Entry for July 13, 2008

How the Sonics’ loss could impact Seattle sports media

With the Sonics having left town, there’s the possibility that this will trigger a shake up in the local sports media landscape. Specifically, the door is open for Comcast SportsNet Northwest to move into the Puget Sound market, expanding beyond its current metro Portland base. The Trail Blazers are now the northwest’s NBA team, and would seemingly want to capitalize on the vacuum left in Seattle. Of course, jilted Sonics fans may not choose to cheer their former arch rival, regardless of all the Blazers’ Seattle ties. But CSNW could strengthen its position in the Seattle area by partnering with the Seattle Sounders, who begin their initial MLS campaign in 2009. Such an arrangement would also be a blow to Fox Sports Northwest, who despite carrying the Mariners, are weakened by the loss of the Sonics.

It just so happens that Paul Allen has ownership stakes in both the Blazers and Sounders. Some may remember Allen’s efforts to start Action Sports Network, a regional sports network based in Portland, a handful of years ago. This effort, with the Blazers as the primary programming, failed almost immediately, reportedly due to MSO’s failure to add the channel to their networks. With the Blazers and Sounders as the lead programming, Allen would have ample leverage to negotiate with Comcast for an equity piece in the network. Just like that, he will have his RSN. Comcast will have expanded CSNW to the Puget Sound market. And rival FSNW will be left with the struggling Mariners.

To take this another step, should Liberty Media decide to sell FSNW in a few years, CSNW, and perhaps Mariners’ ownership, would be in prime bidding position. If CSNW won the bidding and essentially merged FSNW programming (ie, the Mariners) into a lineup already consisting of the Blazers and Sounders, Allen and Comcast will most likely have increased the value of CSNW while leaving no rival RSN in the region.


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