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Plans Dropped For 'ESPN West'

Disney's ESPN gave up plans to create a West Coast sports network after two teams chose to renew their cable contracts with rival Fox Sports Net.

ESPN West would have served the lucrative Southern California market and planned to broadcast games played by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks NHL franchise and the Anaheim Angels baseball team.

The clubs, however, chose to renew their current distribution agreements with Fox Sports West, one of the 22 regional sports networks that comprise Fox Sports Net. Financial terms of the renewals were not disclosed.

"We respect the teams' interest in having immediate access to the largest possible distribution," ESPN said in a statement. "The time line for ESPN West's development did not allow for that immediacy."

Disney shares rose 9/16 to 39 15/16.

ESPN West had planned to premiere in October, when Ducks games would have been available.

With the renewal, Fox Sports West has effectively sewed up the lucrative Southern California cable sports market. It will show 80 Los Angeles Dodger games next year compared to this year's total of 40; 50 Angels games, up from 40; 40 Ducks games, flat with last year's total; all Los Angeles Lakers home games not televised by NBC; and 35-40 Los Angeles Clipper games.

"ESPN is a great channel in its own right, but it's different than we are," Fox Sports West spokesperson Steve Webster said, referring to the rival network's emphasis on national coverage.

Webster said Fox Sports Net's regional strategy assumes there will be much more interest in local teams than in nationally televised games involving teams outside a given market.

"People here in Los Angeles would probably be more interested in seeing the Dodgers playing the Giants, like last night," said Webster, "than if ESPN were showing the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals."

Fox/Liberty Networks, a 50-50 partnership of News and Liberty Media owns half of Fox Sports Net. Cablevision Systems owns the other half.

Written By David B. Wilkerson

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