YES, Cablevision Eyeing Super Sports Net?

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Sean Mota

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I know it's the NYPost but let's play devil's advocate for a minute... :)

Sources say that Cablevision was cool to the idea and talks broke off, but they could heat up again if Fred Wilpon decides to buy back the television rights for the New York Mets.

Wilpon, the real estate investor and owner of the New York Mets, has been talking with his advisers about buying the Mets' TV rights back from Cablevision for roughly $50 million in a move that could shake up the local sports television market, according to sources familiar with the matter. He has the right to such a buyback under his Cablevision contract.

Sources say Wilpon has lined up financing from wealthy investor George Soros and is being advised by investment bank Allen & Co.

Spokesmen for Wilpon, Cablevision and the YES Network declined comment.

Wilpon has two years left on his contract with Cablevision, which airs the majority of Mets games on its MSG and Fox Sports New York channels. News Corp., which owns 40 percent of Fox Sports New York, owns The Post.

Losing the Mets would be another blow to Cablevision, which two years ago lost the rights to Yankees games.



It is unclear whether Wilpon intends to buy out the remaining two years of his deal, or continue with Cablevision for the upcoming season and buy out the last year. Under the current deal, Cablevision pays the Mets roughly $40 million per year to air the games.

For Cablevision, losing the Mets could spur the company to reheat talks about merging with YES, sources say.

Once Wilpon gets his rights back, he would have a number of options, including auctioning off the rights.

That could spur a bidding war between Cablevision and its arch rival, the YES Network, the regional sports network owned by the YankeeNets holding company.

Sources say YES would be interested in negotiating a deal with the Mets, which would lead to YES starting a new channel to air the games. YES airs Yankees and Nets games and will likely air New Jersey Devils games in the future.

Some sources say Wilpon has considered starting his own regional sports network. That would be difficult, however, because it is unlikely he could secure the rights to other local sports teams.

A combined YES-MSG would form a super regional sports network, with rights to most of the area's major teams - the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Rangers, Nets and Devils.

Negotiations to merge the networks would likely be heated, given the acrimony between Cablevision and the YES Network. In YES' first year on the air in 2002, Yankee games were kept off Cablevision systems as the two companies bickered over the terms of a carriage agreement.

They ended up reaching an interim agreement just before last season's opening day, and the two sides are due to enter binding arbitration in the coming months to reach a long-term agreement.

The interim deal put YES on a premium tier for many of Cablevision's customers. The arbitration process will be watched closely by the cable industry and could have ramifications in the ongoing battle between cable operators and programmers over the cost of sports programming.
 
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