Broadcast sports: Big Ten Network, cable operators are still sparring

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2007 - 11:01 PM

The fledgling network is launching in two weeks, but no agreements yet exist with the three largest cable providers in Minnesota.

Get ready for the rhetoric between the Big Ten Network and cable operators to heat up. Fourteen days before the network is due to launch, the BTN still does not have one deal in place with a major cable operator. That includes the three biggest providers in Minnesota -- Comcast, Charter Communications and Mediacom.

Don't hold your breath waiting for something to get done, especially if you're a Comcast customer. Comcast, which serves much of the metro area, doesn't want to pay the $1.10 per subscriber the network is seeking in the eight Big Ten markets and also wants to place BTN on a digital sports tier. BTN officials want to be on the basic package.

"Regarding Comcast, talks are continuing but we're not close," said BTN President Mark Silverman, whose network does have a deal with DirecTV. "Comcast is still saying we should be on a sports tier, and that is something that we do not think is the right place for us. Within the eight states this network will not be on a sports tier."

Comcast spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert counters by saying "our first priority is to protect our customers from this excessive Big Ten tax." Silverman would not elaborate on talks with Charter or Mediacom other than to say, "We are having much more productive conversations with some of the other large operators."

Meanwhile, the BTN this week released the schedule of Big Ten men's basketball it will show. At least 13 Gophers games will be included in the package of 64 contests. The nonconference portion has not been released but the BTN is expected to air several games involving Tubby Smith's team.

The Gophers football team already is set to make three appearances on the BTN, and Silverman told the Star Tribune this week that the Gophers men's hockey team could have three or four games on the network. Silverman, however, made it clear that those would not be exclusive telecasts, meaning FSN North also likely would air them. The football and basketball games, however, only will be shown on the BTN.

At this rate, many fans in Minnesota might not be able to see them.

Bye-bye Bill

Bill Clement has been removed as the studio host for the NHL telecasts on not one but two networks. The latest announcement came this week when Versus hired Bill Patrick to work with analysts Keith Jones and Brian Engblom. NBC earlier unveiled plans to have its studio show be at the site of that week's game. Pierre McGuire, already a game analyst, will host.

Ray Ferraro and Brett Hull also won't be back on the NBC set. Former Islanders General Manager Mike Milbury will be teamed with McGuire.

Clement's departures are a surprise only in that he has had a role on national NHL telecasts for several years. But his best work was done as a game analyst and the move to the studio wasn't a good idea.

By the way, it wouldn't be surprising to see NBC get out of the NHL business after this season. SportsBusiness Journal recently reported the league has begun preliminary talks with ESPN about replacing NBC as one of its television partners. NBC has an option to end its agreement with the NHL before 2008-2009.

Fine-tuning

Jason Shaver, whose grandfather is former North Stars voice Al Shaver, has ben named director of broadcasting for the Houston Aeros. Shaver, 34, served in the same role for the Iowa Stars of the AHL the past two seasons. The Aeros are the Wild's top farm club. Jason's father is Gophers hockey announcer Wally Shaver.

• Twins broadcasters Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven will call Tuesday's game against Seattle from the left-field stands. The 7:10 p.m. game will be televised on FSN North.

• Comcast is now offering the NFL Network in high definition on Ch. 181.

• Former University of Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer will join the cast of Fox's NFL pregame show. Jay Glazer is going to make the move from sideline reporter to the studio.

• Vikings fullback Tony Richardson and ex-Vikings tight end Joe Senser will co-host a weekly one-hour show on KFAN (1130 AM) at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays during the season.

Judd Zulgad • jzulgad@startribune.com

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