SBJ/20080825/This Week's News

A’s negotiating with Comcast for exit from CSN Bay Area

Unhappy with being on a regional sports network partially owned by its local MLB rival, the Oakland A’s have begun negotiations with Comcast to move the club’s local cable TV rights off CSN Bay Area.

The most likely destination for the A’s telecasts is Sacramento-based CSN West, another Comcast regional sports network that has rights to the Sacramento Kings.

The A’s currently are tied to CSN Bay Area until 2010, but that relationship has been strained since early this year, when the San Francisco Giants gained an estimated 30 percent ownership stake in the RSN in exchange for a 25-year rights deal.

The A’s are tied to CSN Bay Area until 2010,
but could make a switch to CSN West.

Under the nascent negotiations, the A’s similarly would gain equity in CSN West, which then could bulk up its programming by gaining additional games from the MLS San Jose Earthquakes, also controlled by Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff, and the Class AAA Sacramento River Cats, an A’s affiliate.

“We’ve been talking to Comcast, but [there’s] nothing to report at this time,” said Wolff, adding he would “prefer to reach a relationship with Comcast.”

If consummated, the move would make sense on several levels. Not only would a shift of Oakland’s rights end a situation in which the A’s are building asset value for the Giants, but it would balance the programming between the two regional networks. CSN Bay Area carries the Giants, A’s, San Jose Sharks and Golden State Warriors, while CSN West is anchored by only the Kings — and those Kings games are blacked out in the immediate San Francisco-Oakland area to protect the Warriors.

The Earthquakes’ broadcast schedule is shared by the two networks.

Insider accounts have varied as to the tenor of the Comcast-A’s talks, but the sides share an extended history. Jeff Shell, president of Comcast programming, went to business school with Keith Wolff, Lew’s son and A’s vice president of venue development.

Comcast is developing an RSN strategy that sees it sharing equity in its RSNs with MLB clubs. Beyond the partnership with the Giants, the New York Mets hold part of SportsNet New York, and the Chicago White Sox and Cubs are part-owners of CSN Chicago.

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