The newly dubbed Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have leaped from the smallest television package in Major League Baseball to the largest, with all but four of the team's games airing on either cable or broadcast this season.
What happens next year could be another question.
Angels owner Arte Moreno has pushed to give the team more exposure in Southern California, primarily through Fox Sports Net West, the programming-hungry outlet of broadcasting giant Fox Entertainment Group, which is owned by News Corp.
In March, Fox Sports Net West bought the rights to an additional 50 Angels games this season from the original 52-game package. Viacom Inc.'s KCAL (Channel 9) plans to air 50 games, with scattered games carried on ESPN, KCOP (Channel 13) and nationally televised Fox broadcasts, seen locally on KTTV (Channel 11).
But after this season, KCAL will give up its contract with the Angels in favor of the Dodgers a switch that a station spokesman would not discuss other than to call it a business decision. That will leave Moreno and the Angels looking for a new broadcast home next season.
The deals illustrate the growing clout and spending power of regional sports networks such as Fox Sports Net West, as well as the desire by team owners to be on the air as much as possible. Cable plays an increasingly important role in this mix because its viewership is more focused on sports than broadcast stations, and regional networks are willing to pay more for the rights to games. In addition, the mini-networks UPN and WB are gobbling up primetime hours on both KCOP and KTLA (Channel 5), which is when games are typically played.
That could leave Moreno with a limited number of options for television, which explains why he is believed to be studying the possibility of starting his own cable sports network, possibly in partnership with other professional teams in Orange County.
The concept was pioneered by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose feud with Cablevision Systems Corp. prompted him to start the YES network, where Yankees games are carried.
The model has been successful in Denver, where pro hockey's Colorado Avalanche and the NBA's Denver Nuggets joined forces on a regional cable network in 2004. That left Fox Sports Net's regional cable network with baseball's Colorado Rockies, the NBA's Utah Jazz and a variety of college teams.
"As teams increase in value and increase in cost, team owners are looking at ways of maximizing their bottom lines and these networks are one way," said sports marketing consultant Lee H. Berke.
The Angels have no commitment to a broadcast station after the current season, but spokesman Tim Mead said he expects tahe team to broker a deal with at least one station rather than focus exclusively on cable. "There's still a good portion of folks who don't have cable and they're still important," he said.
Mead would not rule out the possibility of an Angels cable network, but said it's not actively under consideration. "That's not something we've discussed with any kind of specifics," he said. "We're focused on our broadcast partners. We'll look at a variety of options in 2006, but we're not ready to go down that road yet."
The Angels had commitments to air only 90 games at the start of the 2004 season, the smallest in the major leagues. But Moreno, who had recently purchased the team, was determined to beef up the team's broadcast presence. He found a willing partner in Fox Sports Net West, which is on two separate channels in Southern California: one carrying 125 Dodgers games this season and the other with 102 Angels games. Fox Sports Net owns rights to Angels games through 2008.
Fox Sports Net West President Steve Simpson, who declined to disclose financial terms of the pact, said he would like to add more Angels games in future seasons. "Hopefully, going forward we'll be able to provide more Angels games," Simpson said. "This is the business we're in, after all."
Sports consultant Jeff Marks doubted that the Angels would form a cable network on their own, but if the Anaheim Mighty Ducks of the National Hockey League and a National Basketball Association team were to join forces, it could form the nucleus of a successful rival to Fox Sports Net.
Randy Freer, chief operating officer of Fox Sports Net, said the Angels have drawn strong Nielsen ratings among key demographic groups since they won the World Series in 2002, although they still routinely trail the Dodgers by around one rating point.
KCAL spokesman Mike Nelson said the station remains committed to baseball, but it's not in direct competition with cable networks like Fox Sports Net, which have nearly limitless capacity to air games.
"Fox Sports Net is a different business model," Nelson said. "All they do is sports. There aren't many broadcast outlets that can carry that amount of programming."
Simpson said Fox Sports Net West enjoys a competitive advantage because it has committed enough teams including the Galaxy Chivas USA soccer franchise it added this year to discourage others from pushing into the market. The Dodgers and Angels are key to that strategy, he added.
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