New basic-cable net to air sports in Philly

NEW YORK — Philadelphia cable subscribers will soon get the games of three of the city’s major professional sports franchises — the baseball Phillies, the basketball 76ers and the hockey Flyers — on a newly reconstituted basic channel, to be called Comcast Sportsnet.

On Sept. 30, 1997, Comcast Sportsnet will in effect replace Sportschannel Philadelphia, a basic-cable network that shares the coverage of Phillies, Sixers and Flyers games with the local pay-TV channel Prism. Prism will also go out of business on Sept. 30, to be replaced by John Malone’s pay-TV movie channel Starz in the Philadelphia area on cable systems owned by Comcast.

Deal for teams the spur

These seismic shifts in the Philadelphia cable-sports scene became inevitable when Comcast Corp., the fourth-largest cable operator in the U.S., bought a 66% stake for $250 million in a partnership that owns the Sixers, the Flyers and two arenas: the Spectrum and the new Corestates Center, in a deal announced March 19, 1996. Spectacor, the company that manages the teams and the arenas, owns the other 34%. Like Spectacor, Comcast is based in Philadelphia.

One consequence of the Philadelphia sports realignment is that Malone and Rupert Murdoch will no longer have the ownership position they solidified when Fox Sports bought a 40% stake last month in Cablevision System Corp.’s regional sports networks, including Prism and Sportschannel Philadelphia.

But the Fox Sports Network acted quickly to sign Comcast Sportsnet as an affiliate, guaranteeing a Philadelphia outlet for the two daily 60-minute sports-news programs Fox produces and for sports events that Fox churns out for use by its sports regionals during some dayparts.

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