Signs Deal With Fledgling Digital Cable Network

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NEW YORK ( -- Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, has signed a letter of intent to take a $15 million partnership in College Sports Television (CSTV), the fledgling digital cable network devoted solely to college athletics that makes its debut tonight.

The proposed deal was to be announced this morning in New York and Atlanta. The agreement includes a $10 million equity stake by Coke, with an additional $5 million dedicated to integrated marketing and promotional activities that could include advertising, special events and retail and consumer marketing.

TV programming
CSTV and Coca-Cola are also expected to develop new TV programming and joint advertising. In the first execution of this partnership, Coca-Cola will be the presenting sponsor of CSTV's Sunday night block of Notre Dame sports programming premiering this fall.

The deal further extends Coca-Cola's foray into college athletics. The beverage giant is in the first year of an 11-year, $500 million sponsorship of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, an agreement that includes beverage marketing and media rights to the NCAA's 87 national championships.

'Non-traditional marketing'
Chuck Fruit, Coke's senior vice president of worldwide media and alliances, said this latest deal is "consistent with our long-term support of college sports, student-athletes and the NCAA." Mr. Fruit, who becomes a member of CSTV's board of directors as part of the deal, added that he was looking forward to developing "new and non-traditional marketing opportunities."

Coca-Cola's Dasani water has been the main beneficiary of the three-week NCAA men's basketball tournament on Viacom's CBS, which concludes with tonight's national championship game between Kansas and Syracuse.

CSTV will come on the air immediately following the game, and will be on 24 hours a day, seven days a week thereafter. The niche network is the brainchild of President-CEO Brian Bedol, who founded the Classic Sports Network and later sold it to ESPN for $175 million. With partners Chris Bevilacqua and Stephen Greenberg, Mr. Bedol sunk $100 million into the creation of CSTV.

Every college conference
Although major college football and men's basketball games are locked up by CBS and Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and ABC, Mr. Bedol cut deals with nearly every college athletic conference in the country to broadcast secondary sports such as ice hockey, wrestling, track and field, women's basketball and small-college football.

"Our partnership with Coca-Cola will enable us to provide more value to our affiliates, viewers and programming partners," Mr. Bedol said in a statement. "Coca-Cola's national presence and deep roots in the college market will be a tremendous asset as we build the network into the ultimate home of college sports."

Mr. Bedol said several months ago that his original goal was to be in 10 million homes by the end of the year. But last week he signed an agreement with DirecTV that puts CSTV in 11 million homes starting with tonight's debut.

CSTV is continuing negotiations for further distribution deals.

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