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How Does a Curling Channel Sound?

Prime Ticket launched La Cadena Deportiva on Nov. 15, 1 1/2 months after ESPN2 made its debut.

Sometime late next year or in early 1995, the 24-hour Golf Channel will make its debut.

ESPN is talking about an auto racing channel.

The sports television business, looking for ways to grow in a crowded environment, is going after target audiences.

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ESPN2 is aimed at the younger MTV set.

And La Cadena Deportiva is going after the Spanish-speaking population.

“Creating services directed at niche audiences is where there are growth opportunities, and with La Cadena we are reaching a huge audience that has been woefully underserved,” said Roger Werner, Prime Ticket president.

“La Cadena is designed to bring new Latino subscribers to cable,” Werner said, noting that cable passes 750,000 Latino homes in Los Angeles that are not subscribing.

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“From my perspective, the launching of La Cadena is the biggest thing to happen in cable sports television in the past five years.”

It’s understandable that Werner is proud of La Cadena Deportiva. It is his baby. He started working on the project 1 1/2 years ago, and brought in Richard Ramirez as the general manager and Terry Planell as the director of programming and operations.

What lies ahead is selling the service to cable operators. Currently, only Buena Vision in the East Los Angeles area and Cox Cable in San Diego are carrying it.

Because of fallout from deregulation stemming from the Cable Act of 1992, Werner said, deals have been slow in coming. But he is confident that by Jan. 1, everything will be on target.

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All one has to do is look at the weekend sports listings to realize there isn’t much room for more sports on television.

Except for channels directed at a niche audience, growth is expected to slow until the arrival of 500-channel services in five years or so.

“The huge volume of growth is behind us,” said Werner, who formerly was president of ESPN. “The availability of product is just not there. You can only cut the pie into so many pieces.

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“The typical sports viewer is pretty well served. There isn’t a crying need for another 50 events. There is now a pretty broad menu available.

“I don’t think we’ll see three more ESPNs.”

However, Steve Bornstein, who succeeded Werner as president of ESPN, said there is talk of an ESPN3, a news and information channel.

“Our plan is to start an ESPN3 in the next year or two, and then follow it with specialized channels like an auto-racing channel,” said Bornstein.

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Also in attendance was Robert Sutton, chief operating officer of the proposed Golf Channel.

Sutton said it will be a “mini-pay” service, meaning it will cost subscribers about $5 a month, and will offer some tournament coverage as well as nonstop golf programming.

The channel’s headquarters are in Birmingham, Ala., but Sutton said the offices will eventually be moved to Orlando, Fla.

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Charity work: Prime Ticket will televise an exhibition game at the Anaheim Arena between teams made up of King and Mighty Duck players and celebrities Thursday at 7:30 p.m., with 100% of the money raised going to help for fire victims and other needy people.

Among the celebrities will be Michael J. Fox.

Sponsors of the telecast will forgo commercial spots. And Bob Miller and Duck commentator Brian Hayward, who will announce the game, are donating their services, as are other members of the Prime Ticket crew.

The Prime Network, which reaches 41 million homes nationally, will show the game.

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There will be no radio coverage.

TV-Radio Notes

Just another pay-per-view ripoff and new lifeblood for heavyweight boxing? Tonight’s World Heavyweight Superfights is one or the other. Promoters of the tournament at Bay St. Louis, Miss., which has a suggested price of $29.95, insist they’ve hit on something different. Sixteen heavyweights will be trying to win four consecutive three-round fights during a four-hour span beginning at 6 p.m. They’ll be vying for $1 million in prize money. The field includes a group of washed-up fighters such as Michael Dokes, James (Bonecrusher) Smith, Tony Tubbs, Tyrell Biggs, and Bert Cooper, plus British bare-knuckles champion Joe Savage and some international contenders.

HBO offers more conventional heavyweight boxing Saturday night, when Michael Moorer takes on Mike Evans at Reno in a tuneup for a title shot. Also on the card, which begins at 7:15 p.m., is a featherweight title fight between champion Gregoria Vargas and undefeated challenger Kevin Kelley. . . . Thursday, ESPN will televise Oscar De La Hoya’s fight against Jose Vidal Concepcion from the Paramount in Madison Square Garden. ESPN has been televising boxing for 13 years, and this is its first from Madison Square Garden.

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Prime Ticket’s Alan Massengale and producer Robert Banagan went to De La Hoya’s training camp recently and found things not very rosy. “I’ve learned to swim with the sharks,” De La Hoya says in a two-part series that will be shown on “Press Box” Tuesday and Wednesday. . . . Tonight’s heavyweight tournament and the other upcoming fights will be among the topics on KMPC’s new boxing show, “Ringside with Johnny Ortiz,” today at 1 p.m.

SET, the pay-per-view arm of Showtime, announced it will televise the finals of the national Toughman competition on May 21 from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Earlier competition will be televised by the Prime Network. . . . SET also announced that McAdory Lipscomb has replaced Scott Kurnitt as executive vice president. Kurnitt left SET to take a job with Prodigy.

Fred Wallin, who was unmerciful in ripping XTRA and some of its announcers when he was at KMPC, has applied for a job at XTRA. . . . Former KMPC midday host Tony Femino and XTRA’s Chet Forte, along with Lenny Del Genio of Bally’s sports book and Kenneth Miller of the Los Angeles Sentinel, got together this week to tape a television pilot of a proposed show, “Sports on Tap.” . . . XTRA’s versatile Brad Cesmat will soon leave the station to become sports director at KTAR in Phoenix, the flagship radio station of the Suns, Cardinals and Arizona State. Cesmat will do a nightly three-hour show, plus be a part of game broadcasts. . . . KMPC has paired Paola Boivin and Jeff Fellenzer for a regular Saturday show, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The emphasis will be on college sports. This Saturday, they’ll be on until 12:30 because KMPC is carrying the Florida-Alabama SEC championship game.

ESPN was unsuccessful in its attempt to change the 8 p.m. (PST) kickoff for Saturday night’s Wisconsin-Michigan State game at Tokyo, so the network will join the game in progress at about 8:30, after Kansas-DePaul basketball. Originally, ESPN planned to televise Saturday’s UCLA-Nevada Las Vegas game at 9 p.m., but NCAA sanctions against UNLV knocked that game off television. . . . ESPN got in a bind last Friday when the Maryland-Georgetown basketball game went into overtime, cutting into the West Virgina-Boston College football game. But the network did a nice job with updates and got to the football as quickly as possible.

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The Dodgers announced Thursday that Channel 5 will televise 10 home games next season in addition to its usual 50 road games. Apparently, there will be no cable deal for the Dodgers again this season. . . . With the Raiders and Rams both on the road Sunday, Los Angeles gets an extra NFL telecast--Denver at San Diego on Channel 4 at 1 p.m. . . . CBS has a pre-Olympic hockey game between the United States and Russia at Lake Placid, N.Y., on its “Winterfest” program Saturday at 10 a.m. CBS will experiment with its new goalie cam, a tiny camera that will be attached to the helmet of the U.S. goalie.

The format for ESPN2 “SportsNight,” with Keith Olbermann and Suzie Kolber, is being changed tonight. The show will be cut from three hours to 1 1/2 and “SportsNight,” at least on the West Coast, is now a misnomer. It will be on at 2 p.m., then repeated at 6 and 9 p.m., with live updates inserted. The show, which is now on Friday through Sunday, will switch to a Sunday-through-Thursday schedule on Jan. 9.


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