State-Backed Back9 Golf Network Suspends Operations

Back9Network, a Hartford-based company that received more than $5 million from the state, suspends operations

HARTFORD — Back9Network, a golf lifestyle channel founded in 2011, has suspended operations because it has run out of money — temporarily, the company says.

"Management and the board of directors are planning next steps and will continue their efforts to secure long-term, operating capital," the company said through its public relations firm Monday. "The company will keep the public informed with any new developments."

In January, Back9 delayed payroll payments to about half its staff, then laid off 35 of its 85 employees.

Back9 said it has raised more than $40 million in startup capital. That includes more than $5 million from the state Department of Economic and Community Development. It first received a $100,000 grant and $250,000 loan from the Small Business Express program, and then received two more loans under the Manufacturers' Assistance Act program, a program that is open to far more than manufacturers. The first loan was in 2012 for $750,000, and the second loan was in 2013 for $4 million.

The company has not paid any interest back on the largest loan, because payments were deferred until 2017 and 2018. On the smaller loan, it pays $1,850 monthly.

Under the agreements for the loans, if the company defaults, the state can take all its equipment, bank accounts and accounts receivables.

Jim Watson, a spokesman for the Department of Economic and Community Development, said Monday that the department was in regular contact with Back9 and that the company was current on its loan payments.

"Back9 has indicated that they are planning next steps," he said in a statement. "Once those next steps are announced and understood, the department will evaluate their impact on our agreements and — if necessary — take appropriate action to ensure state investments are protected."

If DirectTV subscribers tune in to Channel 262, they see a notice that says: "Back9Network has opted not to continue on DIRECTV and is no longer available." The notice went up at 6 a.m. Monday.

Dan Tapper of Sullivan & LeShane, the public relations firm representing Back9Network, declined comment Monday when asked how long the company's operations would remain suspended or whether the company's executives felt certain that they will resume.

In 2013, when Back9 had a ribbon cutting at its offices in the Phoenix Building with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in attendance, the company said it was developing TV shows such as a golf-dating program called a "Hole Lotta Love" and "Extreme Golf," which would feature celebrities and athletes playing golf in unusual locations like rooftops and the desert.

The network began original TV programming from its $9 million studio at Constitution Plaza in September. The company paid DirectTV $7 million to carry the channel, a lawsuit alleged.

Back9 has been roiled with internal conflict, with one of its main on-air talents divorcing from co-founder James Bosworth, who left the company in August.

Courant staff writers Jon Lender and Dan Haar contributed to this story.

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