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SF Giants take stake in FSN

MLB team purchases 30% of local network

Comcast and Fox Sports, co-owners of Fox Sports Net Bay Area, have made sure the San Francisco Giants won’t bolt the network by selling the team a 30% stake in the channel.

In exchange, the Giants have signed a 25-year contract to funnel up to 135 games a year exclusively to FSN Bay Area. The Giants’ 30% stake will come equally from Comcast’s holding, which goes from 60% to 45%, and Fox Sports’ stake, which drops to 25% from the previous 40%. Comcast will continue to operate the net, which will receive a name change (favoring Comcast) before the new baseball season starts.

FSN Bay Area carries the games of three other professional sports franchises: the Oakland A’s (baseball), Golden State Warriors (basketball) and San Jose Sharks (hockey). But none of them have the powerhouse brand of the Giants, so the net is unlikely to offer any more equity stakes when those three teams’ contracts come up for renewal in a few years.

The structure of FSN Bay Area is now similar to that of SportsNet New York, a three-way partnership among Comcast, which operates the network; Time Warner Cable, one of the biggest cable operators in the greater New York area; and the New York Mets baseball team.

FSN Bay Area is unlikely to favor the Giants over the other local pro teams because if these teams lose viewers, the entire net will suffer in ratings and ad revenues, which will affect the Giants’ stake.

Only 110 Giants games showed up on FSN Bay Area in 2007 because of an expansive deal with the local Fox broadcast station, KTVU. In a new three-year local-broadcast deal, the NBC affiliate KNTV has displaced KTVU and will carry only 20 games. That leaves at least 130 games for exclusive play on FSN Bay Area, depending on how many nationally distributed regular-season games end up on both ESPN and the Fox network.

FSN Bay Area reaches close to 4 million subscribers on cable and satellite. And because the Giants play at AT&T Park, there’s not much doubt that when AT&T brings its video service to San Francisco, Comcast will sell the regional network to AT&T for the marketplace license fee. Comcast is the dominant cable operator in the Bay Area.

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