Regional Appeal

Comcast's Burke sounds off on local sports networks

What works in Chicago sports isn't necessarily right for other pro teams. Or so Comcast Cable President Steve Burke thinks. In Chicago, his company is joining forces with the four major pro sports teams on a regional sports network that launches in October. But he'd rather not see other teams hang out their own TV shingle.

"Our preference would be to have teams remain on existing nets and pay a reasonable price for those networks," Burke says, adding, "It is very difficult to imagine a channel that doesn't have winter teams, summer teams, and year-round appeal."

He knows Chicago was a rare situation. Fox Sports Net's deals with the Chicago Blackhawks, White Sox, Cubs, and Bulls were all set to expire after this season. "All four teams were ready to go."

Of course, that isn't stopping some team owners. In Denver, the owner of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche turned down Fox to start its own network. There are similar efforts in Houston and Minnesota.

Add BET founder Robert Johnson to that list. He is creating C-SET, Carolinas Sports and Entertainment Television, to air local games of his NBA expansion team, the Charlotte Bobcats; the WNBA's Charlotte Sting; and other regional sports and local entertainment. The channel is slated to debut in October. Time Warner Cable will offer C-SET on digital basic to its customers in North and South Carolina, a big score for Johnson. Time Warner is the region's dominant MSO, counting about 60% of area cable subscribers.

Burke had channel news of his own last week: NBA TV is joining the Comcast lineup.

The league-owned channel will be available on a tier, although the agreement allows for wider distribution. Big Comcast and NBA markets like Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Los Angeles; Sacramento, Calif.; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; and Seattle will be among the first to receive NBA TV. To sweeten the deal, NBA TV is also providing Comcast with extensive video-on-demand content and high-definition programming.

Says Burke, "This is an example of the kind of deal we like to do."