CSN Houston — the fledgling sports cable network with the high-priced talent and snazzy sets that most of the city cannot see — and the Houston Astros — the worst team little money can buy — are taking their differences public.
Even as CSN showed one of the Astros' few marquee games of the season Friday night — the opener of a three-game, season-ending series with the New York Yankees — word came out that the network filed for bankruptcy just days shy of only its one-year anniversary. In a statement, CSN called it "involuntary bankruptcy protection" that is "necessary to preserve CSN Houston’s ability to provide its valuable programming."
The Astros are just calling it foul, charging that the network owes them months of unpaid rights fees.
The Astros are just calling it foul, charging that the network owes them months of unpaid rights fees and is simply filing for bankruptcy to prevent the team from pulling the plug on the partnership.
"Comcast has improperly filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition in an attempt to prevent the Astros from terminating the Media Rights Agreement between the Astros and Houston Regional Sports Network," the club said in its own statement. "HRSN failed to pay the Astros media rights fees in July, August and September, and we have invested additional money in order to keep the network viable through our season."
The Astros own 46 percent of CSN, with the Houston Rockets owning 31 percent and NBC Universal holding the other 23 percent. If Jim Crane's Astros terminated its rights relationship, CSN would be in dire straits — and NBC likely would have to decide how many tens of millions it is willing to put in to keep the channel afloat.
Carriage rights issues have plagued CSN from the beginning — with the one-year anniversary of its first broadcast approaching on Oct. 1, the network is available in only about 40 percent of Houston households and there's no sign that will change anytime soon.
The bankruptcy proceedings will allow CSN to stay on the air — for at least the near future. While under Chapter 11, a business is given time to reorganize in an attempt to make itself viable.
CSN and the Astros recently went through the embarrassment of seeing an Astros-Indians game — shown the same time as the Houston Texans game in Baltimore — record a 0.0 Nielsen rating. Still, the team says it wants the network to work.
"Despite not receiving our media rights fees, our objective has not changed," the Astros' statement continues. "We will continue to work toward obtaining full carriage so that all of our fans are able to watch the Astros games while making sure that the Astros are able to compete for championships."