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Fans in the dark for Lightning vs. Wings

At home, that is. With no deal between Sunshine and Time Warner, one of Tampa Bay's biggest matchups won't be televised.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 7, 2003

The fight between Sunshine Network and Time Warner Cable gets turned up a notch tonight when, barring an unforeseen agreement, the first Lightning telecast of 2003 will not be shown on Time Warner systems.

The game against the Red Wings is one of the season's biggest, drawing sellout crowds at the St. Pete Times Forum the past four seasons.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed," Lightning president Ron Campbell said Monday. "We've always liked to take the approach we like to showcase our games whether they're home or away. To miss such a marquee opponent is very disappointing."

Just as disappointing are comments from Sunshine vice president and general manager Cathy Weeden, who said Sunshine owner Fox, which is doing the negotiating, has had conversations but no new offers from Time Warner since a proposal went out Dec. 24.

"We've provided multiple proposals and Time Warner has responded with the same take-it-or-leave-it response," Weeden said. "They're not negotiating. They've dug their heels in."

Weeden said Fox has not heard from Time Warner since Dec. 31, when the 10-year deal expired. Time Warner vice president of business affairs Linda Chambers could not be reached.

In a nutshell, the issue is money: Sunshine wants to raise its rates. Time Warner does not want to pay.

And hockey fans on Time Warner must either go to the game, listen on the radio or attend one of the eight viewing parties Sunshine Network is throwing in the bay area that will get the game on Direct TV. Viewing parties will be held at Hattricks and Press Box Sports Emporium in Tampa and several Beef O'Brady's in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The game will not be on the NHL Center Ice Package because Sunshine Network, which owns the rights to the local market, is producing.

"Certainly it is our goal to have it available to the widest possible audience," Weeden said. "We're disappointed, but we are absolutely producing it and looking forward to it."

Campbell said the Lightning cannot exert pressure other than encouraging negotiations.

"They're both our partners," he said. "We're in a difficult position."

Making negotiations more difficult, Campbell said, is the negotiators are not local. Fox in Los Angeles is handling Sunshine's position. Time Warner is negotiating from its offices in Stamford, Conn.

"What it's doing is making it very much a business negotiation and not an emotional negotiation, which probably does not help solving it quickly, in my opinion," Campbell said. "I want to be optimistic. My understanding is, at least what I've been told, is the differences are not insurmountable. Therefore, both sides will get together to find a solution."

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