Empire Sports Network was an American regional sports network that was owned by the Adelphia Communications Corporation. The network was available on cable providers in much of upstate New York (stretching from Buffalo to Albany), as well as parts of northern Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. The network ceased operations on March 7, 2005, in the midst of Adelphia's financial collapse and bankruptcy.
|Empire Sports Network|
|Launched||December 31, 1990|
|Closed||March 7, 2005|
|Network||Prime Network (1990–1996), Fox Sports Net (1996-2005)|
|Owned by||Adelphia Communications Corporation|
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)|
|Broadcast area||Upstate New York|
Nationwide (via satellite)
|Headquarters||West Seneca, New York|
Spectrum Sports (New York)
Empire Sports Network launched on December 31, 1990; its first broadcast that evening was a National Hockey League game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers. Founded by John Rigas (founder and chief executive officer of network parent Adelphia Communications), the idea for Empire Sports was first conceived in 1989; Rigas decided to operate the new network in Buffalo, instead of in Adelphia's corporate homebase of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, a rural borough dozens of miles away from the nearest major sports teams. Originally broadcasting as a part-time service for four hours each night from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., the network originally carried games from the Sabres (carrying locally televised games not broadcast on Fox affiliate WUTV (channel 29), which carried the team's games under a separate contract), the Buffalo Bisons of the International League and Major League Baseball games from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Empire was an outgrowth of the Niagara Frontier Sports Network (NFSN), a partnership between the Sabres and Adelphia that had carried Sabres games on cable on a part-time basis through much of the 1980s.
Adelphia launched the network without seeking a specified carriage fee rate, offering Empire Sports to cable providers for free on a "good faith" basis. However, in June 1991, Tele-Communications Inc. briefly dropped the network from its systems in New York state, after TCI decided against carrying it without a firm carriage agreement. In October 1991, the network became an affiliate of the Prime Network group of regional sports networks; at that time, the network expanded its programming schedule to 19 hours per day, operating from 5:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.
On August 10, 1994, Empire acquired the exclusive regional television rights to the Sabres; as part of the deal, Empire also struck a deal with WUTV parent Act III Broadcasting to air over-the-air simulcasts of ten regular season games (a third of the 30 games that the station had been carrying under a separate contract with the team) and any playoff games during the term of the agreement. By 1995, Empire had expanded its carriage to TCI systems in Rochester and Syracuse; the network expanded its statewide coverage eastward to Albany and Binghamton. The next year, 1996, saw the Prime Network converted to Fox Sports Net, and Empire thus became an FSN affiliate, airing nationally-provided sports programming from Fox and in turn contributing footage to FSN shows such as Fox Sports News.
The Sabres' relationship with Empire Sports strengthened in 1998, when Adelphia and the Rigas family purchased the team. Following the purchase, the network expanded its coverage of the team, culminating in the Sabres' advancement to the Stanley Cup Finals in May 1999, when it provided 12 hours of coverage daily from 12:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. during the championship series. The network's unbridled coverage of the Sabres caught the attention of the National Hockey League, with league Commissioner Gary Bettman commenting that "if the rest of the league was covered like Empire Sports covers the Sabres, we would be as big as the NFL." By 2001, Empire Sports had over 6.7 million subscribers via both cable providers in New York, northern Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio and nationally on satellite.
Between October 2000 and March 2004, Adelphia, under vice president/general manager Bob Koshinski, used staff from Empire to operate Wethersfield radio station WNSA (107.7 FM). The station overtook WGR (550 AM) as the ratings leader among the Buffalo market's two sports radio stations in the spring of 2001, but subsequently lost several of its talent, including prominent afternoon host Mike Schopp, to WGR when the Rigas/Adelphia scandal broke.
Empire Sports thrived until March 2002, when the Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating accusations of internal corruption and securities violations by Adelphia executives (including John Rigas and his son, chief operating officer Timothy Rigas), leading up to the company's subsequent bankruptcy filing, as Adelphia was mired in off-balance-sheet debt totaling $2.3 billion. With Adelphia in freefall and under temporary bank-appointed management, Empire was unable to renew its carriage agreement with Time Warner Cable, its largest non-Adelphia customer and the primary cable provider for nearly all of upstate New York, in the fall of 2002; TWC continued to carry Empire on its Syracuse system for eight months without a carriage deal in place, later announcing plans to replace it with the Outdoor Life Network on May 1, 2003. Empire Sports and Time Warner Cable struck an agreement in April 2003, which would significantly reduce its coverage by migrating the network from TWC's analog service to a digital sports tier in Syracuse and Binghamton.
The network continued to operate, but was dealt another severe blow in 2003 when Adelphia's board of directors appointed William Schleyer as its new chief executive officer and Ron Cooper as its chief operating officer. With questions surrounding whether Adelphia was even still interested in being in the lucrative regional sports business and if Empire Sports would survive its parent's ongoing collapse, the company laid off 27 full-time employees and all freelancers on August 19. The staff cuts forced Empire to immediately eliminate the popular news/call-in show Fan TV, but the network itself was still able to survive for another eighteen months.
The lockout that wiped out the entire 2004–05 NHL season served both as a blessing and a death blow. Financially, the lockout benefited the network because it was not required to pay the Sabres its annual rights fee of $9.5 million. The Sabres had acted as a loss leader for Empire, and without them, the network had no core programming (incidentally, Empire Sports nearly lost the Sabres telecasts when its previous broadcast deal expired in 2003; however, due to the absence of other offers, the Sabres chose against exercising an option to pay Adelphia $1 million to terminate its agreement with the network). Further complicating matters, Time Warner later decided to drop Empire from its systems in Syracuse, Rochester and Binghamton on December 1, 2004, leaving Empire available only in Western New York and the city of Utica, although it remained on the sports tier packages of DirecTV and Dish Network across the country. Howard Simon's radio-TV simulcast show was among the last local programs (other than the nightly sports report) that aired on the network.
From the time Adelphia decided to sell WNSA, the network also streamed online until the closing of its sale to Entercom Communications, which purchased the station in May 2004 for $10.3 million; when the station was sold, Empire Sports merely switched the Internet stream from WNSA to Empire's feed. Empire's partnership with WNSA ended in the fall of 2004, when Entercom switched its format to classic rock under the brand "107.7 The Lake". Simon's show, however, continued on WLVL (1340 AM) in Lockport until November 2004, when he was recruited to host WGR's morning show.
Under the watch of Schleyer and Cooper, on January 24, 2005, Adelphia announced that would shut down Empire Sports on March 7, instead of selling it to several interested parties, citing severe financial losses. Adelphia resisted offers from outside interests to purchase Empire – including a $17 million cash bid by Joshua Pollack (a native of Buffalo and founder of New York City-based media company NXT Communications), a failed bids by the Hamister group (which would have also included the Sabres) and the Buffalo Bills was also interested in purchasing Empire Sports – desiring instead to pocket the retransmission consent fees (totaling an average of $1.98 per subscriber) that would have gone to Empire's new owner had the network been sold off. Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn decided against buying Empire Sports in their purchase of the Sabres.
Despite concerns from viewers and local political leaders, Adelphia announced on January 19, 2005, that it would shut down Empire altogether. On January 23, the network laid off all but two of its 30 employees. The network cancelled its original programming, replacing it with a continuous tape loop, showing highlights from the network's history. Empire signed off for good on March 7, 2005, with Adelphia replacing it on its former analog channel slot on its Western New York systems with the NFL Network.
Adelphia was acquired by Time Warner Cable and Comcast, which completed the asset transfer and division on August 1, 2006. CEO William Schleyer received a bonus of $15 million and COO Ron Cooper received $9 million as part of their compensation package from the re-structured Adelphia Board of Directors.
After Empire's contract with the team expired, the Buffalo Sabres signed a new cable rights agreement with New York City-based MSG Network, where the team's games remain to this day; however, the broadcasts are still produced by the Sabres organization as they were during the duration of its agreement with Empire.
Syracuse University maintains an agreement with what was then Time Warner Cable for extensive local coverage of its teams, the result of which was the creation of what was originally Time Warner Sports 26 and would eventually end its life as Spectrum Sports, a sports network that covers most of Empire's old territory and operated out of Empire's old studios in West Seneca. Some of Empire's sports rights, such as the handful of Bisons games that aired on the network, ended up being acquired by WNGS (channel 67), before ending up back in Time Warner's hands after WNGS briefly came under the operation of a religious organization; WNGS, now rechristened as WBBZ-TV, originally indicated it would make a greater push for sports rights after being revived as a commercial, locally owned station (indeed, WBBZ hired Koshinski as an executive producer in 2012). Ultimately, WBBZ abandoned most of its sports broadcasts in 2015 when Koshinski left the station. Spectrum Sports shut down operations in 2017.
Terrence Pegula, who purchased the Sabres and Bills in the early 2010s, raised the possibility of launching an in-house regional sports network when the Sabres' contract with MSG ended after the 2016-17 season. Rather than go through the process of building a team-owned network from scratch, in June 2016, it was announced that Pegula had reached a deal to expand its relationship with MSG by forming a regional opt-out of MSG Network known as MSG Western New York, which is co-owned by Pegula and carries additional local studio programming covering the Bills and Sabres.
Zito Media, the company established by the Rigas family to replace Adelphia, has not re-entered the regional sports network market.
The network was the flagship station for Buffalo Sabres NHL games, however it also aired collegiate sports (particularly those involving Syracuse University), and several sports news and talk shows. Empire also aired a significant amount of programs covering the National Football League's Buffalo Bills; live play-by-play of the Arena Football League's Buffalo Destroyers, the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball, the Buffalo Bisons, Rochester Red Wings and Syracuse Chiefs of the AAA International League; AHL hockey; and NCAA basketball. Buffalo Bandits lacrosse also received limited coverage on the network.
Empire also aired NBA games featuring the Toronto Raptors for several seasons until January 2005, when all original and live programming on the network was discontinued. In its latter years, the network also aired live Canadian Football League games on Friday nights and tape delayed telecasts on Saturday mornings.
Some of Empire's programs included Fan TV, a daily 2½-hour late-afternoon sports news and call-in program hosted by Howard Simon and Jim Brinson) and its successor, The SimonCast; the Empire Sports Report, a nightly sportscast hosted by Mike DeGeorge, Josh Mora and Jason Bristol; and Hockey Hotline, the Sabres' post-game report hosted by NHL veteran Mike Robitaille and later with Brian Blessing. Other popular shows included Fan Forum with Bob Koshinski, which aired from 1991 to 1998 and Pros and Cons (a predecessor to Pardon the Interruption that featured WGRZ-TV sports director Ed Kilgore pitted against contrarian and WGR radio host Art Wander, with Buffalo News sports editor Larry Felser moderating), which ran from 1992 to 1996. As an affiliate of first the Prime Network and then Fox Sports Net, Empire also carried nationally-oriented programming from those networks.
Former Bills punter Paul Maguire (now an NFL analyst for ESPN) also hosted the Budweiser Sportsline on the network during the NFL season; Pete Weber and Danny Gare (who both currently work as NHL announcers) also worked for Empire along with former Buffalo Bill Steve Tasker (now of CBS). Van Miller lent his voice to several college basketball games on Empire during the early years of the network. The network also aired ECW Hardcore TV produced by Extreme Championship Wrestling, a now-defunct professional wrestling promotion based in Philadelphia.
Art Wander is a television and radio sports analyst, and former radio format programmer, from Buffalo, New York.Chris Parker (radio)
Chris "The Bulldog" Parker (born 1964) is an American sports radio personality. He is the co-host of Buffalo's WGR-550's afternoon show from 3:00 until 7:00PM along with Mike Schopp. That program was also simulcast on WROC AM 950 in Rochester until the Summer of 2011. Besides the weekday show, "Schopp and the Bulldog" have also hosted a postgame Buffalo Bills show after every Bills regular season contest from Casino Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ontario, but most recently from WGR's Southwestern Avenue Tailgate stage at Ralph Wilson Stadium, or the studio. The post game show primarily consists of phone calls from fans and recorded press conference clips from key players and coaches.
Parker worked at a pizzeria while doing a part-time weekend call-in show on WBEN before hosting a weeknight program on WBEN-AM in Buffalo. When Howard Simon, now WGR's morning man, left WBEN to join the Empire Sports Network, Parker became the full-time WBEN nightly host. When WGR switched to all-sports after being purchased by Entercom Communications, Parker was placed on the morning show with Tom Bauerle before moving to afternoons. Parker is a lifelong fan of Buffalo sports teams and often recalls memories from past seasons. He is married with two young children and currently resides in North Buffalo. He has an interest in motor sports, including his own motorcycle. His favorite bands include The Clash and Wilco.
Parker and Schopp have been doing the unofficial pre-game of the Buffalo Sabres. They often speak to play-by-play voice Rick Jeanneret and beat reporter Paul Hamilton leading into the official broadcast.Curt Smith (author)
Curt Smith (born March 20, 1951 in Caledonia, New York) is an American author, media host and columnist. In addition to work as a newspaper reporter, Smith was a political speechwriter until 1992 and a host of radio and television programs until 2002. He has written 17 books, including Voices of the Game, which covers the history of baseball broadcasting. Smith is a newspaper columnist in upstate New York and holds an academic appointment at the University of Rochester.ECW Hardcore TV
ECW Hardcore TV is a professional wrestling television program that was produced by the Philadelphia-based promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) composed of footage from live shows and recorded interviews. It ran in syndication from 1993 until 2000.
Even after ECW gained a nationally-available television program on The Nashville Network (TNN), Hardcore TV was considered ECW's flagship program. The rights to the show now belong to the WWE. The show was voted as Best Weekly Television Show in the 1994, 1995 and 1996 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards.Football Network
The Football Network was a network that covered all aspects of American football, including the NFL, college football, high school, and various semi-pro and indoor leagues. The network was owned by TFN, The Football Network, Inc. a public traded corporation (OTCBB: TFNK).TFN is one of the few nationwide TV networks in the United States that has ever been owned by an African-American.Josh Mora
Josh Mora (born July 18, 1970) is an American sportscaster, author and blogger who has covered the Chicago Blackhawks for Comcast Sportsnet Chicago and the Buffalo Sabres for Empire Sports Network.List of Buffalo Sabres broadcasters
The following is a chronological history of all local broadcasters of the Buffalo Sabres. Since 1997, radio and television broadcast production has been largely consolidated into the Sabres Hockey Network unit.MSG Network
The MSG Network (MSG) is an American regional cable and satellite television network, and radio service owned by MSG Networks, Inc.—a spin-off of the main Madison Square Garden Company operation (itself a spin-off of local cable provider Cablevision).
Primarily serving the Mid-Atlantic United States, its programming focuses on events featuring and other programs about New York City sports teams, including live game broadcasts of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and New York Red Bulls. The channel is named after the Madison Square Garden sports and entertainment venue in Midtown Manhattan.MSG Western New York
MSG Western New York (MSG WNY) is an American regional sports network that is a joint venture between MSG Networks and Pegula Sports and Entertainment. The channel (also on occasion credited as Pegula Sports Network or MSG Buffalo) is a sub-feed of MSG Network, with programming oriented towards the Western New York region, including coverage of the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres and the National Football League's Buffalo Bills. It replaced MSG Network on television providers in the Sabres' media market in 2016.
MSG Western New York is available on cable providers throughout Western New York. Most programming is available nationwide on satellite via DirecTV, with Sabres games requiring an NHL Center Ice subscription for out of market viewers; select programs are carried in Canada's Niagara Peninsula on a special channel set up for Bell TV subscribers that was founded in 2013.Media in Buffalo, New York
This is a list of media in Buffalo, New York.Mike Robitaille
Michael James David Robitaille (born February 12, 1948) is a Canadian retired professional ice hockey defenceman and commentator. He played in the National Hockey League with the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks.
Robitaille played in 382 regular season NHL games, scoring 23 goals and adding 105 assists. He was most well known for his punishing hip checks. He also appeared in 13 playoff games, six with Buffalo and seven for Vancouver, tallying one assist. His career ended pre-maturely in 1977 when he was blind-sided by Dennis Owchar of the Pittsburgh Penguins, which caused nerve damage in his neck. He would later win a lawsuit against the Canucks for mistreating his injuries.
Robitaille was born in Midland, Ontario, and joined the Sabres' broadcasting arm in 1989. He was one of the founders of Hockey Hotline, the Buffalo Sabres' postgame show on Empire Sports Network, in 1991 and worked for the Sabres and various sister outlets until his retirement from television in 2014. He is known for his colorful analogies and exaggerations.
During the 2000s, Robitaille was the fill-in commentator whenever play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret and former color commentators Jim Lorentz or Harry Neale couldn't fulfill their duties on a game day broadcast.
In February 2010, Robitaille was injured in a car accident suffering a spinal cord injury with neurological damage. Robitaille’s injuries from the accident resulted in him missing broadcast duties for the remainder of the 2009-2010 NHL season. Through months of rehabilitation from the time of accident through September of that year, doctors and Robitaille said that he was not at 100% yet. However he felt ready and returned to his broadcast duties in time for the start of the 2010-11 NHL season with the Sabres. On October 3, 2013, it was announced that Mike Robitaille would be partially retiring after the season and that former Sabres forward Brad May would join the crew on a limited basis before moving into Robitaille's slot in a full-time role the following year. Robitaille continued his radio work and some limited television work during his retirement.NHL Centre Ice
For the American service, see NHL Center Ice.
NHL Centre Ice is a Canadian digital cable subscription out-of-market sports package controlled and distributed by Rogers Communications through Rogers Cable as of 2014. It is offered by three national satellite television service providers, Bell TV, TELUS Optik TV, Telus Satellite TV, and Shaw Direct and many digital cable television providers such as Eastlink, Shaw, Cogeco and more.
It offers NHL regular season and select playoff games that are played outside the local viewing area using American local and national television networks such as Fox Sports Net and other sports networks like NBC. It offers both standard and high definition games.Paul Maguire
Paul Leo Maguire (born August 22, 1938) is a former American professional football player and television sportscaster.Prime Network
The Prime Network (originally known as the Prime Sports Network, and also known as Prime Sports or simply Prime) is the collective name for a former group of regional sports networks in the United States that were owned by Liberty Media, operating from November 1988 to October 31, 1996. While Liberty owned many of these networks, some of Prime's member networks were owned by other companies, and carried programming distributed for the group through affiliation agreements. As a result, Prime-affiliated networks had the right of selecting Prime Network programs to broadcast.
Each of the networks primarily carried regional broadcasts of sporting events from various professional, collegiate and high school sports teams (with broadcasts typically exclusive to each individual network, although some were shown on multiple Prime networks within a particular team's designated market area), along with regional and national sports discussion, documentary and analysis programs.Sabres Hockey Network
The Sabres Hockey Network is the official radio network and production company of the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League (NHL). The network is currently operated jointly by the Sabres (Pegula Sports and Entertainment) and by Entercom Communications.
Rick Jeanneret is the network's primary play-by-play voice and has served in that capacity since 1971, with Rob Ray currently serving as color commentator. In the 2008-2009 season, former Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes broadcaster Curt Keilback covered for Jeanneret during the team's western road trip. In the 2009-2010 season, the Sabres did not send their television broadcast crew on the western road trip and used the local broadcasts of the Phoenix Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks as the "home" broadcast. Jeanneret and then color commentator Harry Neale had reduced duties for 2011–2012, with the duo only handling home games and a third of the road games; Kevin Sylvester and Danny Gare handled the broadcasts of the remaining games that season.
The radio network's postgame show is hosted by WGR personality Brian Koziol. Mike Schopp and Chris "Bulldog" Parker host the pre-game show, which airs only on WGR. On television, a pregame show and postgame show are broadcast, and hosted by Brian Duff and Martin Biron. (Prior to 2005, the television pregame-postgame shows were simulcast on radio. The postgame was known as Hockey Hotline and hosted by Mike Robitaille, first with host Brian Blessing and then Josh Mora.)
The theme song for broadcasts has been the "Sabre Dance" by Aram Khachaturian since the team's debut. From the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs through the 2009–10 season, the team used for its main theme an instrumental cut of "Hurricane 2000," an orchestral arrangement of the song "Rock You Like a Hurricane" recorded by Scorpions and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on the album Moment of Glory. From the 1990s through 2006 the team used a custom-made theme. Beginning shortly after Terry Pegula's acquisition of the team, the song was changed back to "Sabre Dance." For the 2011-12 season, a hard-rock version of "Sabre Dance" rotates with MSG Network's standard hockey theme as the theme for the Sabres Hockey Network broadcasts.Spectrum Sports (New York)
Spectrum Sports was a network of regional sports cable television stations serving much of the upstate New York area. The stations, which were owned and operated by Charter Communications through its acquisition of Time Warner Cable in May 2016, were available in Rochester, Binghamton, Syracuse and Buffalo. The network broadcast a variety of local college and minor league sports games and was the de facto successor to the Buffalo-based Empire Sports Network. Unlike most regional sports networks, Spectrum Sports was never available on satellite television, nor was it available in areas of upstate that are served by companies other than Charter Spectrum/Time Warner Cable (such as Atlantic Broadband in Cattaraugus County or Zito Media in Cayuga County).Super DIRTcar Series
The Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds is a big block modified touring series currently owned & operated by World Racing Group. The series primarily races on dirt ovals in the Northeastern United States & Canada along with select dates in Florida and North Carolina.
The cars feature big block V8 engines (up to 467c.i.) that develops over 750 hp and a center-steer style chassis that weighs at least 2500 lb with driver included.Van Miller
Van Miller (November 22, 1927 – July 17, 2015) was an American radio and television sports announcer from Dunkirk, New York, where he began his career at Dunkirk radio station WFCB calling play-by-play for high school football games. In the 1950s, he moved to Buffalo where he became the chief play-by-play announcer for the Buffalo Bills Radio Network, the official radio broadcasting arm of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League from the team's inception as an AFL team in 1960 to 1971, and again from 1977 to 2003. At the time of his retirement in 2003, Miller was the longest-tenured commentator with one team (37 years) in pro football history.WHLD
WHLD is an AM radio station licensed to Niagara Falls, New York carrying CBS Sports Radio Network sports talk format, with two current shows airing locally (The Bucky & Sully Show - M-F 9a-12p and the Tim Graham Show Weds 4p-6p). The station resides at 1270 kHz on the dial and is owned by Cumulus Media. The station's transmitter is located in Hamburg, New York, and studios are located in Buffalo with its Cumulus Media sister stations. It also is heard streaming on the stations website and its own "1270 The Fan" app.
|Culture and lore|
Located in: Syracuse, New York
|Related television networks|