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DISNEY PAYS MIGHTY BUCKS, VOWS TO MAKE PROFIT

The NHL was the big winner in its new $600 million, five-year television contract. The question is, will the Walt Disney Co. win as well?

Disney's ESPN bid $600 million -- $350 million for the cable rights and $250 million for the broadcast rights to be shown on Disney's ABC Sports -- for the the NHL, beginning in 1999-2000. But with network ratings falling 30 percent in the last four years, there are questions about the deal's profitability.

"We will make money on this deal," Steve Bornstein, president of ESPN and ABC Sports said Tuesday when the contract was formally announced. "We believe through exclusivity and cross-promotion that we will be able to increase ratings and ad rates."

The Fox network's ratings have fallen 33 percent since 1996. ESPN's regular-season ratings fell 13 percent last year and ESPN2's were flat compared to 1996-97.

Fox's decision not to pay the $225 million necessary to match ABC's deal was supported by 95 percent of its affiliates, according to industry sources. The network is projecting losses of $20 million this season -- its last -- and met with the league Monday about opting out a year early. No decision has been reached.

"I did not go into negotiations with a mask and a gun," Bettman said. "This deal works for both sides, even if we show moderate growth. It will be terrific for ESPN and ABC if our growth increases in the future."

But making the deal work for ABC and ESPN won't be easy. Assuming ABC gets the maximum number of games allowable in the contract, it would need to average more than $50,000 for each commercial spot to break even. According to advertising sources, Fox was able to charge $45,000 for one Stanley Cup finals game and less for regular-season games.

Under the new deal, ABC will show 4 to 7 regular-season games, six games in the first three rounds of the playoffs and up to five games in the Stanley Cup finals. ESPN will produce the broadcasts.

While the network package jumped 61 percent, ESPN is paying five times as much a year for the cable package of up to 200 games. ESPN is getting 26 additional late-night games on ESPN2 -- meaning more broadcasts of the Disney-owned Anaheim Mighty Ducks -- and exclusivity on all 27 of its broadcasts on ESPN, eliminating local blackouts.

ESPN also will have exclusivity on four additional playoff games, rights to more than 100 games for ESPN International, programming for ESPN Classic Sports and use of footage at ESPN's restaurants and stores.

Around the rinks

The Chicago Blackhawks sent goaltender Chris Terreri to the New Jersey Devils for a conditional pick in next year's draft. He was limited by injuries to 21 games for the Blackhawks, posting an 8-10-2 record with a 2.41 goals-against average last season.

The New York Islanders acquired defenseman Ray Giroux from the Philadelphia Flyers for a sixth-round pick in the 2000 draft. Giroux, 22, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award last season at Yale.

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