It's hard not to be at least a bit amused by Disney-ABC-ESPN's pre-emptive strike that stole the National Hockey League's TV package out from under Fox - because what Disney did was turn Fox chieftain Rupert Murdoch's own tactics against him.
Four years ago, Murdoch opened his pocketbook wide (to the tune of more than a billion dollars) and made a pre-emptive strike that cost CBS its portion of the NFL TV package. Disney just did the same thing to Fox with its new NHL package.The ABC/ESPN deal will be worth $600 million to the league over the next five years, more than double what Fox paid. That's $250 for broadcast rights - ABC will air between four and seven regular season games, six games in the first three rounds of the playoffs and as many as five of the Stanley Cup finals.
ESPN will pay $350 million for the rights to as many as 200 games a year, which will be cablecast on both ESPN and ESPN2.
There's more than a bit of one-upsmanship at play here as well. The folks at Disney and ESPN aren't exactly thrilled with the Fox Sports Net these days.
Fox managed to thwart ESPN's plans to launch its own regional sports network in Southern California. And, adding insult to injury, two Disney-owned major-league franchises - the Anaheim Angels and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks - were left with no choice but to sign deals with their regional Fox Sports Net.
ESPN grabbing the NHL away from Fox adds at least a touch of revenge for Disney.
WE ARE NOT ALONE: The Utah Jazz, of course, have a contract with Fox Sports Rocky Mountain that grants the regional channel the rights to about 30 games a year.
But the Jazz are far from being alone. Of the 75 teams in the NBA, NHL and major-league baseball, 69 have agreements with one of the Fox Sports Net's regional channels.
SMART MOVE: Nothing has been finalized yet, but Fox Sports is talking to the powers that be in major-league baseball about carrying possible home run-record breaking games.
When (or if) St. Louis' Mark McGwire or Chicago's Sammy Sosa reaches 60 homers - one short of tying Roger Maris' one-season record - Fox would carry Cardinals' and/or Cubs games nationally on the Fox network. (That's Ch. 13 locally.) Under the terms of its current contract with baseball, Fox has the rights to any games of "national significance."
The exception would be Wednesday nights, when ESPN has exclusive rights to national games.
Whenever it happens, however, the chances of baseball fans across the country having the opportunity to see the possible record-tying and record-setting homers live will be greatly increased.