News Corp to buy Cleveland Indians sports channel - sources

Mon Dec 3, 2012 9:37pm EST

Dec 3 (Reuters) - News Corp is expected to announce as early as this week that it will buy SportsTime Ohio, a TV channel owned by the Cleveland Indians baseball team, for around $230 million, sources told Reuters, marking its second acquisition of a regional sports channel since late last month.

The deal would give News Corp's Fox Sports unit the rights to broadcast the Major League Baseball team's games, according to two sources with knowledge of the negotiations. That would add to the games that its Fox Sports Ohio channel carries from basketball's Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and others.

The move underscores a push by media companies to target regional sports channels as broadcast rights for many major sporting events are already sewn up for years. Such channels show games from local colleges and professional teams that heavyweight ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Co, or other national channels do not carry.

Last month, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp said it would buy a 49 percent stake in the YES network, a sports channel controlled by the New York Yankees baseball team, in a deal that sources said was valued at $3 billion. Fox is also negotiating a 25-year extension of its existing agreement to carry Los Angeles Dodgers baseball games, said one of the people, and could pay as much as $6 billion for those rights.

New York-based News Corp has been stepping up its efforts to control the rights to key sports teams in response to Time Warner Cable Inc's deal in February 2011 to pay $3 billion to carry the Los Angeles Lakers basketball games for its Time Warner SportsNet Channel.

Time Warner has said it is interested in the Dodgers rights if Fox cannot extend its current agreement with the team. Time Warner had also bid for SportsTime Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported earlier on its website.

The sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced.

News Corp representatives did not return emails seeking comment. Representatives for the Cleveland Indians and SportsTime Ohio could not be located.

"Since we launched, people have been interested in buying the network," SportsTime Ohio President Jim Liberatore was quoted as telling the Plain Dealer.

Indians owner Larry Dolan is eager to complete the deal by the end of December, one of the people with knowledge of the transaction told Reuters, to avoid increased taxes that could be part of ongoing negotiations between President Obama and Congress on a debt reduction package.

Fox Sports, which operates or holds stakes in 20 regional sports networks, provides sports programming to more than 67 million subscribers. It held the rights to Cleveland Indians games until 2006, when Dolan formed the team's channel.

No decision has been made on whether SportsTime Ohio would continue as a separate operation or be merged with Fox Sports Ohio, one of the sources told Reuters.

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