Taking a respite from well-publicized negotiations to buy the New York Jets football team, Chuck Dolan has bought Wayne Huizinga’s 70% stake in SportsChannel Florida for about $115 million. Dolan already owned the other 30%.
The network will get a new name, Fox Sports Net Florida, because the channel will fall under the control of Regional Programming Partners — a joint venture of Dolan’s Rainbow Media Holdings (which owns 60% of the venture) and Fox Entertainment (40%). Rainbow will manage the net.
The announcement of this deal couldn’t have come at a worse time for Dolan because he will face intense scrutiny from National Football League owners if, as expected, he wins the bidding for the Jets, a decision that could come to fruition in the next few days.
The timetable of the Jets’ sale is geared to the NFL owners’ meeting Jan. 18, when John Hess, current owner of the Jets, would submit the winning-bid proposal for approval.
Dolan would buy the team as an individual, not in his role as chairman and CEO of Cablevision Systems Corp., the parent company of Rainbow. But Rainbow is a partner with Fox in seven regional sports nets throughout the country, including the Madison Square Garden network and Fox Sports New York. Rainbow also owns the Garden arena in N.Y., as well as Gotham’s Knicks basketball team and Rangers hockey team.
NFL bylaws prevent media companies from owning a pro football franchise, so Dolan would have to convince the league that he’d operate the Jets as a completely separate entity.
In the Florida deal, Andrea Greenberg, executive VP of Rainbow Sports, said Fox Sports Net Florida will become the exclusive regional outlet for all of the nationally distributed programming from Fox Sports, including a nightly two-hour sports newscast.
Ironically, Fox Sports is the managing partner of the Sunshine Network, the other Florida-based regional sports channel, and a ferocious competitor to Fox Sports Net Florida. Fox had funneled its national sports programming exclusively to Sunshine, which, however, passed up the two-hour newscast in favor of a local sports newscast every night.
Letting Fox go
Sunshine G.M. Jim Libertore said he has no problem relinquishing Sunshine’s deal for Fox’s national programming because the channel has always kept a big part of its focus on local teams.
The way the current rights contracts are divvied up between the two channels, Fox Sports Net Florida has the two baseball teams, the Florida Marlins and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays; the pro hockey Florida Panthers; and key colleges U. of Miami, U. of North Florida and U. of South Florida.
Sunshine has Florida’s two pro basketball teams, the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic; the pro hockey Tampa Bay Lightning; colleges such as the U. of Florida, Florida State and U. of Central Florida; plus two Women’s National Basketball Assn. teams, three Arena Football franchises and two Major League Soccer outfits.
Sunshine is available to 5 million subscribers in Florida, and Fox Sports Net Florida reaches 3.5 million.