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Ducks Air Complaint in Lawsuit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A few weeks ago, Tony Tavares, president of the Mighty Ducks, was asked about the team’s games being switched from Fox Sports West to the new Fox Sports West 2 network.

“I’m not upset about it,” Tavares said. “But I didn’t say I wasn’t concerned.”

On Wednesday, that concern was served to Fox Sports West in the form of a lawsuit that seeks to put the Ducks back on Fox Sports West and in front of 4 million viewers, some of whom live in Orange County.

On Fox Sports West 2, the suit says, the Ducks can be seen by only 350,000-400,000, none of whom live in Orange County.

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No cable system in Orange County carries Fox Sports West 2, and the lawsuit addresses that, saying that Fox Sports West 2 was “attempting to use the Mighty Ducks and [their] fans to do what [it] would otherwise have to try to do [itself]: persuade cable operators to carry an unproven, expensive start-up service.”

It also said that Fox Sports West 2 was “hoping that enraged cable subscribers will pressure their cable operators to carry the fledgling service,” and that the move had not worked. Instead of being a tool, the Ducks said, they have been the targets of anger, with a possibility of hurting attendance and sales of licensed paraphernalia.

The Ducks refused comment, and their attorney, David Grant, said that “everything is laid out in the complaint.

“The team has directed that everything come from Tony Tavares,” Grant said.

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Tavares, also president of the Anaheim Angels, was in St. Louis making a baseball pitch to a sponsor and unavailable for comment.

A spokesman for Fox, the parent company, refused comment on the matter, citing company policy concerning litigation.

The suit was filed in Orange County Superior Court on Tuesday, and later that night the first Ducks game on Fox Sports West 2 was shown. The Ducks-Toronto game was also on the network Wednesday.

The Ducks and various Orange County systems have received phone calls and letters from fans who are angry that they can no longer see the team play on cable systems that are resisting the additional 75 cents per subscriber requested by Fox Sports West 2.

The network began operations Jan. 27, using the Ducks, Clippers and Dodgers as tools to sell it to various Southern California cable systems.

The Kings, Lakers and Angels were to stay on Fox Sports West.

Before Fox Sports West 2 began, Tavares and Kitty Cohen, the Fox Sports West general manager, met to discuss the move when it became clear that the new network was not going to get the subscribers it had hoped to have when it was time to launch.

At that time, Tavares expressed concern, and during the first week, the Ducks and Clipper games were broadcast on both Fox Sports West and Fox Sports West 2 in an attempt to appease the Ducks.

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Only 14 systems in Southern California had committed to carry Fox Sports West 2, which planned to use a schedule of 40 Dodger games as its main selling point. Fox had targeted about 100 of its 175 affiliates over a four-state area for Fox Sports West 2.

“Without the Dodgers, there wouldn’t even be a ‘Two,’ ” a Fox source said.

The Ducks’ lawsuit said the team did not give its permission to be switched and that its television rights had been contracted with Prime Ticket, the forerunner of Fox Sports West.

It also says that Fox Sports West 2 has claimed to have the Ducks contracted through the 2001 season, but actually the contract expires in June 1998.

On Aug. 7, 1996, the two sides entered into what the Ducks called a “nonbinding letter of intent” to extend the contract, which in January became no agreement at all.

A source at Fox network said that it was a major concern, because Fox’s contract with the Angels has only two more seasons and it is anticipated that Disney, owner of both the Ducks and Angels, would probably pair the two in a television offering over cable.

Fox Sports West 2 is scheduled to carry the Dodgers’ opening-day home game against Philadelphia.

By then, the network will have answered the Ducks’ complaint because it must do so within 30 days.

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