Sean Pendergast

Astros and Rockets Looking to Take Ownership of AT&T SportsNet

Astros sideline reporter Julia Morales and her colleagues at AT&T SportsNet may be working at a team-owned network very soon.
Astros sideline reporter Julia Morales and her colleagues at AT&T SportsNet may be working at a team-owned network very soon. Photo by Jack Gorman)
One of the biggest local sports stories a decade ago was the collapse of Houston's Comcast Sports Network, a network that was partially owned by the Houston Astros and the Houston Rockets. At that time, the main issue was high carriage fees, leaving cable providers covering about half of Houston saying "no thanks" to even carrying the network.

With the Astros at the nadir of their rebuild and the Rockets in the early stages of the James Harden Era, there wasn't a ton of clamoring for the network from cable customers who couldn't watch it, and eventually CSN collapsed into a bankruptcy that lived on in the courts until late last year.

Now, a decade later, CSN's replacement, AT&T SportsNet Southwest is reportedly on the verge of having its ownership assumed by the Astros and Rockets, as the network's current parent company, Warner Brothers Discovery, is seriously considering putting the network into bankruptcy. The big difference this time around, compared to 2013, is that the Rockets are at the nadir of their rebuild and the Astros are defending World Series champions. What hasn't changed is the Regional Sports Network (RSN) business model failing once again.

The big question sports fans, particularly Astros fans, have is "Am I going to be able to see my team play on television?" The answer is "Yes." While Astros and Rockets ownership negotiate with Warner Brothers Discovery, the games will continue to air on AT&T SportsNet Southwest, as planned. So, fear not, Astro fans, you will get to see every planned telecast of the team's title defense.

The forecast for AT&T SportsNet Southwest, if indeed the teams end up owning their network, is great news compared to numerous other RSN's around the country that may not be so lucky to find an easy solution like Houston's network. Warner Bros. Discovery also owns RSN's in Pittsburgh and Denver, and Diamond Sports, which owns 19 Bally Sports networks around the country, has filed for bankruptcy protection on those networks.

If the Rockets and Astros end up buying AT&T SportsNet Southwest, the network will get a new name, and Houston will join Seattle, New York, and Boston as markets where the teams own the networks carrying their games. It is unclear what the network's ownership percentages would be for each team, but back in 2012 for CSN, the split was 60 percent Astros and 40 percent Rockets, before adding Comcast as an equity partner.

As for the on-air employees for each team, the Rockets and Astros would acquire their contracts part of the deal, so studio hosts and field reporters like Kevin Eschenfelder and Julia Morales on Astros broadcasts. Play-by-play and color analysts, like Todd Kalas and Geoff Blum for the Astros, are already employed by the respective teams.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast