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Comcast to bid for Houston sports network if court forces sale

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) - Comcast Corp is prepared to bid if it can force a sale of the financially troubled, regional-sports network that carries the games of the Houston Astros baseball team and the Houston Rockets, the city's basketball team, court papers show.

Affiliates of Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, on Friday filed for involuntary bankruptcy against Houston Regional Sports Network LP, and said in court papers the network should be put up for sale for the benefit of creditors.

Comcast "believes the network's assets have meaningful value, and would be prepared to make a bid to acquire either the network (under a plan of reorganization) or substantially all of its assets," the media conglomerate said in court documents.

Comcast also said that it wanted the court to appoint a trustee to replace the network's management, which is at a "complete impasse," according to court documents.

The network's three-member board consists of representatives of Comcast, the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association and the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball, according to documents filed by a Comcast affiliate.

The network has been locked in a dispute with cable and satellite television providers over how much it should receive per subscriber, which has limited the network's reach.

Comcast, which loaned the network $100 million through an affiliate, also said it was prepared to provide the financing necessary to keep the network operating until the bankruptcy could be resolved.

The Astros called the filing "improper," although the team had not been paid its media rights fees by the network for the last three months, according to a Friday press release.

Creditors can put a company into bankruptcy involuntarily if they can prove the debtor is not paying its bills. The company generally has about 20 days to respond to the filing.

Creditors of Allied Systems Holding Inc, a major hauler of cars for auto dealers that was majority owned by private equity firm Yucaipa Cos, used an involuntary bankruptcy petition to force the company into Chapter 11 last year.

The case is In Re: Houston Regional Sports Network LP, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Texas, No. 13-35998

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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