On Tuesday, SportsChannel New England will officially become Fox Sports New England.
The name change is just the start of a planned makeover for SportsChannel, but other than enhanced sports coverage and a more polished look to telecasts, Fox Sports officials say viewers shouldn’t expect any drastic changes.
“In the short term, the effect for New England won’t be that significant in that we have two [network] feeds there [New England Sports Network and SportsChannel] now,” said Tracy Dolgin, chief operating officer of Fox Sports Net. “The long term is this whole deal will have a huge positive effect for consumers.”
The two feeds Dolgin refers to are from SportsChannel, which Fox Sports Net has an equity stake in, and NESN, which is a Fox Sports affiliate through 1999.
The SportsChannel changeover resulted from two mergers.
Fox/Liberty Networks, the parent company of Fox Sports Net, was created when Fox Sports merged with Liberty in November, 1996. That was followed by a deal between Fox-Liberty and Cablevision’s Rainbow Media Holdings, which gave Fox ownership of 10 regional cable sports networks and affiliation agreements with 12 more.
Dolgin says the long-term effect of the mergers is twofold.
“Having the first full national [sports] network will allow us to create and buy programming that’s very high quality and very costly. Second, we have the ability now to spend more and create higher quality graphics and music -network standard stuff you’ll see right away,” he explained. “This gives us high-quality network programming 24 hours a day.”
It also boosted Fox Sports Net’s presence from 22 million households in November, 1996 to 58 million as of this month.
Dolgin said the changes shouldn’t impact SportsChannel’s coverage of local professional and collegiate sports like the Boston Celtics and Hockey East.
“We’re always interested in local team rights because that’s what people in those markets want to see,” he said. “How I think it affects these team rights is teams now see it as more of a benefit to be on Fox Sports stations since we’re truly national.”
Dolgin said Fox Sports currently has broadcast rights to 66 of the 75 teams in Major League Baseball, the NHL and the NBA.
“This is a reverse network model where your big power comes from the local home team product and then promoting it on the network shows,” Dolgin explained. “A lot of our prime time is the home team and the local product, where it’s the other way around with regular networks.”
To avoid duplication of programming, NESN will continue to broadcast Fox Sports Net’s regular offerings such as Fox Sports News and The Last Word and Fox Sports New England will take a second feed from Fox.
That second feed will feature a lot of Fox Sports World international programming such as soccer (English FA, English, Italian, Scottish Premier, plus Spanish and Argentinian Primera League), rugby (Rugby Union and Rugby League from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Europe), tennis and boxing.