Local channel will broadcast games in HDTV

Comcast has announced plans to launch a regional sports net in Chicago, partnering with the parent companies of the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox pro franchises.

Cubs owner Tribune, along with White Sox/Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Blackhawks owner William Wirtz, will own a stake in the channel, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, along with the cable company.

Comcast will be the teams’ cable and satellite TV provider, including games broadcast in HDTV. The channel will also pay some license fees to the teams.

Fox Sports Net holds rights to the teams, including 72 Cubs and 95 White Sox baseball games, 42 Bulls basketball games and 39 Blackhawks hockey games. But earlier this year, the teams announced they would not renew that rights agreement, and instead strike out on their own.

Fox Sports Net will continue to telecast the sports until the end of the baseball season next fall. Comcast SportsNet Chicago plans to launch Oct. 1, in time to take over the deals.

The new channel will carry the same number of games as Fox Sports Net did. Comcast serves 1.5 million households in the region, and plans to pursue carriage agreements it hopes will bump the channel’s distribution up to 3.5 million homes.

“Being a sports fan in Chicago is a full-time passion, and we look forward to providing first-class coverage of the goals, baskets and runs that will define the Chicago sports experience in the season ahead,” Comcast Cable prexy Steve Burke said.

Comcast also runs regional sports nets in Washington and Philadelphia, where the company owns the 76ers basketball and Flyers hockey franchises.

The Chicago teams become the latest pro sports franchises to launch their own channel, aimed at giving them more control over rights fees, advertising and marketing. The New York Yankees yanked their baseball rights from the Cablevision-owned MSG channel in 2002 to launch the team’s YES Network.

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