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Comcast Files Involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition against CSN Houston

Astros' Broadcast Efforts Hit More Snags

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros broadcasts have gone unseen throughout most of their territory because the CSN Houston broadcast venture has been unable to secure agreements with cable and satellite providers.  Now it appears that the CSN network had another setback, landing in federal bankruptcy court.

The CSN Houston bankruptcy petition is involuntary, meaning that the network itself didn't seek bankruptcy protection.  Instead several affiliates of NBC/Comcast filed the petition to force CSN Houston into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Chapter 11 provides for the potential reorganization of a failing business, permitting the business to continue to operate during the pendancy of the bankruptcy, and halting efforts by creditors to collect debts.  The Houston Chronicle article is here.

The Chronicle article suggests that the Astros were surprised at the bankruptcy filing.  Generally speaking, it's probably not a good sign that the partner with the largest ownership interest in the venture didn't know about plans to place the partnership in bankruptcy.   From all outward signs, it appears that the bankruptcy petition reflects significant conflct between the Astros and NBC/Comcast.

The Astros' statement points in that direction:

Comcast has improperly filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition in an attempt to prevent the Astros from terminating the Media Rights Agreement between the Astros and Houston Regional Sports Network. HRSN failed to pay the Astros media rights fees in July, August and September, and we have invested additional money in order to keep the network viable through our season.
Despite not receiving our media rights fees, our objective has not changed. We will continue to work toward obtaining full carriage so that all of our fans are able to watch the Astros games while making sure that the Astros are able to compete for championships.

Several important points, according to the Astros: the Comcast Houston Regional Sports Network did not pay rights fees to the Astros in July through September, and the petition is an attempt to prevent the Astros from terminating the media rights agreement.

The NBC/Comcast statement also indicated problems with the "structure" of the partnership:

The NBC Universal statement said the Chapter 11 petition was filed “in order to resolve structural issues affecting CSN Houston’s partnership.”

“This action is necessary to preserve CSN Houston’s ability to provide its valuable programming and reaffirms Comcast/NBC Universal’s commitment to serving the region and its fans,” the statement added.

Again this points to conflicts over the operation of the partnership and perhaps Comcast's perception that its ability to provide sports programming in the Houston area is jeopardized.

To this point, the Rockets have not commented.  But one would assume that they may be affected most immediately by any uncertainty, since the Rockets' broadcast season is coming soon.

At this point, it's fruitless to speculate on where the broadcast turmoil is headed.  But it's possible that a bankruptcy judge could have something to say about it.