Nov 4, 2007

As I write this post, the score of the (16) UConn v. Rutgers game is 25-6 UConn. How do I know? I just checked the score on Yahoo! Sports. You know who has to find out the same way I did? 525,000 homes in Connecticut. Why? because Comcast, the largest cable provider in Connecticut, doesn’t carry the ESPNU network, which is carrying the game. So, how are people in Connecticut taking it? Uh, not so well. Shakedown Sports has this quote from UConn AD Jeff Hathaway, via the Hartford Courant,

Hathaway claims that ESPN is robbing viewers of the chance to see the games in order to pressure Comcast into adding ESPNU to its packages.

“The bottom line here is that I fully understand that the University of Connecticut and the University of Connecticut football program is being used by the network to leverage cable companies in our state … to add ESPNU to their platform,” Hathaway said. “We understand that. We know that’s what’s happening.”

Is that possible? Would the world-wide leader really do that to UConn fans, only to prove a point to Comcast? Well, it sure seems like it. Earlier today the ESPN ticker flashed the information that the game would be shown on ESPN in the western United States. And what was on ESPN 2, the channel that was made for situations such as these, at the time? Drag Racing: NHRA Automobile Club of Southern California Finals, Qualifying. Now, no disrespect to drag racing, or to the game that came on after drag racing, Arkansas & (23) South Carolina, but in the grand scheme of things, it seems like the UConn game would have more importance. Maybe this was all a coincidence, but it seems highly unlikely that ESPN would forget:

1. That there are half a million Comcast subscribers in Connecticut

2. UConn is ranked 16 in the country and people in Connecticut might want to watch the game

3. That none of the Comcast subscribers have ESPNU, and ESPN is in the business of making money.

Not likely ESPN…not likely.

If this was the only instance of sports fans getting shafted by the sports networks and cable providers, maybe I could let it slide…but its not.

The fledgling NFL network has been embroiled in a battle with cable companies (mainly Time Warner) ever since the 4 year old network began showing live NFL games in 2006. The problem? The NFL network wants to charge the cable companies about $.70 per subscriber/month in order to show the network (for comparison’s sake, CNN is making approximately $.45 per subscriber/month, while Fox News is making approximately $.30 per subscriber/month). Cable companies, on the other hand, aren’t too keen on incurring that cost, so they look to have the consumer pay it, by adding the network to their premium tier sports packages (packages which are usually reserved for niche sports). The argument by the NFL is that they have a viewership large enough to warrant them being in general cable, and that cable companies are effectively preventing fans who want the network from getting it (because either the fans won’t pay the premium cost, or the Network and cable company are at an impasse and the NFL network isn’t shown at all). The cable company on the other hand is arguing that they’re protecting the interests of their subscribers, because they’re preventing across the board rate increases (which would stem from having to pay the NFL to show games on the NFL network) by putting the network on a premium tier and allowing only those viewers that want the network to pay for it. It is interesting to note though, that cable companies are making a killing on the premium sports packages, charging as much as $10 a month for the NFL network (and other channels bundled with the network that no one really watches).

So who’s right? It’s hard to say. On its face, of course, the cable companies look greedy, making gobs of money off of subscribers willing to pay a premium for these specialized channels (which is usually done so the cable companies can keep their costs low). Both ESPN and the NFL network realize that the cable companies are extremely profitable, so they feel that, because they have a product that is in demand, that they should be allowed to get a piece of the pie. The fact that ESPN and the NFL are using their product as leverage (go check out and cable companies continue to show an unwillingness to buckle means only one thing though; fans get left out in the cold.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the Big 10 network.

NOTE: At least as far as the NFL network goes, it looks like the FCC is about to get involved.

UPDATE: Looks like Mitchell over at Juiced Sports Blog has some info about the Big 10 Network.

Shakedown Sports: UConn to ESPN: You are evil

Hartford Courant: Why So Many U-Turns?

Multichannel News: Outlook Dim for NFL, MSO’s State of the News Media 2006

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