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After months of speculation, the Empire Sports Network Wednesday took control of the television rights to all Buffalo Sabres games for three seasons starting this fall.

However, Empire also made a deal with Channel 29 that will enable the Fox affiliate to simulcast 10 regular-season games and all the Sabres' potential playoff games, home and away.

The deal was announced by the Sabres, Empire and WUTV.

Channel 29 had been carrying 30 regular-season games and away playoff games. The simulcasting will enable the Sabres games to go to areas in Rochester and Syracuse that Empire enters via cable, as well as Canadian cable outlets that carry Channel 29. The station also can be picked up by non-cable subscribers in parts of Canada.

No details were announced on how many games Empire will carry, but 60 is a reasonable ballpark figure since Empire and Channel 29 carried 70 regular-season games last season.

The change in the Sabres television has been expected ever since John J. Rigas, who owns Empire's parent company, Adelphia Cable Communications, bought a 34 percent stake in the Sabres last season.

Rigas had publicly stated that he eventually wanted the television rights to all Sabres game.

The Sabres, however, wanted to ensure that some games would be available to non-cable subscribers and Canadian viewers through Channel 29.

Channel 29, which had a long-term deal with the Sabres, had its reasons for agreeing to cut its coverage by two-thirds.

"It has been exceedingly difficult to satisfy both the hockey viewer and the Fox viewer who watches 'Melrose Place,' " explained Channel 29 general manager Will Stone.

This deal significantly reduces the number of Fox programs that will be delayed or preempted by Sabres games.

Just about everyone is a winner in the deal except for the non-cable subscriber, who will be able to see 20 fewer regular-season games than had been available in years past via Channel 29.

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