Comcast Puts Prism On Ropes Phils Agree To Join Flyers, Sixers In Fledgling All-sports Cable Channel

Posted: April 26, 1996

While the Flyers were dominating the Tampa Bay Lightning on the CoreStates Spectrum ice last night, their new owners were increasing their hold on the Philadelphia sports market.

In their second deal since March, the Comcast Corporation entered into a cable television deal that appears to give it the broadcast rights to the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies and threatens the life of PRISM and SportsChannel as a local sports broadcasting company.

``We will launch a super, regional, all-sports channel in October 1997,'' said Brian Roberts, president of Comcast. ``Initially, it will feature Flyers and Phillies games. The 76ers games will be added when available.''

In a statement issued shortly after Comcast announced its move during a press conference between periods of the Flyers-Tampa Bay game, PRISM and SportsChannel officials made it clear that they will not give up their position without a fight.

``We have just seen this announcement, but we were aware of the plan,'' said Laureen E. Ong, senior vice president and general manager for PRISM and SportsChannel. ``I can tell you that we had face-to-face meetings today and that we plan to continue our discussions.

``PRISM and SportsChannel clearly holds rights to the 76ers for many years, as well as two more seasons for the Phillies. We are going to move forward with our business and more details will be forthcoming.''

When the new channel comes on line, it initially will broadcast Flyers games, with the Phillies coming on in the spring of 1998, according to Roberts. Sixers games will be broadcast as current arrangements with PRISM and SportsChannel expire, Roberts said.

``The Phillies will follow [the Flyers] that spring and the Sixers may, or may not, depending on certain option periods that they have with PRISM/ SportsChannel,'' Roberts said. ``We have to see how that goes. They will eventually come on as well.''

The acquisition of the broadcast rights for all three sports teams further broadens Comcast's domination of the Philadelphia sports market. In March, Comcast purchased part of the Sixers, Flyers, Core-States Spectrum and the new CoreStates Center.

Roberts and Ed Snider, managing partner of the recently announced Comcast-Spectacor partnership, said the Comcast channel will be patterned after the Madison Square Garden Network, carrying Philadelphia pro teams, college sports, the new Kixx indoor soccer team, the Wings' box lacrosse games and the new American Hockey League team, the Phantoms.

The channel also will carry a nightly local sports news show.

Phillies president Bill Giles said the channel will be like a local equivalent of ESPN. ``We want a local `SportsCenter,' talk shows, the Jim Fregosi show, maybe even the Ray Rhodes show,'' he said.

The announcement comes just two days after Giles told the Daily News in an interview that the Phillies and the cable company had ended talks about building a new baseball-only stadium for the Phillies.

According to Giles, the talks involved exchanging the television broadcast rights for the Phillies' games for help building the stadium.

Giles said Tuesday that the cable company and the Phillies had decided in the past two weeks not to build a stadium together. He said that any new stadium would have to be built with a ``majority'' of state money.

Currently, a committee appointed by Gov. Ridge is investigating ways to help fund stadium construction in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

``We asked Comcast if they were interested in building a stadium and they said, `No, we want to do a cable deal,' '' Giles said last night. ``This deal has absolutely nothing to do with a stadium.

``We've been meeting for 15 years with these people and we have been meeting off and on in a very serious nature over the last week or two. Today we signed the deal. Our goal is to make this channel available to as many people as possible through broad cable distribution at a lower cost to sports fans.''

PRISM, as it exists, appears doomed as a sports carrier. But speculation has Comcast purchasing PRISM, thereby making use of its production facilities and personnel.

Roberts doesn't see the new channel attracting substantially more subscribers, since only 65 percent of the region's homes are hooked up with cable.

``All the games today are on some form of cable,'' he said. ``Unfortunately, there is no one product that will make people suddenly sign up.''

That is why Comcast wants to continue airing some Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games on non-cable channels.

``You see, as a cable operator, that subscriptions have gone down steadily, whereas in other cities that are making this more broadly available [it draws] more interest in the team,'' Roberts said. ``It's been better economically for the advertisers and for the teams to expose their product to as broad an audience as possible.''

Snider and Roberts said that a chief executive officer for the channel has not been chosen, but a logical candidate is Bob Gutkowski, who formerly ran the Madison Square Garden Network.

Roberts, Giles and Snider declined to discuss specifics of the new partnership, and Snider said the venture ``was still in the planning stages.''

Snider said there have been no discussions of broadcasting a pay-per-view station and said the partnership will host a ``channel that will reach everyone at a low cost.''

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