SBJ/December 18 - 24, 2006/This Weeks News

FSN regionals sign clubs despite talk of selling 3 RSNs

When FSN North signs a long-term renewal deal for the Milwaukee Bucks this week, it will mark the fifth such deal FSN’s stable of regional sports networks has signed in recent weeks.

The spate of deals underscored FSN’s commitment to its RSNs — a commitment that was questioned when word broke that News Corp. is likely to include three RSNs as part of its deal to sell DirecTV to Liberty — FSN Rocky Mountain, FSN Pittsburgh and FSN Northwest.

This comes as FSN regionals have signed a flurry of long-term deals recently. Earlier this month, FSN Midwest signed a 12-year deal for the Kansas City Royals and a multiyear extension with the St. Louis Cardinals. FSN Prime Ticket signed the Anaheim Ducks to a long-term deal and in August, FSN Indiana signed a long-term deal with the NBA’s Pacers that moved all of the team’s games from broadcast to cable.

During a telephone interview last week, FSN COO Randy Freer could not discuss any aspect of the pending Liberty deal. But he did talk about his company’s future RSN strategy, which included cutting long-term deals with professional teams and localizing programming to appeal to specific markets.

“If you look at FSN South, it’s hard to be truly local when you represent programming for 10 million subscribers in seven or eight states,” he said. “By subdividing these regions into more targeted geographic areas, you can begin to program a lot more shows about individual markets.”

Under this strategy, FSN can keep a regionally popular team, like the Atlanta Braves, on the schedule across the region, while covering local games, such as Mississippi basketball games, in the local market.

“It also allows us to really go in and provide programming via VOD and other places where it really makes the most sense,” he said.

Freer added that the network is planning to break FSN Houston off from FSN Southwest, which is the first step in establishing a regional sports network for the Houston market. It’s contemplating doing the same thing in the Las Vegas and San Diego markets, which are part of FSN Prime Ticket.

Freer believes the move will help ad sales, giving advertisers the choice to pick specific markets. FSN has 18 RSNs around the U.S., including the three that are likely to end up as part of the Liberty deal.

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