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Minnesota Twins:Gotta see 'em, but you can't on TV

Victory Sports insists itwill be around for a while

Now, officially, you have every right to be worried. That is, if you're a Minnesota Twins fan and want to watch them on television this year.

Those worries didn't concern us so much in November or December when sports fans were paying close attention to the Vikings and their playoff chances.

Baseball fever started to warm up in January but not to worry, spring training was still a ways away.

But in February, pitchers and catchers reported to their respective training camps and all of a sudden the reality started to sink in; maybe the dispute between Victory Sports and Charter Communications was beyond repair.

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Maybe this would be the summer with no televised Twins baseball.

Right now it appears that way; phone calls between the two sides have been few and far between. Basically non-existent.

"If they call willing to talk I'll be wherever they tell me," said Kevin Cattoor, the president of Victory Sports. "All we're asking now is to bargain in good faith. I've taken a number of calls from fans and there's not much we can do if they're not willing to at least sit down and talk.''

Victory Sports will televise 132 Twins games this year and as it stands you'll see absolutely none of them.

The network, owned by Twins owner Carl Pohlad, was launched last October. It carries a variety of sports, including Gophers men's basketball, but without a doubt the Twins are the heart-and-soul of the network's viewership.

"All we want is for the Twins to be made available on expanded basic service, like they've been for the past 14 years," said Cattoor.

Charter, though, and other major satellite providers in the state want to include the Twins and Victory on a separate pay-tier service.

Victory, reportedly, is asking Charter between $2.20 and $2.30 per subscriber. In comparison, Fox Sports Net reportedly charges $1.70 and ESPN and ESPN2 combined total around $2.60.

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Victory Sports, Charter says, will cost the local cable system around $500,000 per month. Charter hints the cost will be passed on to the customer.

Cattoor points out that if the Twins were put on a pay tier, it would cost fans extra to watch. "For years the cost for Twins baseball has already been built into the expanded basic service,'' said Cattoor. "People don't care about the dollar figures being thrown out, they just want the games.''

In Denver, a yet-to-be named channel with distribution rights to the NBA Nuggets and NHL Avalanche will compete with Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain for about 3 million viewers. If FSN Rocky Mountain lost the Nuggets and Avalanche, its president Robert Thompson said contracts would be rewritten to allow for some lost programming.

Cattoor suggests that could happen locally with Fox Sports Net with the loss of the Twins.

He also said of the 32 regional sports networks throughout the United States only two -- both in New York -- are; on a separate pay-tier.

"Let's say Charter offered all its programming on an a la carte basis," said Cattoor. "Although that's not going to happen we would be all over that because of the popularity of the Twins. There are more viewers for six months of Twins baseball than there are for one year combined for ESPN and ESPN2."

Victory is also negotiating with satellite carriers DirectTV and Dish Network. Two years ago the New York Yankees were having the same trouble putting its games on local cable providers and finally reached a deal with DirectTV. That forced the hand of local New York systems and they soon picked-up the Yankees.

Since then, however, DirectTV was purchased by Rupert Murdoch and Fox, and would be cutting its own throat if they signed up networks like Victory Sports.

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Cattoor said the rumor that Victory Sports would be brought by Fox Sports is just that, a rumor.

"We're in it for the long haul," he said. "I helped start the Midwest Sports Channel (since merged into Fox Sports Net) and it took us over four years to get into St. Paul. There's differences today, of course, but what I'm saying we're in this for the long haul.

"All I'm hoping now is that somebody from Charter will call. If they want to talk I'll be there."

None too soon.

Paul Christian is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He writes a weekly Friday column devoted to TV and radio sports and can be reached at pchristian@postbulletin.com

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