Verizon FiOS kicking ESPN Classic, Goal Line / Buzzer Beater to sports tier

Niche sports channels will also be included in Ultimate HD package
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Verizon (NYSE: VZ) began notifying its FiOS TV subscribers Thursday that it will move ESPN Classic and ESPN Goal Line / Buzzer Beater next month to its most expensive programming tier, the FiOS Ultimate HD package.

The telco will also offer subscribers ESPN Classic and Goal Line / Buzzer Beater in a premium sports tier, spokeswoman Heather Wilner told FierceCable. Verizon, which currently offers the niche ESPN networks in its Extreme HD package, said it will move ESPN Classic and Goal Line / Buzzer Beater to the new tiers on May 6. It will announce details about the sports tier "in the coming weeks," Wilner said.

Verizon also recently began charging FiOS subscribers a monthly surcharge of $2.42 to help cover the costs of regional sports networks that are included in its expanded basic programming package.

ESPN parent Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) doesn't allow affiliates to distribute its flagship ESPN and ESPN2 networks on premium sports tiers. "The deal basically requires ESPN to be offered on the first or second most popular tier offered by the carrier," Disney CFO Jay Rosulo told analysts on an earnings call last year.

But Disney does allow Verizon and other providers to distribute ancillary networks such as ESPN Classic and  Goal Line / Buzzer Buzzer on digital tiers. ESPN acquired Brian Bedol's Classic Sports Network in 2000, and renamed it ESPN Classic. It flipped the switch on ESPN Goal Line / Buzzer Beater in 2010. Sharing the same channel on cable systems, it runs ESPN Goal Line during the college football season, offering live clips from several games. The network becomes Buzzer Beater during the college basketball season.

Moving ESPN Classic and Goal Line / Buzzer Beater to Ultimate HD and a new sports tier could help Verizon drive increased revenue from hardcore sports fans. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo told analysts last April that the company would tweak its programming packages. "We're going to rebundle certain of our packages to better bundle our content in order to make it more profitable based on the tier that you picked for us," Shammo said on Verizon's first quarter of 2012 earnings call.

Verizon already offers FiOS subscribers a $11.99 sports tier that contains niche sports networks such as Tennis Channel, Gol TV, Fox College Sports and Fox Sports en Espanol. It charges $14.99 monthly for Fox Soccer Plus, and $9.99 monthly for ESPN 3D. It also carries ESPN 3D in its Ultimate HD package, which includes every premium movie channel except HBO.

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