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FSN Chicago logo, used from 2004 to 2006.
|Closed||June 23, 2006|
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)|
|Replaced by||Comcast SportsNet Chicago|
FSN Chicago is a defunct American regional sports network that was owned by Cablevision for most of its history (from 1987 to 2005); News Corporation acquired a minority ownership interest in the network in 1997, which Cablevision bought out in 2005. Based in Chicago, the network was affiliated with SportsChannel from 1987 to 1997, when it became an affiliate of Fox Sports Net.
The network carried games from most of the Chicago area's major league sports teams including the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox Major League Baseball franchises; the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks; the NBA's Chicago Bulls; the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer; and the Arena Football League's Chicago Rush. It also aired local and national collegiate sports, including those sourced from sister network Fox Sports Detroit.
FSN Chicago launched in April 1982 as Sportsvision, a joint venture between Jerry Reinsdorf (owner of the Chicago White Sox, who at the time, had recently also became the new owner of the Chicago Bulls), Eddie Einhorn (co-owner of White Sox with Reinsdorf, and who also worked as a television sports producer and promoter) and Fred Eychaner (owner, at the time, of independent station WPWR-TV, then on channel 60, now a CW affiliate on channel 50).
Since Chicago was one of the last major U.S. cities where cable television was still not widely available, Sportsvision initially operated as an over-the-air subscription service, broadcasting over WPWR each weeknight and on weekends. Viewers were required to purchase a set-top converter and pay a monthly fee to view the telecasts, which included Bulls, White Sox and Blackhawks games, as well as college sports events of local interest. Some sports telecasts were also simulcast on ONTV, a co-owned subscription service that broadcast part-time over WSNS (channel 44, now a Telemundo owned-and-operated station). By this point, the Bulls and White Sox continued to broadcast a number of games on broadcast television locally, while the Blackhawks moved all of their game broadcasts over to Sportsvision, ending a longstanding partnership with WSNS. Because of this, some set-top converters sold as part of ONTV and Sportsvision subscriptions began incorporating a switch to allow subscribers to tune to either ONTV or Sportsvision. By 1984, White Sox games had begun airing on ONTV as well.
The decision to move most of the White Sox broadcasts to pay television led longtime announcer Harry Caray to become the play-by-play voice of the rival Chicago Cubs, due to the limited exposure that the White Sox would experience as a result of having the majority of games on a medium that would limit the reach of the team's televised game broadcasts. Chicago was (and to this day, still is) one of the very few television markets in the United States whose baseball teams made a substantial percentage of their games available over-the-air. Until the mid-1990s, the Cubs still televised all of their games that were not aired nationally on the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, and later CBS) over WGN-TV (channel 9) and a regional network of television stations throughout parts of the Midwest.
Affiliation with SportsChannel and Fox Sports Net
The WPWR-Sportsvision partnership faltered by January 1984; as a result, the channel was sold to the Bethpage, New York-based Cablevision Systems Corporation, which later converted Sportsvision into a basic cable service. In 1989, the channel became an affiliate of the SportsChannel America group of regional sports networks, relaunching as SportsChannel Chicago.
On June 30, 1997, News Corporation and Liberty Media – which had created a new group of regional sports networks known as Fox Sports Net in November 1996, through News Corporation's partial acquisition of the Liberty-owned Prime Network – purchased a 40% interest in Cablevision's sports properties including the SportsChannel America networks, Madison Square Garden and the arena's professional sports franchise tenants, the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.
Following the purchase, SportsChannel Chicago abruptly cancelled its daily sports news program The SportsChannel Report on August 10, resulting in the layoffs of ten staffers (including the program's veteran anchors Jim Blaney, Steve Kashul and Dyrol Joyner). That October, the channel launched Fox Sports Tonight, a similarly formatted sports news program focusing on local sports, intended to complement Fox Sports Net's national program Fox Sports News. At that time, the channel relocated its production and office facilities to a new facility in the Apparel Center, at 350 North Orleans Street in the Near North Side area.
The new joint venture formed between News Corporation, Cablevision and Liberty Media, National Sports Partners, began a gradual rebranding of the SportsChannel networks that Cablevision had previously controlled into owned-and-operated outlets of Fox Sports Net; as such, SportsChannel Chicago was rebranded as Fox Sports Chicago in January 1998. The channel was then rebranded as Fox Sports Net Chicago in 2000, as part of a collective brand modification of the FSN networks under the "Fox Sports Net" banner.
Fox Sports Tonight later evolved into the Chicago Sports Report in 2001, as part of a groupwide expansion of regional news programs across the Fox Sports Networks to compliment the National Sports Report. Around that time, Fox Sports Net Chicago also began serving as the production and origination hub for the Ohio Sports Report and Bay Area Sports Report news programs (all of which were 50% owned by Cablevision through its Rainbow Sports subsidiary) for sister networks Fox Sports Ohio and Fox Sports Net Bay Area. In 2004, the channel shortened its name to FSN Chicago, through the networks' de-emphasis of the "Fox Sports Net" brand.
Loss of broadcast rights and collapse
In December 2003, Reinsdorf, Bill Wirtz and the Tribune Company – the respective owners of the Bulls, White Sox, Blackhawks and Cubs – decided to end their cable television agreement with FSN Chicago, stripping the network of broadcast rights to all of the professional sports teams in the Chicago area. All three decided to enter into a partnership with Comcast to form a new regional sports network, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which launched on October 1, 2004. The move led many cable and satellite providers in northeastern Illinois and northwest Indiana to drop the network. Without any local professional sports coverage remaining, FSN Chicago was left with national programming distributed by Fox Sports Net, events from some minor local and semi-professional teams and Midwestern outdoors programs of limited interest to Chicago area viewers.
In February 2005, Cablevision acquired full ownership of Fox Sports Chicago and FSN New York, and a 50% interest in Fox Sports New England (with Comcast retaining its existing 50% stake) in an asset swap that also involved the sale of News Corporation's interest in Madison Square Garden and the arena's NBA and NHL team tenants in exchange for Cablevision's interest in FSN Ohio and FSN Florida.
FSN Chicago ceased operations on June 23, 2006; Comcast SportsNet Chicago subsequently moved its operations into the Orleans Street facility formerly occupied by FSN Chicago, and acquired the rights to broadcast FSN's nationally distributed programs. The set formerly used by the Chicago Sports Report was purchased by NBC affiliate WREX-TV in Rockford for use as the station's main news set. The Orleans Street facility has since also become the homebase of the Chicago Sun-Times.
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