BY SHIRLEY BRADY Ah, spring, when a young network’s thoughts turn to inking distribution deals with cable operators. Programming execs are being wooed to sign up for fledgling sports-related services, including the Football Network and the Tennis Network, both slated to launch by the end of this year. Among the more unusual channels planned this year are those featuring karate, extreme sports and college meets. Blackbelt TV has hired Catherine Rasenberger, who once headed up affiliate sales and marketing for the Food Network, as its SVP of affiliate sales and marketing. The service is touting never-before-aired fights from all over the world, including World Championship Kickboxing from Thailand, mixed martial arts from Japan and judo from South Korea. Fox Cable Networks Group last week expanded David Sternberg’s role as GM of both Fox Sports World and Fox Sports en Español to include one more GM title. He’s now overseeing the yet-to-be-named action sports network that will launch this summer; it will feature skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX, surfing and MotoCross. For those viewers whose computers don’t feature Tony Hawk screensavers (and who don’t know a half pipe from a tail pipe), there’s College Sports TV Network. Set to start airing immediately after the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship game on April 7, the startup has been offering operators the chance to pick up its programming for free during a six-week preview that began Feb. 23. Once it hits TV full time, it will televise live regular season and championship events in more than 25 men’s and women’s intercollegiate sports, having landed the rights to more than 27 major college athletic conferences and more than 250 colleges and universities. CSTV is headed by CEO Brian Bedol, part of the team that launched what is now ESPN Classic. Here’s a peek at what else sports fans can look forward to as spring turns into summer. Futbol: Negocio y Pasión (Soccer: A Business and a Passion) airs June 6; an expose about the business of soccer in Latin America. Greens With Envy, a golf-the-world marathon during the Masters Tournament, airs April 11 and 12. Original movie Right on Track, about real-life sisters who become junior drag racing champions, airs March 21. Also running series of interstitials called “Sports Dreams.” Major League Remodel, a five-part baseball-themed home makeover workshop hosted by former MLB player Greg McMichael, airs the week of July 7 in preparation for the 2003 All-Star Game. A Major League Remodel marathon airs July 12. Big news is the launch of HD telecasts on March 30, with MLB first up. Other baseball highlights include the College World Series (June 7) and MLB’s Home Run Derby (July 14). The Women’s NCAA tournament runs through April. NBA playoffs kick off April 19 through the finals May 20. Draft highlights for the NBA are June 26, April 18 for the WNBA and April 26-27 for the NFL. Hockey fans get the NHL playoffs (April 9) and the Stanley Cup finals on May 27. Golfers can watch the U.S. Open (June 12), while action sports fans can catch the X Games Global Championship on May 15, while X Games IX moves to Los Angeles Aug. 14-18. Not many sports bouts involve Tokyo X Pork, but The King of Iron Chefs Tournament, in which the ultimate chefs face off in the Kitchen Stadium every Saturday night from April 5 to May 3, promises to be as bloody and rousing as anything played on a field. Kicks off this fall with the Big Sky Conference as part of its charter lineup. TFN will televise 12 weekly games for the first time in the history of the conference. Other agreements include the National Women’s Football Association, Pop Warner Football and the U.S. Flag and Touch Football League. TFN will also cover the College Football Hall of Fame weekend in August. Beyond the Glory launched its third season last weekend. Upcoming profiles on this biography series through early May include Oscar De La Hoya, Vinny Testaverde and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Soccer events include the Manchester United tour of the U.S., opening July 22 in Seattle and concluding Aug. 3 in Philadelphia. The English F.A. Cup and the Union of European Futbol Associations (UEFA) Cup matches air in May. U.S. soccer fans can also follow the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, airing August through September, and United Soccer League matches in North America between May and September. For South American soccer fans, two championships: Copa Libertadores, televised live from May to July, and Copa Sudamericana, airing July through December. The Champ Car world series continues through November. Shares NASCAR coverage on cable with TNT and Speed Channel. Sweat, a series about sports and video games, features on-location footage from the 2003 NBA All-Star game March 31 to April 6. The series runs a NASCAR theme week in June and goes on location to the Summer X Games Aug. 14-18. April 5 is the premiere of Gamefarm and Play 2 Z, two new series about sports video games. The second season of Splash TV kicks off June 2, featuring a different water sport each episode. “GAS goes to camp” runs from July through August, covering action sports at PointXCamp in California. A Manchester United Cup special for kids airs in August, while GAS Games II shows kids competing on-air over Labor Day weekend. The all-soccer network launched last month on EchoStar’s Dish Latino and is firming up its cable distribution. It has about 800 soccer matches on tap for the first year. With a new studio and revitalized programming lineup, the Golf Channel has 110 live tournaments — the most ever — on its lineup this year, covering at least eight major tours around the world. Golf will air extended news coverage of both the Masters (April 7-13) and the U.S. Open Championship (June 9-15). The exclusive TV network of the European Tour and the Nationwide Tour, the network will also carry full-round coverage of more than half of the 2003 Champions Tour events; from 2004 to 2008, it will be the exclusive cable network of the Champions Tour. Also new this year: the JELD-WEN Tradition (Aug. 28-31), the first major championship in the channel’s nine-year history. Earlier this month (March 5) HBO Sports unveiled Legendary Nights, a 12-part weekly series featuring the best boxing matches in its 30 years of world championship boxing coverage. For its third season, On the Record With Bob Costas moves to Friday nights starting May 2. Three championship ice-skating competitions are scheduled for next month, co-hosted by Olympic medallist Nancy Kerrigan. The World Junior Figure Skating Championships airs April 6, the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships airs April 11 and the World Synchronized Skating Championships airs April 18. The most extensive coverage of black college sports, including coverage of 70 games for the 2002-03 football and basketball season. Its Summer Slam Sports package features conference games and finals from the SWAC, MEAC, SIAC and CIAA. The youth-oriented Hispanic net features action sports including surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding action on Adrenalina, airing Sundays. SpeedLogic, celebrating high-speed sports involving cars, motorcycles and motorboats, follows. Track and Trail Adventures with NASCAR driver Wally Dallenbach begins in July. Flag to flag race coverage of the ARCA Re/Max professional stock car racing series airs from May 11 to Sept. 10. Superlift’s Offroad Adventures begins April 6, featuring off-road action. July 3 sees two new series, LL Bean’s Outdoors and Realtree Road Trips. The new series Guns and Ammo starts its weekly run the next day. This month marks the premiere of OLN’s Summer SportsZone, a weekly news and highlights show airing every Thursday evening. The series will feature analysis of the network’s marquee events, including two major European cycling events taking place this month: the 2003 Paris-Nice and the 86th Giro d’Italia. Games run live weekly from May 27, when Los Angeles meets Cleveland, through the September playoffs. Mia Hamm and the women of WUSA soccer return in April, with PAX televising one game per week starting next month in the lead-up to the 2003 women’s soccer World Cup. Airdates for 55 Florida Marlins games begin March 31, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (April 1), 20 New York Yankees games (April 7); also just signed the Baltimore Orioles for 56 games this season. Boxing highlights include the return of ShoBox: The New Generation on April 24. Upcoming fight highlights include “Latin Fury,” in which Jesus “El Matador” Chavez faces Jorge Paez in Las Vegas, airing on Showtime PPV March 22. The exclusive home of NASCAR TV, highlights including carrying all 25 Craftsman Truck Series events live in 2003. Upcoming events including the Busch qualifying event (April 4 and 11), the Winston Cup qualifier (April 4, 11, 25) and the Winston West (April 19 and 28). On March 22, Formula One racing goes live from Malaysia and while IHRA drag racing makes its season premiere. The American Le Mans in Mexico City airs live on April 5. The BMW Globeriders World Tour, featuring 12 motorcyclists riding from Shanghai to Germany over 65 days, kicks off April 12. Launching April 7, this hunting and fishing network formed by a cooperative of outdoor programming producers is making its unencrypted digital feed available with no subscriber fee to operators, who can insert four minutes of local commercials per hour. Ad time will also be sold within programs, which are grouped by day: Mondays feature bow and/or black powder hunting; Tuesdays are hunting and fishing; Wednesdays are bird hunting; Thursdays are big game hunting; and Fridays are dedicated to fishing. Lifts the curtain on a new extreme sports show this summer, featuring the world’s “most radical and on-fire Christian athletes.” Performance, a new weekly series on the technology of sports, begins April 21. The Budweiser Boxing Series this May is a partnership between Telemundo and its sister, NBC Sports, with bilingual sports anchor Jessi Losada handling English and Spanish-language live coverage on both networks over three consecutive Saturday afternoons (May 3, 10 and 17). Other highlights include showing games through its exclusive U.S. TV rights to Mexican National League Soccer. Although it doesn’t launch until later this year, the folks at the Tennis Channel will be busy taping a series of racquet (and table tennis) sports events to which it has rights, including the 2003 Tennis Master Series and games at Monte Carlo (April 14-20) and Rome (May 5-11). Slamball, the extreme sport featuring eight teams and 13 one-hour episodes, returns for its second season in August. CBS might give it live game coverage of NCAA men’s college basketball in the event of war with Iraq; otherwise, it will air highlight and wrap-up coverage of the NCAA tournament from March 20 through April 7. With exclusive NBA games on Thursday nights, TNT will offer up to 40 NBA playoff games starting April 20 and all games for the Western Conference finals starting in late May. Beginning July 20, TNT’s NASCAR coverage includes the second half of the Winston Cup and Busch Series with races including New Hampshire (July 20), Pocono (July 27) and Michigan (Aug. 17). Also airing two of the PGA’s four majors, including the British Open (July 17-20) and the PGA Championship (Aug. 14-17). The home of more early round golf action than any other TV network, USA’s 2003 golf highlights include the 32-event PGA Tour (live every Sunday) and the Masters Tournament April 11-12. Eco Challenge also returns May 5-7. The second season of Winning Women, featuring female athletes and competition, begins April 19.

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