported HBO, SI and Endgame Entertainment will "serve sports fans a new documentary chronicling how athletics unites Americans" this Thanksgiving. "Sport in America: Our Defining Stories" will premiere on Nov. 28 at 6:00pm ET, and will "also be available on HBO On Demand and HBO GO." The film covers "a wide spectrum of the American sports landscape, including baseball, football, hockey, tennis, basketball, boxing, high school athletics, the Boston Marathon and the Olympic Games." Its subject matter "ranges from the achievement of Jesse Owens" at the '36 Olympics to the Blackhawks' "extraordinary comeback" in Game 6 of the '13 Stanley Cup Final. HBO Sports Exec Producer Rick Bernstein said, "This is one of the most wide-ranging sports projects that HBO has launched, and we are delighted to collaborate with such prestigious partners, who share our passion for storytelling." Time Inc. Sports Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum added, "It embodies the emotional storytelling and deep appreciation for the events that helped shape generations of sports fans" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 10/7).
ESPN yesterday announced that former 76ers coach Doug Collins "has been signed to a multiyear deal to join" Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons on “NBA Countdown," according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com. In addition to his work on "NBA Countdown," Collins will "serve in his more familiar role as a game analyst on a handful of ESPN broadcasts." Collins said, "I’m going to do 10 ESPN Wednesday night games and then I’m going to do 10 ESPN Friday night studio shows and then I’ll do all nine national games (in the) ABC studio during the regular season. Then come playoff time I’ll do all studio. And then I’m going to do the draft and the World Championships. Most of my work has been done as an analyst, but I have done some studio work in the past." He added, "I think the big thing is just getting everybody together and creating a chemistry with one another on the set. I think the one thing we want is for the show to have more of a national perspective rather than (focus on) the particular game that night. ... Hopefully the one thing I can bring to the discussion is the coaching side." Collins said of 76ers Majority Owner Josh Harris, "Josh and I have such a great relationship, so when we sat down and talked, I told him: 'I know where you’re heading. I know you’re going to be hiring a new GM -- that would have been my fourth GM in four years -- so I just feel like at this point in time there would be a better coach for you than me.'” Collins said of his future, "I'm through coaching. I said it when I went to Philly. That was my last spot" (ESPN.com, 10/8).
Highlights of the WNBA Dream-Lynx Finals Game 2 aired around the 30-minute mark of last night’s 11:00pm ET edition of “SportsCenter,” a lower placement than it received following a busier sports day on Sunday. Last night's “SportsCenter” before getting to Dream-Lynx featured highlights from the Red Sox-Rays and A’s-Tigers ALDS games; NFL injury updates, including the latest on Falcons WR Julio Jones; NHL highlights and analysis from ESPN's Barry Melrose; and reports on South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney. The amount of WNBA coverage on "SportsCenter" last night more closely resembled the amount of coverage and placement that ESPN has been giving the WNBA postseason since the league began. The "Top 10 Plays" segment included a play from Dream-Lynx. Meanwhile, FS1’s “Fox Sports Live” aired a highlight in its "The 1" best plays of the night segment and included the score on its ticker.
A MIXED BAG: ESPN on Sunday night averaged 391,000 viewers for the Lynx’ 84-59 win over the Dream in Game 1 of the Finals. Last season’s Fever-Lynx Game 1, which aired on ESPN2, averaged 343,000 viewers. However, Lynx-Dream Game 1 is down 22% from 501,000 viewers for the same matchup in Game 1 in ’11, which also aired on ESPN on a Sunday night.