Sports channels are television specialty channels (usually available exclusively via cable and satellite) broadcasting sporting events, usually live, and when not broadcasting programs, sports news and other related programming.
The first sports channel was from the SportsChannel network, which began broadcasting in 1977 alongside the original SportsChannel (now MSG Plus). ESPN began broadcasting in 1979. Since then, many channels have sprung up around the world, many focusing on one sport in particular or one region of a country, showing only their local team’s games. These networks greatly improved the availability of sports broadcasts, creating opportunities such as the ability for an individual to watch every game of their team during the season.
In the United States, these channels broadcast regular season games of major pro sports leagues and many other sports, along with air television networks on weekends or special events (All-Star Games, championships, etc.).
SportsChannel is the collective name of a former group of United States regional sports networks owned by Cablevision, which operated it as a joint venture with NBC from 1988 until the group’s demise.
Operating from March 1, 1979 to January 27, 1998, it was the nation’s first regional sports network, and, along with Prime Network, was an important progenitor of many regional sports outlets in the United States, notably Fox Sports Network and Comcast Sportsnet. At its peak, SportsChannel operated nine networks serving several of the nation’s largest cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, and New York.
The SportsChannel originated in 1976, when Cablevision launched Cablevision Sports 3 (referring to the original channel slot of the “3” in the provider), a sports network carried on the company’s New York City area system. The network originated the SportsChannel brand on March 1, 1979, when it was renamed SportsChannel New York. The network carries games from several New York area sports teams, including the New York Yankees and New York Mets Major League Baseball franchises and the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. One of the notable achievements of the channel’s early days was signing the first cable contract with a pro sports team when they signed a deal in 1978 to broadcast games on cable for the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League while still known as Sports3.
SportsChannel logo, used from 1979 to 1995.
The network expanded into other regions through the launch and purchase of additional networks throughout the 1980s; The first expansion occurred when Cablevision signed a contract to televise the Chicago White Sox in 1981. However, this new network would be short-lived as the White Sox launched SportsVision the following season. Cablevision subsidiary Rainbow Media purchased Boston-based PRISM New England in 1983, relaunching the network as SportsChannel New England. Shortly thereafter, Cablevision formed a partnership with The Washington Post that gave the Post a 50% interest in SportsChannel. By the end of the year, the Rainbow/Washington Post partnership purchased Philadelphia-based PRISM and SportsVision, linking them to SportsChannel (although the SportsChannel Chicago brand would not reappear until 1989). The White Sox returned to CableVision, now Chicago. With the Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls. In 1984, CBS entered into a partnership agreement that gave each of the three companies a one-third interest in three of the four networks and a one-sixth interest in SportsChannel New England (the Celtics and Whalers owned the other 50%). The same deal would give CBS a 50% interest in Rainbow’s other networks, then-premium service Bravo and American Movie Classic. The partnership with The Washington Post and CBS would end in 1987 when both companies sold their shares to Cablevision, citing delays in establishing cable television service in New York and other cities as reasons for exiting the partnership. Also, SportsChannel Florida launched in 1987, primarily with programming of local college teams and out-of-market MLB games that SportsChannel already had rights to through its other networks. While the Florida network got off to a slow start, it proved to be a great move as it acquired the rights to several expansion teams in the following years.
Partnership with NHL and NBC
In 1988, SportsChannel made its largest television deal by acquiring the National Hockey League’s national television rights from ESPN. The three-year, $51 million contract also included rights to playoff games. A national network SportsChannel America (also the new name for the group of networks) also launched on October 6, 1988 to make games available to cable subscribers without a SportsChannel affiliate territory. Maryland-based Home Team Sports and Minneapolis-based Midwest Sports Channel (independently owned and operated despite sounding similar) will also sign up as affiliates. Later that year, Cablevision would also gain a new partner. In December 1988, NBC and Cablevision announced that they would form a joint venture to operate their respective cable networks, including SportsChannel. Through this partnership, SportsChannel launched five additional networks in the Bay Area, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The partnership also created Olympic Triplecast, a pay-per-view service that provided additional coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics.
In 1991, the year-old San Francisco-based SportsChannel merged with Bay Area rival TCI’s Pacific Sports Network to become SportsChannel Pacific. It will become the second regional sports network affiliated with both SportsChannel and Prime Network (Home Team Sports has done so since 1988). SportsChannel Los Angeles subsequently ceased operations in late 1992 due to financial difficulties, with all of its sports broadcasting contracts being acquired by competitor Prime Ticket.
Joint venture with Prime and merger with Fox Sports Net
In 1993, Rainbow and Liberty Media formed Prime SportsChannel America, a venture in which the companies combined programming and advertising sales between SportsChannel and Liberty’s Prime Network regional sports group. Through this partnership, the two companies formed the sports news service NewSport, replacing SportsChannel America.
On April 25, 1995, NBC sold its 50% interest in SportsChannel New York to Rainbow Media for US$93 million;