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Sports network could be a reality

On Sports

I'm sure you've watched cable's Fox Sports Northwest. We all have. On the whole, the channel does a fine job of covering regional sports - if you live in Seattle.

I know, FSN covers sports in Oregon, too. Even Trail Blazer games. They're nice people - but they really ought to call the network 'Fox Sports Seattle.'

I understand that. They've got the Seahawks and Mariners and Sonics and Huskies. But the truth is, regional sports channels work great as long as they don't try to cover more than one region. And our lot in sports life has been playing second fiddle to our neighbors to the north.

But I can give Portlanders hope. The rumor mill is working overtime on the possibility of this state having its own sports network, owned and operated by Comcast, the cable provider for a good portion of Oregon.

What's fueling the rumors is that the Blazers' contract with FSN is up after this season. And the team is looking around. Obviously, if you're going to start a regional sports channel in Oregon, there's probably no better programming to build it on than the Blazers.

That's 82 games, plus exhibitions, to fill out a broadcast schedule. Add to that assorted prep games and - when contracts expire with other networks - college sports from the area.

Curt Henninger, senior vice president and general manager for the Oregon and Southwest Washington region of Comcast, won't give any of the details on what's going down.

'The only thing I can confirm is we're in discussion,' he says.

Talks were on hold, according to multiple sources, while the Blazers finished up reacquisition of the Rose Garden. Now that the arena is back in their hands, the TV deal is expected to return to the front burner soon.

The Blazers launched their own local sports network in the more carefree spending days of 2001, but owner Paul Allen shut it down before it really took hold, after only 16 months.

Comcast owns eight regional sports networks already, including channels in Chicago and Sacramento that air NBA games. It also owns the Golf Channel and Versus, formerly the Outdoor Life Network.

This promises to be a difficult negotiation for anyone attempting to make a deal with the Blazers, who are in a position to play Comcast against FSN in a bidding war.

The team is trying to get on better financial footing and apparently sees this as an opportunity to get a long-term deal that will help offset costs of its arena operations. If the Blazers have proved nothing else over the past few years, they've showed they drive a hard bargain.

But at least we have hope. Can you imagine such a new station, with prep games, local coaches' shows and perhaps even with a nightly highlights show featuring someone like Ron Pivo, with game clips, interviews and local features?

It's possible.

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