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Astros Lawsuit Could Have Implications For Houston Sports Fans

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane has filed a lawsuit alleging fraud in connection with his purchase of a share of Houston’s regional sports network. The outcome of the suit could have an impact on whether more fans will be able to watch Houston sports teams on television.


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Right now, only about 40 percent of Houston households are able to watch all Astros, Rockets and Dynamo games. That’s because no deals have been reached between Comcast SportsNet Houston and other providers.

CSN Houston is the regional sports network (RSN) owned by the Rockets, Astros and NBC Universal. Currently only Comcast carries the channel.

Now Jim Crane’s company Houston Baseball Partners is suing NBC Universal, Comcast and McLane Champions, the company of former Astros owner Drayton McLane.

Here’s Crane, speaking at a news conference Friday.

“This is something that we didn’t do lightly. I recognize the magnitude of the lawsuit. Misrepresentations were made about the RSN that may damage the Astros organization for the next 20 years. The deal was signed for 20 years. We will not allow this to happen to the franchise.”

Crane bought the Astros, along with a share of the sports network from McLane in 2011.

The lawsuit claims McLane’s company misrepresented the value of the network when it sold it to Crane, and that the defendants purposefully inflated subscription rates for the channel, knowing that no other broadcast providers would pay them.

Crane says that information was withheld from him when he negotiated a deal with McLane Champions.

“During our due diligence period, we interviewed representatives from each group. They assured us that the numbers in the business plan were Comcast numbers based on their expertise in the market and the rates were achievable.”

In a statement, NBC Universal denies any wrongdoing and calls the lawsuit a “desperate act.” It goes on saying that “Mr. Crane is suffering from an extreme case of buyer’s remorse, and aiming to blame the Network’s challenges on anything but his own actions.”

Drayton McLane says his team was “absolutely transparent” and answered all of Jim Crane’s company’s questions during the transaction.

Dr. Jason Sosa is a lawyer and Sport Management lecturer at Rice University. He says what fans should hope for is that the suit is resolved soon.

“Some mediation agreement that will come to the terms of, ‘We’re going to give you maybe what you want, Mr. Crane, and we’re going to allow you to either break this contract and move on and maybe deal with AT&T or Time Warner or other, different cable providers, so that way the everyday consumer will have the opportunity to watch the Houston Astros, the Houston Rockets.’”

Until that happens, Houston sports fans will continue to have to either get Comcast or watch their team at a sports bar.

Comcast/NBCUniversal’s Statement:

“Comcast/NBCUniversal vehemently rejects any claim of wrongdoing asserted by the Astros. This litigation outside the bankruptcy proceedings is a desperate act, committed during a period in which Mr. Crane and his team of sophisticated advisors have been granted by the Bankruptcy Court an opportunity to explore and effectuate solutions to the Network’s serious business problems.  Instead, it appears that Mr. Crane is suffering from an extreme case of buyer’s remorse, and aiming to blame the Network’s challenges on anything but his own actions.  Comcast/NBCUniversal looks forward to vindicating itself in this litigation and also remains committed to a reorganization of the Network in Bankruptcy Court.”

Below is a statement from Drayton McLane: