Lightning president Ron Campbell struggled to find the right word. When he did, it came attached to an exhale that punctuated his feelings of "Relief," he said. "That's the word. That's all that it is."
Sunshine Network, which holds the television rights for the Lightning and Magic, and Time Warner, the Tampa Bay area's largest cable provider, agreed on a new contract late Wednesday night.
By 11 a.m. Thursday, after a flip of a switch, Sunshine replaced ESPN News on Ch. 31, ending a 71-day standoff that frustrated fans and had Campbell pulling out his hair.
"Very frustrating," he said. "It's been a very long, drawn-out negotiation. We're happy the deal is done, but we feel disappointed that for the last two and a half months the fans have not been able to see some of the best hockey this franchise has ever played."
Time Warner subscribers can see the Lightning's remaining 12 games, starting with tonight's matchup against the Sabres.
Sunshine added to its production schedule Saturday's game against the Canadiens and the March 31 game against the Bruins. Because of previously scheduled Magic games, these games will be on Ch. 47. The finale against the Thrashers is on WFTS-Ch. 28 (Time Warner's Channel 11).
Sunshine also will show today's SEC men's basketball tournament, with the 7:30 p.m. game between Kentucky and Vanderbilt being shown on tape delay at midnight.
"We're really happy and very pleased to bring the sports programming that Sunshine Network provides back to our customers," Time Warner spokeswomen Linda Chambers said.
Said Cathy Weeden, Sunshine's vice president and general manager: "We're pleased that we came to something that was fair and equitable. And we're happy that fans will have every remaining game available."
Other than saying it was amultiyear deal, neither side provided details. Weeden and Chambers said they were bound by a confidentiality agreement, though Weeden said of the contract, "We won't have to address it again for some time."
It is safe to speculate, though, the fees Time Warner pays Sunshine for its programming have been increased between the 40 percent for which Sunshine asked and the 10 percent with which Time Warner countered.
Sunshine went off Time Warner on Jan. 1, when a 10-year deal ran out.
Twice the sides seemed close to agreement, but negotiations stalled. One of the problems, Campbell said, was that it was not hashed out locally. Sunshine's position was negotiated by its owner, Fox, in Los Angeles. Time Warner negotiated out of its offices in Stamford, Conn.
"The outcome of this negotiation has an impact on future regional station and cable subscriber fees," Campbell said. "It was not just a local negotiation for this market. It wasn't a negotiation in a vacuum. It was a much more complex deal, and that is why the two parties took as much time as necessary to do a deal."
Making it worse for Campbell was the impasse continued into the Lightning's drive to secure its first playoff berth since 1996. Campbell said the games, which he called a "three-hour infomercial," cost Tampa Bay "tens of thousands" in ticket sales.
While Campbell said he is sure the Lightning's play was an impetus to get something done, Chambers said, "I don't know if it was one particular thing. Sometimes these negotiations just take time."
As for the aftermath:
Chambers said subscribers receiving the NHL's Center Ice or NBA's League Pass package as compensation for losing Sunshine will continue to receive them until the schedules are complete.
She said ESPN News is again available only on Time Warner's digital package, and the monthly 90-cent rebate subscribers received for losing Sunshine will be prorated for March.
Campbell said the team is working with corporate partners who bought television ad time or space on the ice and boards that can be seen on TV to balance the ledgers.
"Everyone wants to get good value for their investment," Campbell said. "We'll make sure they do."