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Celtics-CSNNE deal includes an equity stake

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / July 19, 2011

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NBA franchises are restricted from making personnel moves during the lockout. But that hasn’t prevented the Celtics from working on a major deal of a different sort.

Sports Business Daily reported yesterday that the Celtics are close to completing a media rights package with Comcast SportsNet New England that will extend the relationship with the regional sports network until 2038, 20 years beyond the end of the current agreement.

The Celtics also will become the latest professional sports team to branch into media ownership, according to the report, with the deal including an equity stake in the network that could be as high as 20 percent. The annual rights fee is also expected to grow significantly from its current estimated $15 million-$20 million.

The Celtics and Comcast SportsNet New England did not respond to requests for comment. An industry source said the deal is not finalized but that the reported parameters are correct.

While the deal could be completed in weeks, a formal announcement is not expected until the end of the lockout, which began July 1 as the league and players union haggle over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Once the deal is agreed upon, it must be formally approved by the NBA.

Sports Business Daily reported that the deal had been in the works for more than a year but began to pick up steam in February, around the time the Lakers agreed to 25-year regional sports network deal with Time Warner that averages $200 million a year.

The deal extends a relationship between the Celtics and the regional sports network that began in 1981, when Prism New England carried the team’s telecasts.

Play-by-play voice Mike Gorman and analyst Tommy Heinsohn have been calling the games for the entire run and through four incarnations, beginning with Prism, then SportsChannel New England (1983-98), Fox SportsNet New England (1998-2007), and finally, Comcast SportsNet New England, the name to which it was rebranded when Comcast purchased the RSN from Cablevision in 2007.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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