SBJ/October 1 - 7, 2007/This Weeks News

WCSN gets equity backer; deal with ESPN

World Championship Sports Network has secured the financial support of a private equity firm and finalized a distribution agreement with ESPN360. The moves position the Olympic sports network for continued growth online and on TV.

New York-based private equity firm InterMedia Partners will become the lead investor in WCSN. The group, which is headed by Leo Hindery Jr., former CEO of YES Network, joins MLB Advanced Media and venture capital group Polaris as a WCSN partner.

Both parties declined to discuss terms of the investment, but InterMedia will receive three seats on the network’s board of directors. Their investment follows a capital campaign during which WCSN sought an investment of $15 million to $25 million.

“These guys have killed themselves getting it to this point and hopefully we can provide them the capital to make it that much better,” said Peter Kern, managing director of InterMedia. “We like to roll up our sleeves and get involved, and where we’ll be most helpful is helping them define the right strategy for, potentially, television.”

InterMedia owns a controlling interest in Gospel Music Channel and could leverage its experience and existing relationships with cable operators and in television to secure carriage for WCSN video-on-demand offerings or create additional syndicated content agreements.

“They bring good synergy and strategic capital that we didn’t have,” said WCSN Chairman and CEO Claude Ruibal. “They’ll help us to continue our dream of having a real cable network in the future.”

InterMedia’s investment coincides with the announcement of a content distribution agreement for WCSN with ESPN360. The agreement gives WCSN its own channel on ESPN360 featuring live and on-demand WCSN content, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ESPN.com will feature highlights and share news and information content from WCSN on its Olympic sports section, as well.

WCSN and ESPN declined to address financial terms of the deal, but partnerships such as this typically are based on a revenue-sharing agreement.

WCSN will be able to supplement that revenue share with advertisements broadcast directly on ESPN360, which has distribution in 15 million homes.

The agreement with ESPN comes on the heels of deals struck over the summer with Yahoo! and FoxSports.com. It also adds another channel to the recently relaunched ESPN360, which now features more niche live sports such as rugby and women’s triathlon.

“I won’t say this is the last partnership we’ll do, but it completes a full circle and rounds out the partnerships we’ve done,” said WCSN President Carlos Silva.

Both ESPN and InterMedia were motivated to partner with WCSN because of the numerous rights it holds to major international championships in Olympic sports such as skiing, swimming, track and field and gymnastics.

Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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