Fox Finds New Way To Outfox Regional TV Sports Competitors

Influencing friends and business partners -- that's what it comes down to in modern TV dealing.

Fox's regional sports cable TV operation loaned some $30 million to Frank McCourt so his Los Angeles Dodgers could make payroll. But if not Fox, it would have been Time Warner Cable. That's one way to influence things. If McCourt didn't have his personal finances tied up in some messy divorce proceedings, things would have gone differently.

This was part of the reason Major League Baseball thought ill of the entire Dodger situation -- and looks to take over the team. But was it because of Fox gaining some undue influence over a key major league baseball team? Seems that had a lot to do with it.

Of course, TV media companies have had a long history of ownership of professional sports teams: The Tribune Company with the Chicago Cubs, and TBS with both the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks.



Increasingly TV networks are a major piece of the financial puzzle for sports teams. Perhaps more so now that TV cable operators like Fox Sports and Time Warner Cable are more desperate to keep sports franchises in their respective corrals.

Surprisingly, Time Warner Cable stole the Los Angeles Lakers from Fox to start up its own regional TV service with a big 20-year deal. So Fox rushed to renew with the Dodgers with it own 20-year deal. And it wasn't just Time Warner Cable. Fox took an opportunity to stop the Dodgers from creating their own sports channel from day one.

Looking at the TV environment, we know what works and what's at stake. A potential cancellation or curtailment of the NFL season will throw its TV network partner into a tizzy -- much more than recent sports league season cancellations, the NHL lockout in the 2004-2005 season and Major League Baseball's 1994-1995 strike.

So what's left are teams working more closely with their TV distribution entities -- willing to do more than they ever have. Major League Baseball might be wondering if this is fair play on Fox's part -- as the commissioner hasn't approved the Fox/Dodgers distribution deal as yet.

As far I can tell, there isn't a problem. The business of divorce and baseball continues to get messier and complicated. Major League Baseball should recognize the new TV world and its media partners' needs. After all, media companies like Tribune and Turner have had this kind of influence -- and then some.

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