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The Fight For Houston Astros TV Rights: Why It Matters To Texas

Since reaching the World Series in 2005, the Houston Astros have played losing baseball (315-332), but Fox Sports Houston is in a battle to keep the regional rights to Astros broadcasts, and the competition is coming from cable providers.

Comcast and AT&T have been attempting to lure the Astros -- and the Houston Rockets -- away from FSN to start their own Regional Sports Networks. The Astros have an out clause in their long-term deal with Fox Sports Houston for after the 2012 season.

Houston is important ground in this fight for regional sports markets because it was where the idea really first blossomed. Back in 1983, Home Sports Entertainment was one of the first RSN's to get established. It was built around the Astros and SWC sports at the beginning. Texas was at the center of their collegiate programming.

Last year Fox Sports Houston was 20th among all major league teams in regional ratings with the Astros, while the Rockets were the 6th highest-rated NBA team regionally.

Comcast already has 9 such RSN's across the country, and they see Texas as fertile territory. Sources say that AT&T is trying to partner up with satellite provider EchoStar to set up its own regional sports network in Houston.

Fox Sports and Comcast are currently the biggest players in RSN's, but AT&T who also operates video systems in Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, wants to get into the product distribution side as well.

Comcast is the dominant cable provider in the Houston area with over 1.2 million subscribers.

Right now Comcast is busy trying to convince Congress that their buyout of NBC is good for the economy.

It won't be long however, before the largest cable provider in the U.S. will be looking to produce content, not only for its regional networks, but perhaps for its own version of ESPN on its Comcast/NBC Networks. All of the BCS conferences -- with the exception of the SEC-ON-ESPN, are watching with great interest to see just how these regional TV rights fights shake out. It could be a driving force in whatever moves the Big 10 and Pac 10 make in expanding, and it could also have a dramatic effect on the future of the Big 12.