If Judge Marvin Isgur approves the bankruptcy plan proposed for CSN Houston, Houston sports fans will be able to watch the Rockets this season. They'll no longer be able to watch the Dynamo, or any of the Houston-centric sportscasts aired by CSN Houston, but the return of the World Poker Tour should make up for that, right?
Word came down Tuesday that if the plan is approved, 75 of the network's 105 employees will lose their jobs. That includes most of the on-air talent and the behind-the-scenes personnel such as camera and graphics operators, producers, statisticians and other support personnel. These people aren't required for DirecTV/AT&T operations because with these entities, local product is strongly discouraged.
Most of Houston never had the chance to see CSN Houston because of disputes between network owners and the other various cable/satellite providers over the cost of distributing the network. AT&T/DirecTV will tell you the cost was too high. Astros owner/network partner Jim Crane says that that price point was established by Drayton McLane and Les Alexander so they're the ones at fault, and Crane has filed a lawsuit against McLane alleging fraud because of this. And if you talk to McLane, he'll strongly dispute this contention. But no matter who was at fault -- something that may be known only after many years of lawsuits -- the fact remains that over 60 percent of the Houston market was unable to view the network.
This changes if the reorganization plan is approved by the bankruptcy court. Should this happen, CSN Houston ceases to be as an entity and becomes Root Sports Houston. The Rockets, Astros and Comcast will be out as owners and they'll be replaced by DirecTV and AT&T. Both companies have pledged to carry the network on their cable/satellite systems and it should still be available on Comcast. The Rockets' and Astros' games will be on this new entity, and thus for the first time in two years, the games of both teams will be available for viewing to most Houston television viewers.
"Fans will be able to see the teams and the network with almost full carriage across the region," Rockets CEO Tad Brown told the Chronicle. For those who just want to watch the games, little will change. Bill Worrell, Matt Bullard and Clyde Drexler will still call the Rockets games and Bill Brown, Alan Ashby and Geoff Blum will still work the Astros. There'll still be pre- and post-game shows and Kevin Eschenfelder, Bart Ennis, Calvin Murphy and Julia Morales will still be around. The graphics might change a bit, but the games will be on TV for all to see.
What changes is everything else. Gone are the Dynamo. Gone is Sports Talk Live and the Houston-oriented sports center show. Gone are football and basketball games from the Southland and Lone Star conferences. Gone is the best thing the network had going for it: the focus on Houston and the surrounding areas. That's all gone because Root Sports networks are spinoffs of the Fox Sports Nets, and we all know how crappy, generic and bland that product is.
I've never seen CSN Houston, but its product was supposedly outstanding -- the network was nominated for 16 Emmys on Tuesday. What I do know is that CSN Houston reporters were at every event I covered. They were there for pressers and practices. They knew their stuff, and they loved what they were doing.
"A lot of these people I've known fell back in the Fox (Sports Southwest) days and from when my dad (Hall of Fame pitcher), Nolan Ryan, was playing," Astros president Reid Ryan told the Chronicle's David Barron. "They have done their best to make the network the best it can be...and I want to thank them for their efforts."
Instead, between the Astros and Rockets games, there'll be more of the stuff Fox Sports Southwest stuck viewers with. More Big 12 sports. Some coaches shows. Generic material produced to air anywhere in the country at any time of the day or night. Televised poker. The increased coverage of high school and college sports in Houston and the surrounding area will be long gone so the Dan Patrick radio show simulcast gets more markets.
It's a short-term victory for the fans of the Astros and Rockets. But it'll be a longterm loss for everybody because the CSN Houston product was local and better. It's just a shame the grown-ups in charge couldn't work things out.