Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. has announced that it will launch the much-anticipated ESPN West cable sports network in October 1998, setting the stage for a battle between Disney and the rival Fox Sports cable networks for the attention of die-hard sports fans.
The new regional network, the first created by ESPN, will carry the games of the Disney-owned Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team and Anaheim Angels baseball team. These teams are currently carried by Fox Sports West and Fox Sports West 2, owned by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
Disney and Fox squared off in a bitter legal battle earlier this year when Fox banished the Ducks to the anemic Fox Sports West 2. Disney, which claimed the exile hurt ticket sales and merchandising, filed four lawsuits trying to yank the Ducks off the struggling cable outlet.
After the dust settled, the two companies resolved their differences, with the Ducks moving to ESPN at the start of the 1998-99 season.
Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s New York-based News Corp., which is buying the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fox has the rights to telecast UCLA and USC games in addition to Lakers and Clippers basketball games.
Regional sports, which Fox has dominated, has been a highly profitable area for cable services, which charge a premium for the coverage.
In addition to carrying the Ducks and Angels, ESPN West will bring viewers sports news, Mexican League baseball, Latin American soccer and lifestyle programming like surfing, biking and extreme sports.