SPORTS BUSINESS REPORT
Fox gets Turner South, big Braves bonus
By TIM TUCKER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/24/06
The pending sale of Turner South to Fox means that, for the first time since Ted Turner started televising Braves games in the 1970s, the majority of the team's games will appear on a non-Turner network.
And that could mean less of Skip and Pete.
In its $375 million acquisition of Turner South, Fox will get the local television rights to Braves games for more than 10 years, Fox Networks Group president and CEO Tony Vinciquerra confirmed. New Braves ownership would be bound by the TV rights deal.
Fox's local rights will include all Braves games not televised nationally. Under a deal between Turner Broadcasting and Major League Baseball, TBS has national TV rights to 70 Braves games each of the next two seasons but only 45 per season after that. About a dozen Braves games per season typically are picked up by MLB's other national carriers.
That will leave Fox's two Atlanta-based regional sports channels - FSN South and the to-be-renamed Turner South - with rights to about half of the Braves games the next two seasons and more than 100 of the 162 games per season after that.
It's too early to tell what changes might be coming in the Braves' broadcast booth, Vinciquerra said.
"We won't close [on the Turner South purchase] until right around the start of the [baseball] season or even after," he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "So I would venture a guess we would continue things as they are at least through the first half of the season."
Longer term, he couldn't say whether Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton, Joe Simpson and Chip Caray - the current TBS/Turner South broadcast team - will call games on the Fox-owned incarnation of Turner South.
"We have not gotten to that level of detail," Vinciquerra said.
Before the Turner South deal, 25 Braves games per season have been on FSN South, which has a different broadcast team (Bob Rathbun and Tom Paciorek) than the Turner networks.
The Turner South acquisition also will give Fox long-term local TV rights to all Hawks and Thrashers games. The Hawks and Thrashers will get the same TV revenue from Fox they would have gotten from Turner.
Vinciquerra said Fox is "still thinking through" how to divvy up sports programming between FSN South and the to-be-renamed Turner South.
He noted that "these are not just Atlanta networks," pointing out that FSN South, with 11 million subscribers, and Turner South, with 8 million, also reach the pro-sports markets of Nashville, Memphis and Charlotte. "And the twin towers of the ACC and the SEC provide ... an enormous amount of college inventory that we also have the rights to," he said.
The retooling of Turner South will give Fox 15 regional sports networks across the country.
The Turner South deal has potential ramifications on Time Warner's continuing efforts to sell the Braves. Since bidders will know what the Braves will receive in TV rights fees from Fox for many years, the bidders' view of that deal - good or bad - obviously will be factored into the value they place on the team. New ownership won't have flexibility with TV rights or the ability to negotiate its own rights deal.
Time Warner was prepared to quickly sell the Braves to Falcons owner Arthur Blank if the price was right - as demonstrated by the company's extensive negotiations with Blank's representatives, including Atlanta-based agent Lonnie Cooper, before entering serious talks with any other party. But Blank suspended discussions with Time Warner last week because the parties had been unable to agree on financial terms.
Whether Blank gets back into the mix later probably depends on what Time Warner finds with other bidders. If another bidder acceptable to Time Warner and Major League Baseball offers $400 million-plus, then that bidder probably gets the team. But if the marketplace doesn't deliver such a premium price, talks with Blank could be revived.