By FRANK SWERTLOW

Staff Reporter

KCAL-TV Channel 9 last week once again secured the broadcast TV rights to the Los Angeles Lakers through the 2004-2005 season largely because none of its competitors had a chance to make a bid.

"KCAL had the right of first refusal, and we expected them to get it," said Carolyn Aguayo, a spokeswoman for KTLA-TV Channel 5. "We have the Dodgers and the WB (network, of which KTLA is an affiliate), and we work very closely with them on our schedule and our coverage."

Rick Feldman, general manager of UPN-affiliate KCOP-TV Channel 13, said the Lakers never solicited him for a bid. He said he might have been interested, but with the expansion of the UPN network to five nights "it would have been difficult for us" to fit the games into the schedule.

KCAL paid $140 million to renew its contract with the Lakers, which have been a mainstay on the station for two decades. Under the terms of the previous Lakers/KCAL deal, Channel 9 had an exclusive negotiating window that would have closed in November. That meant that KCAL's competitors could not officially talk to the Lakers unless Channel 9 lost interest in the team. The station, which had been negotiating for the past six months, didn't.

"(The Lakers) are the cornerstone of our sports programming and very important to our total business, which is made up of one-third sports, one-third news and one-third entertainment," said Don Corsini, general manager of KCAL. "This deal was critical for us. It is our key sports franchise."

Under the terms of the new deal, KCAL will broadcast 41 Lakers pre-season and regular-season away games. Unlike previous deals, KCAL will not split its advertising revenue with the Lakers. KCAL, owned by New York-based Young Broadcasting Inc., also secured the rights to all post-season away games not subject to the NBA/NBC commitments.

"This deal was important for KCAL," said Bishop Cheen, an analyst at Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Capital Markets. "The Lakers are a cash cow, especially in a town like L.A. Sports revenue is probably more important to a TV station there than in other large markets."

Jessica Reif Cohen, an analyst for Merrill Lynch Global Services in New York, said keeping the Lakers was important "to keeping the hard-to-get male viewer."

She added that only independent stations like KCAL can hold onto TV sports franchises. "Now that there are six networks, there is less and less time for affiliated stations to have spots on their schedules for sports," she said. "Only the true independent can run baseball, basketball and hockey."

Reif Cohen said keeping the Lakers also helps KCAL in its battle against cable sports programming.

"They have the Lakers and they are known for having the Lakers," she said. "That means people will stay for the local news and other programming."

In addition to broadcasting the Lakers, KCAL also televises the Anaheim Angels baseball games, L.A. Clippers basketball, L.A. Kings and Mighty Ducks hockey, professional boxing and Pac 10 football.

Cheen said the new deal continues to help KCAL maintain its brand as a sports channel in the highly competitive and fractionalized Los Angeles market, which has not only network sports but a proliferation of cable sports channels.

"The Lakers are a recognizable, high-ratings name," he said. "Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal) himself is a cottage industry. But there are also ancillary elements to this deal. You get to have revenues from a pre-game and a post-game show. It all helps strengthen its image as L.A.'s sports station."

As the network share of prime-time programming continues to decline, industry experts believe that the future of local television resides in securing the rights to sports franchises in the local market. Barry Diller recently announced that WAMI, the Miami station that is part of his USA Networks Inc. empire, would be devoting much of its broadcast day to the Miami Heat in an effort to capture a larger slice of the South Florida market.

Fox Sports West has the cable rights to the Lakers' home games in the Los Angeles area. That deal was negotiated in 1984 and extends through the 2004-2005 basketball season.

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