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Boosting local TV distribution in Astros' plans

HOUSTON -- Astros owner Jim Crane said Monday the team is disputing the involuntary bankruptcy petition that was filed Friday on behalf of the team's struggling regional sports partnership with the NBA's Houston Rockets and Comcast/NBC Universal.

"They filed for bankruptcy," Crane said. "We don't think that's correct. The unit still has the ability to pay the bills. There's really not anybody owed any money, so we hope to get that turned around and get them to the table."

The Houston Chronicle reported a hearing was scheduled Monday to determine whether an interim trustee should be appointed to oversee Houston Regional Sports Network, the corporate name for Comcast SportsNet Houston, which wasn't available this year on DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T U-verse.

The Astros issued a statement Friday saying they didn't receive media rights fees in July, August and September and had invested additional money in order to keep the network viable.

Crane said the Astros are going to make a "very strong commitment" to get their games more widely distributed on television next year, after only about 40 percent of the Houston television market was able to watch games in 2013.

"Regardless of what's been reported, we want our fans to see the games," Crane said. "Next year, we're going to make a very strong commitment to get those to the fans, whether this deal works or not. We inherited the deal. They haven't brought us a lot of deals that make sense for equity long term. We've got to cut a good deal so long term, the franchise is viable and can compete from a payroll standpoint, which is in some instances more than half of your revenue.

"We can't do a long-term bad deal, so that's what we've focused on. The stuff that's been brought to us destroys our equity. We haven't been paid most of our rights fees money this year. It really hasn't worked for us. We're certainly open for a deal that works for us long term."

Crane said there's a chance Comcast and the Astros could go their separate ways.

"It's a possibility, yeah," Crane said.

Crane maintained it's important the Astros strike a viable long-term deal that's similar or better than the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, their division rivals.

"We've got to cut a deal that works for the team, so this was a long-term deal," Crane said. "Comcast was in charge in executing the plan, and the plan hasn't evolved. We've tried to cooperate with them and work with everybody involved, but the other affiliates haven't bought in."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
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