Who's Got the Best Shot at CSN Houston: NBC Sports Group, AT&T or Fox Sports?


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Yes, Fox Sports Southwest is back in the picture.
The supposed NBC Sports Group bid for the media rights isn't unexpected, seeing as how the entity is the parent of all the Comcast regional sports networks, and it was Comcast that pushed to put the network into bankruptcy. However, Comcast stated several months ago that it was withdrawing its bid to purchase the network out of bankruptcy. According to Ourand's report, NBC Sports Group would pay the teams a total of $80 million for the rights and would also pay the Astros and Rockets $100 million for money already owed. CSN Houston would stay on the air, and there's no guarantee of increased carriage, though as sole owner of the network, the concerns of the Astros over carriage fees would not be able to block any carriage deals.

AT&T's bid would be part of it starting up its own Regional Sports Network. It attempted to do this several years ago, trying to get the Astros and Rockets to go into a network with it instead of Comcast. And according to Ourand's story, AT&T attempted to acquire an equity share in the network last year. Now it would just purchase the rights and start its own network. And with its pending acquisition of DirecTV, the network would gain wider clearance than CSN Houston -- there's no mention in the story of whether there would be Comcast carriage.

This would likely be the end for CSN Houston, though it's possible AT&T would seek to keep most of the current talent and production people. Isgur would have to approve the transfer of the rights from CSN Houston to AT&T, and something would have to be done about winding up the network and trying to get debts paid. It's doubtful AT&T's deal would account for the money that the Astros and Rockets have not been paid by CSN Houston under the current rights deal, so I would expect the judge to insist on a deal settling the bankruptcy affairs before approving a rights fee with AT&T.

The Fox Sports deal seems to be the most unlikely outcome. It's reportedly for far less money than that being offered by NBC Sports Group and AT&T. The only thing it offers is full carriage across the five-state network map. It's good in that it gets the teams back on television for everybody, but it does nothing about the actual network, which is still in bankruptcy, and it just seems doubtful the judge would allow this without all the parties figuring out how to wind up the network and pay off the hundreds of thousands of creditors.

This really needs to end. It's about more than the current Astros ownership group not liking the deal agreed to by the past Astros ownership group, or about Comcast trying to gain control of the network. There are jobs at stake, and creditors on the line for lots of cash. Hughes needs to do his job and make a ruling on the appeal. The sooner the better. An appeal ruling would provide more incentive to get this damn thing settled, to get a plan developed.

Maybe one of the above proposed deals will work out, but there's no real urgency for AT&T or Fox Sports or NBC Sports Group to scoop in and make something work while this whole thing just hangs in limbo. But until that time, the clown show continues. And continues. And continues.



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