NEW ORLEANS (AP) -The New Orleans Hornets have a better shot at succeeding in this rebuilding region now that one satellite TV company has agreed to pick up the sports channel that carries their games, but DirecTV and a suburban cable company need to follow suit, area government officials said Monday.
New Orleans City Council President Arnie Fielkow, a former marketing vice president with the NFL's New Orleans Saints, said he hopes a new deal between Cox Sports Television (CST) and Dish Network will spur more agreements so all cable and satellite viewers in the area can see Hornets games.
CST carries most Hornets games, but until last weekend, the sports channel was available only on Cox Cable, which does not serve about 250,000 suburban residents on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
``That market is so important to us - the north shore,'' Hornets owner George Shinn said. ``It's going to be key. ... We want everybody to have an opportunity to see the games and we think if they do it's going to help that much more to get people in the arena.''
Dish Network reaches the north shore. Its deal with CST also will bring Hornets games to Dish subscribers in New Orleans and other suburbs south of the lake, as well as to Baton Rouge and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
``The exciting part of it is we're going to be hitting a major part of the Hornets' marketing and business territory, some new areas that have not been hit in terms of broadcast, things that will really benefit, I think, the franchise, and thus, the entire region,'' Fielkow said.
Charter Communications is the cable company for St. Tammany Parish and other communities north of the lake, which are some of the most affluent areas of the state. Charter carried CST in the past but has refused to pick up the channel during the Hornets' first season back in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
Charter contends CST's rates are too high. CST counters that Charter is refusing to pay rates that have been deemed affordable by numerous other cable providers in the region, and now, Dish Network.
DirecTV also has yet to pick up CST as part of its extensive lineup of regional sports networks. In a letter to Fielkow several months ago, DirecTV said it found there was not enough interest on the part of its customers to justify the cost of adding CST.
On Monday, DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said the satellite provider still had no immediate plans to carry the network.
It was unclear precisely how many new viewers the Dish Network agreement will bring to the Hornets, or how many remain unable to watch their local NBA team in their own homes.
Dish spokesman Parker McConachie said the network does not release its number of subscribers in a specific region and would say only that the company has about 13.8 million paying customers nationwide.
Fielkow has led a joint effort with St. Tammany Parish government officials to urge Charter and satellite providers to show Hornets games in order to give the team its best chance of long-term viability in this relatively small market, which was made smaller by Katrina.
NBA commissioner David Stern also has lobbied all parties to give the Hornets the widest possible TV distribution.
CST regional vice president Rod Mickler said his company remains eager to reach deals with Charter and DirecTV, and he credited Stern's involvement for the breakthrough with Dish Network.
``There are a lot of companies in this region that, through the disaster, have benefited. The satellite companies have benefited greatly,'' Mickler said. ``The commissioner has said: '... If your company has benefited by what has happened here, I really think this would be a good opportunity for you to invest and support the sports scene here.'
``DirecTV has benefited with significant subscriber growth, Dish Network has too, and that is one of the reasons Dish Network stepped up,'' Mickler continued.
``They felt it was the right thing to do.''
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