Jim Crane met with the members of the Astros media on Monday before the team's win over the Seattle Mariners. Topics of discussion included his disappointment with the team's start and the progress toward a new spring training facility. But it's his comments regarding the continuing CSN Houston saga that were of most interest.
Stating that bankruptcy judge Marvin Isgur has the ability to move things along quickly at the speed of light and that Isgur has the leeway to do just about whatever he wants, Crane sounded pessimistic about the outcome and about progress in mediation. And that said, he wants this situation wrapped up quickly.
"So I would like to see something resolved within 30 days, one way or another," he said. "He (Judge Isgur) could make that happen -- it could linger longer than (that), but it's certainly not good for us, and it's not good for the Rockets. I don't think it's having any big-term effect on Comcast."
Not being in Seattle on Monday, I didn't have the ability to ask any questions. And I've got lots of questions, but the primary question is this: Is he dropping his appeal of Isgur's bankruptcy ruling? The judge might possess the power to make things happen at light speed, but he has minimal powers while the case is on appeal -- he can make orders keeping the network lights on, make sure employees get paid, etc., but he has no real power over the actual bankruptcy because he and the parties are still waiting for Judge Lynn Hughes to rule on Crane's appeal.
But Crane's 30-day wish leads to some conclusions. First, if he is dropping the appeal, that does put Isgur back in charge of the bankruptcy. Isgur has not been sympathetic to the Astros' arguments, and it's likely the network reorganization plan would not be one to Crane's liking. There's also the likely possibility that Hughes has told the parties how he plans to rule regarding the appeal and that the case will soon be returning to Isgur, with likely the same dissatisfactory results for the Astros.
There's also another possibility, that the parties are close to settling things. They would need Isgur's blessing on any deal, but Isgur can bless such a deal quickly. Crane stated he didn't know if there would be further mediation sessions. But while he didn't sound thrilled at how the sessions have gone, it did sound as if progress has been made.
"You try to get everybody to lean into the middle and hopefully get something done," he said. "You know, we thought we gave in quite a bit and gave a fair deal."
Crane further mentions difficulties from this being a 20-year deal and the long-term consequences of the disaster that is the network and how this complicates settling the matter. Especially as how he still wants the TV deal to fund players just as Seattle's TV deal funds the Robinson Cano contract. But then he mentions other, possibly shorter, deals.
"It's a 20-year deal, and some of the offers have been for less than that," he said. "We're weighing those, and it'll be back in court here pretty quick."
This furthers my belief that a deal's close and that they'll be in court asking the judge to approve the reorganization plan. And my guess would be that the plan involves the Astros being bought out of their network ownership stake, with the team getting a new media rights deal giving it more money per year. It sounds as if the Astros would still like a 20-year deal, but that the other parties want a shorter deal.
What Judge Isgur would be asked to bless probably goes along these lines. The Astros give up their ownership of the network in exchange for a new media rights deal in which they get more money but have no role in running the network. The Rockets and Comcast probably remain as co-owners, with my guess being the Rockets get majority ownership and management control and Comcast handling the daily operations of the network. The Rockets can make any and all carriage deals. The plan will probably detail heavy short-term financial losses, but without the Astros ownership monetary demands to handle, the path to profits might be easier to achieve.
The caveat here is the same as always. I'm just reading the quotes, reading the documents and extrapolating from there. So I could be totally wrong about everything, and I probably am. And the other caveat is that none of this guarantees that any carriage deals will ever be reached with DirecTV, U-verse or the cable system of your choice. What such a deal would do is guarantee the Astros get paid, and that's probably the most important thing as far as some parties are concerned.
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