Outdoor Life could give ESPN run for its money

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It was a close game the whole way, but just over half of Advertising Age's readers and respondents to an AdAge.com poll on whether Comcast's Outdoor Life Network could succeed in challenging ESPN believe that the upstart has a chance.

"History always repeats," wrote Mike McShay, director-business development at Houston-based Mediacomp. "ABC began as a fledging young network out-performing the establishment (CBS and NBC) and used its sports platform to become a new network."

OLN is a 10-year-old cable network that, prior to signing the rights to broadcast the National Hockey League for the next two years at $135 million, had televised a steady diet of niche, outdoor sports. Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN just celebrated its 25th anniversary and is truly a sports juggernaut, with broadcast rights to the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, as well as a myriad of college football and basketball games.

ESPN had the rights to the NHL since 1993, but passed on retaining hockey games this year after the league went through a protracted labor problem that canceled the entire 2004-05 season.

"ESPN miscalculated about the renewed interest in the NHL, and OLN capitalized on that," wrote Chris Jones, a content analyst for Critical Mass. "With increasing interest about the NHL, OLN should see profits from advertising and will use that momentum to go after other properties that ESPN has designs on."

Indeed, OLN is rumored to be the frontrunner for the Thursday-Saturday cable package that the NFL is currently negotiating.

Some, like Brent Larson, VP-external relations for Heritage Community of Kalamazoo , Mich., agree with Mr. McShay's theory. Said Mr. Larson: "Not too long ago, it was just CNN. Now it's CNN, [Fox] and MSNBC. The landscape changes quickly in the world of cable channels."

But others believe that ESPN's brand is just too strong.

"Generation X and Generation Y have grown up with ESPN as a major part of their lives," wrote Erik Fairleigh, an account exec with Berkman Communications in San Diego.. We can't remember it not around. If I need a sports score, that's where I turn."

Next week’s question is "Which new show will be the biggest hit of the season? UPN’s "Everyone Hates Chris," ABC’s "Commander in Chief," NBC’s "My Name is Earl", or Fox’s "Kitchen Confidential?" To submit your answer log on to AdAge.com, QwikFIND aao29v

What you say:

56% of AdAge.com voters thought that Comcast’s OLN cable network could take on sports cable juggernaut ESPN. The close score among the 654 respondents was split between the optimism in what a new contender can do, and the strong feeling that the ESPN brand is already too established.

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