Astros & Rockets rights in play. Comcast, ATT/Echostar and FSN all vying for the rights:
In what could be a bellwether for local sports TV rights negotiations, up to four suitors — including MSO Comcast and telco AT&T — are attempting a power grab for the Houston Astros TV rights, one of the oldest team relationships in the Fox Sports Net stable.
The negotiations provide a vivid example of the power local video distributors place on local sports rights in markets where they operate video systems.
The Astros are considering an out clause in their long-term rights deal with Fox Sports Houston, formerly Fox Sports Southwest, after the 2012 season. FS Houston is negotiating to keep the rights, which are important both for the location of the franchise and the team’s regional popularity.
But the RSN finds itself facing heavy competition from distributors that own cable systems in the Houston market.
In addition to the Astros, the rights to the Houston Rockets, also held by FS Houston, are believed to be in play.
Comcast officials met with Astros team executives late last year about obtaining local TV rights and setting up its own RSN in Houston, similar to the nine Comcast regionals already in place. Comcast wanted the rights as a way of continuing its strategy of operating RSNs in markets where it is the dominant cable provider. Comcast is Houston’s biggest cable operator. Overall, Houston has 1.198 million basic video subscribers.
Comcast currently does not have an RSN in the Texas market.
Nothing came of those talks, and Comcast executives declined to comment for this story.
But AT&T is believed to still be talking with the teams. Several sources say the telco is teaming up with satellite provider EchoStar to try to pick up the TV rights, which would enable it to set up its own regional sports network in Houston.