The first of several changes that will significantly alter televised sports coverage in Northern California takes place today when Comcast SportsNet California becomes available to all Comcast Cable subscribers in the Bay Area.

Until today, CSNCA was available in the Bay Area only to viewers who subscribed to a digital package. Today's switch is a precursor to the 2009 baseball season, when the A's begin their relationship with CSNCA.

"This is a giant step forward for us as a network," CSNCA general manager Larry Eldridge said. "It's obviously very important to the A's and their fans, and this puts us on a better distribution platform on Comcast in the Bay Area."

CSNCA announced last month it had secured exclusive television rights to A's games. The network is scheduled to air 145 contests this season, beginning with the season opener against the Los Angeles Angels on April 6.

The A's needed to ensure that all of their fans would be able to watch their games before agreeing to the deal.

"It was one of the things that we wanted to make sure of, that it was in a location that was on a lower channel that would be more accessible," A's vice president of communications and broadcasting Ken Pries said.

Beginning today, CSNCA will air on channel 89 on Comcast systems. CSNCA still is negotiating with its other distributors such as Astound, DIRECTV and the DISH Network to make the channel available to all subscribers by the start of the season.


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"We are making our improved A's coverage on Comcast SportsNet California available to all distributors and are making the necessary procedural changes to move the A's to their new home," Comcast SportsNet vice president Tim Fitzpatrick said. "We are confident that we will complete this process with our distribution partners in a rapid and timely manner."

Today's switch also will increase viewership of Cal sports in the Bay Area. CSNCA is in its fourth year as the exclusive local rights holder of Cal sporting events. In the past, the network borrowed channel 90 from CSN Bay Area to air games for non-digital subscribers, but that was available only to viewers with a digital converter box. Now, all viewers should be able to pick up Cal games, with or without a box.

"Having a presence on the standard cable packages greatly increases our exposure in the Bay Area," Cal assistant athletic director Herb Benenson said. "It will be a consistent place that fans can come to for Cal sports."

Eldridge also said any Comcast subscriber who has trouble accessing the network on channel 89 can pick up a complimentary converter box from a local Comcast office.

The A's move to CSN California means they'll no longer have to share a cable home with the Giants, who will remain on CSNBA. The start of the baseball season also will coincide with new local programming on CSNBA, including a daily sports news show that will air three times a night.

Note: The A's also will introduce a change in their radio package this season, with all 162 regular-season games broadcast in Spanish. Under the terms of the five-year contract, station KDIA (1640-AM) will air night games, and KDYA (1190-AM) will broadcast day games.

Contact Jonathan Okanes at jokanes@bayareanewsgroup.com.