Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Could the Phillies' TV rights spark a bidding war between Comcast and Fox?

Fox Sports is reportedly interested in bidding for Phillies rights and launching a new regional sports network here.

Could the Phillies’ TV rights spark a bidding war between Comcast and Fox?

Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler in the TV broadcast booth at Citizens Bank Park. (Jarrid Barringer/Staff file photo)
Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler in the TV broadcast booth at Citizens Bank Park. (Jarrid Barringer/Staff file photo)

Last Friday, the Inquirer’s Matt Gelb wrote an interesting blog post about how the Phillies’ fall in attendance could affect the team’s finances.

If the team’s crowds continue to be where they are, the team could lose as much as $25 million in revenue compared to last year. That’s a lot of money.

It’s possible, though, that the team’s overall revenues could bounce back in a big way soon.

We’ve known for a while that the Phillies are in position to potentially make a lot of money from a new local TV broadcast contract. From 2009 through 2011 the team was among the top three teams in all of baseball in local TV ratings, and interest in the team hasn’t dropped that much since the team last made the playoffs.

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Gelb wrote in detail last year about what the Phillies could generate from a new TV deal, and when that money would arrive.

At the time, it was assumed that the Phillies and Comcast SportsNet would continue their relationship, with CSN paying a bigger rights fee. That would help the Phillies’ ability to spend big, which would hopefully lead to more wins, and thus higher ratings. So all sides would be happy.

But now there appears to be a new twist in the plot. Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote Sunday that Fox could make a move to snatch Phillies rights away from Comcast, and create a new local sports channel in Philadelphia.

As Passan reported:

"[T]hey want Philadelphia," one source with knowledge of Fox's plans said. "They got the Yankees [by buying a share of the YES Network], which helps. They're not going to have the Red Sox. They're not going to have the Mets. They want another East Coast team."

[I stupidly forgot to add the link to Passan's column until Monday evening. Many apologies for that - it's a mistake I rarely make and will try hard to not make again.]

A Fox Sports local channel here would pair with the Fox’s new national sports channel that will launch in August. Fox Sports 1 will feature a lot of baseball simulcasts from its Fox Sports Net regional channels, including Yankees and Dodgers games.

Nationwide, Fox Sports Net channels broadcast games from 13 teams in Major League Baseball. Fox also has a share in the Yankees’ YES Network, as well as ROOT Sports’ four RSNs. Three of them – Pittsburgh, Denver and Seattle – broadcast those markets’ baseball teams.

All in all, Fox has stakes in local broadcasts for 17 of the 30 teams in MLB.

Comcast has rights to six teams, including the Phillies, Cubs and Giants. It also has a stake in the Mets’ SportsNet New York channel, which is owned jointly by NBC Universal and Time Warner Cable.

If Fox gets a Philadelphia channel, that would give the Phillies even more national exposure.

It won’t be easy for Fox to launch a regional sports network here, though. Comcast (as we know all too well) controls not only the programming on CSN, but the cable networks on which the programming is distributed.

So it’s entirely possible that Comcast could refuse to carry a Fox channel with Phillies games. That would probably stop the channel from even existing in the first place.

It would also force the Phillies to stick with CSN, and that could restrain the rights fee that the team eventually gets.

Do you want to see the Phillies break away from Comcast? How much would you be willing to pay for a second local sports cable channel? Have your say in the comments.

Jonathan Tannenwald Sports Producer
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