Regional sports networks carrying NBA games would likely be forced to sacrifice some of the huge affiliate fees that drive their businesses if the NBA lockout causes lost games this season.
The Madison Square Garden Co., which operates the MSG network carrying New York Knicks games, indicated last week that carriage deals with operators have clauses that kick in when a labor impasse wreaks havoc.
"Every affiliate agreement is different, and they all have provisions that usually deal with this," said Mike Bair, who leads MSG Media. "So as the time comes along, we'll deal with each individual affiliate, based on what those provisions require us to do. But I think right now we are not going to speculate this early in the game."
Bair's comments came via a transcript of an MSG company conference call Friday.
The MSG network is scheduled to carry 72 regular-season Knicks games this coming season and is hoping for higher ratings, since it will be the first full season with NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony. The network also carries New York Rangers games.
The NBA is in the middle of a player lockout and trying to negotiate a new labor deal to prevent lost games starting this fall. An NBA lockout would hurt programmers such as Comcast and Fox, which operate a run of local sports outlets.
The networks would also lose ad revenue with lockouts, although MSG indicated that its hockey games and classic Knicks games should help offset some of that.
In a sign of how lucrative regional sports networks can be, Time Warner Cable is establishing a network next year solely because it landed a 20-year deal to carry Los Angeles Lakers games.