An Orange County Superior Court judge on Wednesday refused to grant the Mighty Ducks a preliminary injunction that would have returned their games to Fox Sports West for the remainder of the season.
The games will continue to be shown on the start-up Fox Sports West 2 network, which reaches only 350,000 to 400,000 subscribers in Southern California and none in Orange County; all of the county’s cable companies have refused to add the channel.
Fox Sports West is available in more than 4 million Southland homes, including all of Orange County.
The ruling means that of the Ducks’ remaining 20 games, eight will be on Fox Sports West 2, seven will be on KCAL-TV Channel 9 and one will be on ESPN. Four games will not be broadcast. If the Ducks reach the playoffs, not all of their games will be on Fox Sports West 2.
“I think it stinks,” Pat Drake of Huntington Beach said at the Pond prior to the Ducks-Oilers game. “It’s not fair. We live in Orange County. We should be able to see all the games. It’s only natural that you would want to follow your home team.”
Added her husband, John: “Especially since the Ducks will make the playoffs and the Kings won’t.”
Bill Robertson, Disney Sports Enterprises spokesman, said: “We are obviously disappointed in the Superior Court ruling from earlier today. Primarily because it precludes our fans from viewing the balance of our cable telecast games that were scheduled for Fox Sports West 1 this season.”
Lawyers for the Ducks argued that Fox Sports violated the spirit of a 1993 contract that, in part, called for games to be shown “within the Ducks’ sphere of influence.” Attorney John Quinn, who represented the Ducks, asked Judge Ronald C. Kline during courtroom arguments on Tuesday what good it was to air games if no one in the heart of the team’s fan base could see them.
Showing the games on a start-up service unavailable to Orange County fans was akin to showing them in a closet, the team’s lawyers said.
The Ducks filed suit Feb. 4, one week after their games were switched from Fox Sports West to Fox Sports West 2.
The Lakers, Kings and Angels remained with the more widely available Fox Sports West, formerly known as Prime Sports. The Ducks, Clippers and Dodgers were moved to Fox Sports West 2 when the network was launched Jan. 27.
The split was necessary because the network anticipated a number of scheduling conflicts when it begins airing Dodger games for the first time this season.
Fox lawyers argued that the original contract did not specify on which network the games had to be aired. They said the Ducks initially supported the move, then began to do all they could to ensure the network’s failure.
“While the emotional arguments are with the Mighty Ducks, they do not win the day,” Kline said Wednesday.
The battle is far from over, however.
The Ducks’ suit against Fox Sports is expected to go to trial in Kline’s courtroom this summer.
“We look forward to presenting our case at the trial scheduled for Aug. 4, 1997, at which time we will make all efforts to assure the 1997-98 season will be cable telecast on Fox Sports West 1,” Robertson said.
Moreover, Fox Sports on Monday filed an antitrust suit against the Ducks in Federal Court in Los Angeles. The suit claims the team conspired with cable companies to sabotage Fox Sports West 2 in order to pave the way for a regional Disney sports network.
No cable companies were named in the suit.
The Disney network would compete directly with Fox Sports West and Fox Sports West 2 and would be a logical system to air Duck and Angel games.
Disney already owns ABC, and cable sports networks ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNews.
Fox lawyers argued in Kline’s courtroom that there was no other reason for the Ducks to abandon their support of Fox Sports West 2 than to set the stage for a Disney sports channel.
“We’re taking them away from the Kings,” Los Angeles-based attorney Robert Badal said. “We’re giving them their own station with the Dodgers. They ought to be applauding us. Why aren’t they supporting us?”
Fox’s suit goes on to say the Ducks initially agreed to promote the launch of Fox Sports West 2 by airing commercials, adding advertisements on the Pond’s dasher boards and handing out leaflets to fans at games.
Kline said he could not consider Fox’s antitrust suit in making Wednesday’s ruling or any future decisions.