Merger turns cable sports coverage into soap opera

Affiliated Regional Communications and Group W Satellite Communications have exchanged vows at the corporate altar, and the offspring of this marriage could change what you see on television.

Affiliated runs the Prime Network, and Group W operates Home Team Sports. Each now owns some of the other, which may be of interest only to Financial News Network junkies, but the transaction also means different programming for HTS subscribers.


Prime supplies programming to regional cable sports networks -- such as HTS -- around the country. In fact, 100 Prime events already have been scheduled on HTS in 1990, but that number will increase by 200 next year, HTS spokesman Scott Broyles said.

The increase will come mostly in college basketball and some Senior Professional Baseball, Broyles said. Among the conferences Prime carries are the Metro, Southwest, Pac-10, Big Eight, Western Athletic, Missouri Valley and Midwestern Collegiate.


This should not be cause for panic among fans of the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Bullets and Washington Capitals. More Prime cuts won't mean fewer prime-time appearances by the teams that form the basis of HTS' programming. (But if the folks at HTS are looking for shows to delete, here's one suggestion: Start with "The Washington Post Sports Talk.")

However, if you're a hockey fan, you may want to savor this season's National Hockey League schedule a little bit more. On Sept. 30, HTS officially trades in its SportsChannel America affiliation for that of Prime Network. SportsChannel has the NHL rights, and HTS supplements its Capitals games with others from around the league. Come playoff time, SportsChannel supplies exhaustive coverage, most of which HTS has carried.

The NHL television contract expires after this season, and it doesn't seem likely the league will be picked up by a basic cable network. ESPN already is strapped with an expensive baseball contract and probably would have trouble fitting the playoffs around baseball, anyway. USA Network had the NHL before and apparently didn't make a run at hockey last time around. Turner is strictly basketball territory. (Did someone mention the broadcast networks? Hey, try shopping around leftover episodes "Cop Rock" instead.)

So, that would leave the field -- or, more appropriately, ice -- open to the likes of SportsChannel again. And if the NHL re-ups with SportsChannel, area hockey fans may be left strictly with the Capitals on HTS and Channel 20. Unless Prime Network steals the puck.

Prime says it can reach 23 million subscribers; SportsChannel says it reaches 18 million. Though Prime basically stretches coast to coast, SportsChannel is stronger in traditional hockey areas.

But suppose Prime doesn't get the NHL. Does that mean a winter of discontent for fans?

Not necessarily. SportsChannel may be reborn on area cable systems as a basic channel.

SportsChannel spokesman Dan Martinsen said the network is trying to sell itself as a basic service in HTS territory -- from Pennsylvania through North Carolina -- to go on the air after its affiliation with HTS ends. Cable systems don't just give away slots, though. Mizlou Sports News Network, for example, has yet to surface around here.


To sum up, then: HTS is adding Prime, then dropping SportsChannel. The NHL may be back onSportsChannel, or maybe Prime. SportsChannel may be gone, or reappear for no extra charge. There will be either the same amount of hockey, less hockey or free hockey.

=1 Sports? No, it sounds more like a soap opera.


Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, said it is "outrageous that our U.S. television networks are funding the lion's share of the Olympic Games." So, he proposed legislation to change the system. Let the networks negotiate contracts with the U.S. Olympic Committee, not the International Olympic Committee, he said. One problem: The television rights don't belong to the USOC, only the IOC. "Just by flipping the pages of the Olympic Charter, you discover the rights don't belong to the USOC," IOC vice president Richard Pound told USA Today.

* Channel 11 won't have to worry anymore this season about switching from the end of an exciting game to catch the kickoff of a Washington Redskins telecast, as happened recently. No, Baltimore still is designated a "peripheral" market for the Redskins by the National Football League. It's just that the situation doesn't come up again in 1990. . . . Three boolah-boolahs for the Ivy League. ESPN's contract for Ivy League football ran out after last week's telecast, and the network is going to schedule more Big Ten games next season. So the Ivy League may be gone from the network because the Ivies refuse to prostrate themselves before the great god television, refusing to change game times -- or game days, for that matter -- just to get before the cameras.