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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tigers Add 6 Comcast TV Games

Tigers add 6 Comcast TV games

By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
October 19, 2006

Conference USA is expected to announce a regional television package today with Comcast Sports Southeast that will include six University of Memphis basketball games this season, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Combined with the 17 Tigers games already scheduled for national television, that leaves just seven games without television coverage -- and even that might change by today.

Meanwhile, a Comcast spokesman told The Commercial Appeal that CSTV, where the Tigers will appear four times this season, will move from a premium sports package to basic digital cable in Memphis. The date of that move has not been determined. "I don't think Tigers fans will be disappointed at all in the number of games covered," UofM associate athletic director for external affairs Bob Winn said.

Though Winn declined to divulge details, he said there could be an announcement as early as today that puts some if not all of the remaining games on a local television outlet.

CSTV owns the rights to those games but, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, has offered to sell them to WLMT-TV Channel 30, an affiliate of the CW network. Last year, the station (known at that time as UPN 30) broadcast 14 Memphis games.

Jack Peck, program director for Clear Channel, which owns CW 30, declined to discuss details of the negotiations.

Tigers coach John Calipari said he was happy about the six-game package on CSS, which is owned by Comcast and is already on basic cable in Memphis. According to Comcast's Web site, it reaches 5.5 million homes across 13 states.

"I think it's great the way they played it," Calipari said. "There will probably be six games left or so and hopefully they'll get it worked out. I know both sides want to work it out, so I imagine it will unless there's something happening I don't know about."

Those developments should allay the concerns some Memphis fans had in the wake of C-USA signing its television deal with CSTV, a fledgling network devoted to college sports that is still considered a premium channel on some cable and satellite providers.

Last year, UPN 30 was able to acquire the simulcast rights to a handful of CSTV games to accommodate local viewers. But that option wasn't available this year, so CSTV's move from a premium sports package to digital basic is significant.

Comcast, which acquired the Memphis area from Time Warner in a territory swap and is now the dominant cable operator in Memphis, is trying to broaden the distribution for CSTV because the two companies are business partners. CSTV and Comcast each own 50 percent of a regional network that broadcasts Mountain West Conference sports exclusively.

CBS bought CSTV last year. The Tigers will play once on CBS when they host Houston Feb. 25. CBS also will broadcast the championship game of the C-USA Tournament.

-- Dan Wolken: 901-529-2365

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