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Comcast Starts 24-Hour Sports Channel in Chicago

Sports continue to divide cable operators and TV programmers.

Once again, Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report is signaling it's a big sport.

The nation's largest cable operator said Tuesday evening that it was forming Comcast SportsNet Chicago, a new 24-hour regional sports network featuring games from the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

The announcement of the channel, which will be Comcast's third regional sports network when it launches next October, spotlights the importance of sports programming among cable TV operators.

Some of the biggest spats in the cable TV industry of late revolve around sports programming. Operators such as






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have been complaining about cost and related issues, while programmers -- notably


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ESPN -- argue that the prices they charge operators to run their channels are appropriate, given the demand for sports among TV viewers and the revenue that sports can generate from subscriptions and advertising.

Comcast's shares fell 7 cents in regular trading Tuesday to close at $31.56.

The new channel, says Comcast, will be available in approximately 1.5 million homes in the Chicagoland area on Comcast's expanded basic package, the cable provider's most popular level of service in the region. Comcast says it will also pursue agreements with other cable operators and satellite services in the area, potentially bringing Comcast SportsNet Chicago to 2 million more homes.

The services will carry 72 regular season Cubs games, 95 White Sox games, 42 Bulls contests and 39 Blackhawks matches per season, says Comcast. Addressing perennial complaints about sports programming being siphoned off of broadcast television and onto premium services, Comcast says that the number of games available on TV and basic cable will remain unchanged.

Comcast already owns two regional sports networks: Comcast SportsNet, which serves 2.9 million subscribers in the Philadelphia area, and Comcast SportsNet mid-Atlantic, which has 4.3 million subscribers in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area.

In recent months, Cox Communications has complained often and loudly about rising sports programming costs. Comcast, whose sports network ownership puts it on both sides of the issue, and other major operators have diligently avoided getting mixed up in the public brouhaha.