SportsChannel logo from 1995 to 1998.
(New York City; as Cablevision Sports 3)
March 1, 1979
(launch of SportsChannel brand)
|Closed||January 27, 1998|
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)|
(available in select regions)
|Headquarters||New York City, New York|
Fox Sports Networks|
|Sister channel(s)||Prime Network|
SportsChannel is the collective name for a former group of regional sports networks in the United States that were owned by Cablevision, which from 1988 until the group's demise, operated it as a joint venture with NBC.
Operating from March 1, 1979 to January 27, 1998, it was the country's first regional sports network, and along with Prime Network, was an important ancestor to many of the regional sports outlets in the U.S., particularly Fox Sports Networks and Comcast SportsNet. At its peak, SportsChannel operated nine networks serving several of the nation's largest cities including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.
SportsChannel's origins date back to 1976, when Cablevision launched Cablevision Sports 3 (the "3" referencing its original channel slot on the provider), a sports network carried on the company's New York City area system. The network originated the SportsChannel brand on March 1, 1979, when it changed its name to SportsChannel New York. The network carried games from several New York area sports teams including the New York Yankees and New York Mets Major League Baseball franchises and the NBA's New Jersey Nets.
The network expanded to other regions with the launches and purchases of additional networks throughout the 1980s; the first expansion occurred through Cablevision subsidiary Rainbow Media's purchase of Boston-based PRISM New England in 1983, relaunching the network as SportsChannel New England. The following year, Rainbow purchased Sportsvision, a Chicago-based pay television network founded by Chicago White Sox owners Jerry Reinsdorf (also owner of the Chicago Bulls) and Eddie Einhorn, and media entrepreneur Fred Eychaner; that network subsequently relaunched as SportsChannel Chicago. Rainbow later launched SportsChannel networks in Florida, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Philadelphia between 1987 and 1990.
In December 1988, NBC and Cablevision announced that they would form a joint venture to operate their respective cable networks, including SportsChannel. Through this partnership, SportsChannel acquired the regional cable television rights to several National Hockey League teams, while NBC and Cablevision also partnered to carry events from the 1992 Summer Olympics through a pay-per-view service known as the Olympics Triplecast.
In 1990, Rainbow/NBC acquired the San Francisco-based Pacific Sports Network, relaunching it as SportsChannel Bay Area. SportsChannel Los Angeles later ceased operations in 1993 due to financial issues, with all of its sports broadcast contracts being acquired by the competing Prime Ticket. On April 25, 1995, NBC sold its 50% interest in SportsChannel New York to Rainbow Media for US$93 million; NBC cited that "owning a piece of SportsChannel New York made less sense" after Cablevision and ITT purchased competing regional sports network, MSG.
Merger with Fox Sports Net
On June 30, 1997, Fox/Liberty Networks, a joint venture between News Corporation and Liberty Media, purchased a 40% interest in Cablevision's sports properties including the SportsChannel networks, Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers. Through the deal, the SportsChannel networks would be integrated into Fox Sports Net, a group of regional sports networks launched in November 1996 through News Corporation's purchase of Liberty's Prime Network group; SportsChannel New York would also be rebranded as Fox Sports New York, with Cablevision-owned MSG also becoming a separately branded FSN outlet.
National Sports Partners, the venture formed through Cablevision's entry into the News Corporation/Liberty partnership to operate the existing and newly acquired owned-and-operated regional networks, later announced that it would relaunch the other SportsChannel networks under the "Fox Sports Net" banner. SportsChannel New York was the first to rebrand, as Fox Sports New York, on January 27, 1998. Five of the seven other remaining SportsChannel networks relaunched as member networks of Fox Sports Net later that week.
Two of the SportsChannel networks would not become part of FSN, one of them not immediately. After Comcast acquired a majority stake in Philadelphia-based entertainment company Spectacor to form Comcast Spectacor in 1996 and announced plans to create its own regional sports network, Rainbow Media decided to shut down SportsChannel Philadelphia and sister premium service PRISM on October 1, 1997, with both networks' NBA and NHL contracts with the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers being acquired by the new Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia (which replaced SportsChannel Philadelphia on local cable systems). SportsChannel Florida was also unable to join Fox Sports Net at the same time as its sisters as Wayne Huizenga, owner of the NHL's Florida Panthers, owned a 70% controlling interest in the channel (with Rainbow Media as minority partner). Cablevision repurchased Huizenga's share of the network in November 1999, relaunching it as Fox Sports Net Florida on March 1, 2000, formally dissolving the SportsChannel brand two years after the national group effectively ceased operations.
On February 22, 2005, Cablevision acquired News Corporation's ownership interests in Fox Sports Chicago and Fox Sports New York, and a 50% interest in Fox Sports New England (with Comcast retaining its existing 50% stake), in a trade deal in which News Corporation sold its interests in Madison Square Garden, the Knicks and Rangers in exchange for acquiring sole ownership of Fox Sports Ohio and Fox Sports Florida. However, News Corporation and Cablevision retained joint ownership of Fox Sports Bay Area.
Fox Sports Chicago ceased operations in June 2006, after losing the regional cable television rights to local professional teams (including the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs and White Sox) two years earlier to the newly launched Comcast SportsNet Chicago. In April 2007, Cablevision sold its interest in the New England and Bay Area networks to Comcast (the San Francisco Giants later acquired part-ownership of the San Francisco-based network in February 2008); both networks became part of Comcast SportsNet, with FSN New England relaunching as Comcast SportsNet New England in July 2007 and FSN Bay Area relaunching as Comcast SportsNet Bay Area in March 2008. Cablevision later rebranded Fox Sports New York as MSG Plus on March 10, 2008.
|Channel||Region served||Year joined/launched||Current owner/status||Notes|
|SportsChannel Chicago|| northern Illinois
|1984||defunct||Acquired as SportsVision in 1984 and rebranded in 1989, became the FSN Chicago; network ceased operations in 2006 after losing professional sports contracts to Comcast SportsNet Chicago|
|SportsChannel Cincinnati|| southern Ohio
|1989||Fox Sports Ohio, owned by Fox Entertainment Group||replaced with subfeed of Fox Sports Ohio|
|SportsChannel Florida|| Florida
|1987||Fox Sports Florida, owned by Fox Entertainment Group|
|SportsChannel Los Angeles||Southern California||1989||defunct|
|SportsChannel New England|| Massachusetts
|1983||Comcast SportsNet New England, owned by Comcast||Acquired as PRISM New England and rebranded in 1983|
|SportsChannel New York|| New York
northern New Jersey
|1976||MSG Plus, owned by The Madison Square Garden Company|
|SportsChannel Ohio|| Ohio
|1989||Fox Sports Ohio, owned by Fox Entertainment Group|
|SportsChannel Pacific|| northern and central California
parts of southern Oregon
|1990||Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, owned by Comcast||Acquired in 1990 as Pacific Sports Network, and rebranded as SportsChannel Bay Area; rebranded again as SportsChannel Pacific in 1993|
|SportsChannel Philadelphia|| southeastern Pennsylvania
southern New Jersey
|1990||defunct; sports contracts acquired by Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia|
SportsChannel America was a national version of SportsChannel that launched in 1988, which was distributed to select cable providers in areas that were not served by a regional SportsChannel network. The network's feature programming was coverage of various National Hockey League games (see below). In 1993, SportsChannel America was replaced by NewSport, a 24-hour sports news channel.
Prime SportsChannel Networks
In 1993, Cablevision Systems Corporation, Liberty Media and NBC formed Prime SportsChannels America, a venture in which the companies pooled programming and advertising sales between SportsChannel and Liberty's Prime Network regional sports group. Through this partnership, the two companies formed two national sports-related channels, the sports news service NewSport and American Sports Classics, a network focusing on replays of past sporting events and historical sports documentaries that replaced NewSport in 1997 and operated until 1998.
SportsChannel broadcast several Canadian Football League regular season games produced by SportsChannel Pacific during the 1993 season, later losing the broadcast rights to the upstart ESPN2 (at the time devoted most of programming to extreme sports) through a four-year contract in 1994. The network was also notable for providing live national coverage of NASCAR Busch Grand National races beginning in 1990, as well as coverage of the World Basketball League. SportsChannel Philadelphia carried the ECW Hardcore TV, a syndicated wrestling program of the now-defunct Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion from the program's debut in 1993 until the channel shut down in 1997.
From 1994 to 1997, SportsChannel America also aired NewSport Talk, a two-hour sports talk show produced by SportsChannel Chicago for sister network NewSport, that was syndicated to most of its SportsChannel-branded sister networks.
National Hockey League
SportsChannel America obtained the national cable television rights to the National Hockey League from ESPN in 1988; Rainbow Sports was able to secure the rights by offering the NHL a bid of US$51 million ($17 million per year) over three years, more than double what ESPN had paid ($24 million) for its 1985–1988 contract (a move not unlike the 2005 acquisition of NHL rights by Comcast/OLN over ESPN); SportsChannel America obtained a fourth year of the contract for just $5 million in 1992.
One issue that arose with the deal was that SportsChannel America was available only in a few major markets, and reached only one-third of the households that ESPN covered, limiting the national availability of its NHL coverage. In smaller markets, especially those with cable systems whose headends had limited channel capacity, the channel was only made available on a gametime basis as a pay-per-view option, and often limited telecast to only Stanley Cup Playoff games. The NHL terminated its deal with SportsChannel America in 1992 and chose to sign a new broadcast deal with ESPN, leaving SportsChannel America with very little sports content outside of outdoor sports shows and Canadian Football League games.
The NHL rights deal proved for a disaster for SportsChannel, as even though it helped the national channel expand its coverage to 20 million homes within the first three years, Rainbow Spors lost as much as $10 million on the agreement, and SportsChannel America soon faded into obscurity. Some regional SportsChannel networks – which carried NHL games in their local markets – were not affected by the national network's loss of league rights.
- "About Rainbow Media - Our Story Timeline 80's". Retrieved April 10, 2015.
- Geraldine Fabrikant (December 23, 1988). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; NBC and Cablevision Plan Joint Programming Venture". The New York Times (The New York Times Company).
- "NBC SELLS OFF ITS SHARE OF SPORTSCHANNEL NEW YORK". Sports Business Journal (Advance Publications). April 26, 1995. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
- "Fox putting together national Sports Net // Changes ahead for SportsChannel". Chicago Sun-Times (Sun-Times Media Group). June 24, 1997. Retrieved April 10, 2015 – via HighBeam Research.
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- "About Rainbow Media - Our Story Timeline 90's". Retrieved March 10, 2008.
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- Leon Lazaroff (February 23, 2005). "News Corp. exits Chicago Fox sports station". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Publishing). Retrieved April 10, 2015.
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