Shawano Leader, Cory Dellenbach/AP

Broadcasting Fight Robs Angry Fans of Football Games

October 06, 2008 01:15 PM
by Josh Katz
Many Packers, Colts and Bills fans missed out on seeing their teams play Sunday, thanks to a TV broadcasting feud. It’s not the first time sports fans have missed out.

Fans Have to Look Elsewhere for Football Games

Green Bay Packers fans were left scrambling to see their beloved team play the Atlanta Falcons yesterday. Because of a contract dispute between Time Warner Cable and LIN TV, the game was blacked out on many TV sets. Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts fans had similar problems on Sunday, as LIN TV also owns CBS affiliates in those markets.

LIN TV customers without Time Warner were able to watch the game, as were those with television antennas.

“I’m 36 years old and my 72-year-old father and I have watched almost every Packers game together since I’ve been old enough to sit still in front of a television set,” Jeff Krueger told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “The game means much more to me than just watching a football game. … But most of all it gives us an excuse to get together. I will still go to my parents’ house on Sundays and we will listen to the game on the radio if we have to.”

Similarly, about 330,000 Western New Yorkers were unable to watch the Buffalo Bills play the Arizona Cardinals on TV on Sunday. Many fans crowded local bars with satellite signals to watch the game. But an estimated 10,000 stayed home and used the complimentary “rabbit ears” given out by Time Warner, The Buffalo News reports.

One upstate New York customer, Andy Kedzierski, implored both parties to reach a deal: “Work out an agreement appropriate to both sides and just get it done. We’re being held hostage.”

Packers fan Bill Patzke of De Pere, Wis., was not as forgiving in his words about the companies: “Both sides ‘claim’ to have the consumers’ best interest in mind,” he said, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. “That is a pile of BS. The only concern of both sides is lining their pockets with more of the consumers’ hard-earned cash.”

Background: LIN TV vs. Time Warner

The Wall Street Journal calls the fight between LIN TV and Time Warner “one of the biggest and most hostile battles in recent years” between programmers and cable-TV operators. The homes of about 2.7 million Time Warner cable customers are affected by the row; about 30 percent of LIN TV’s customer base uses Time Warner.
LIN TV, based in Providence, R.I., and an owner of 15 television stations, has customers in 11 markets. LIN TV wants each cable customer to pay a subscriber fee for the renewal of its contract. To help customers watch their shows sans LIN TV’s channels, Time Warner presented them with an instructional video on how to watch programs on the Internet. In the video, a female voice says, “Here’s all you need: a broadband Internet service like Road Runner, an audio cable and a video cable,” The New York Times reports. Road Runner is a service of Time Warner Cable.

Thomas Eagan, an analyst at Collins Stewart, said that in the face of falling ratings and troubled local ad markets, companies like LIN TV are “going to have to play hardball like this,” the Journal writes. Also, with the Federal Communications Commission calling for all television to go digital by 2009, “Analysts widely expect many customers who currently receive on-air broadcasts to switch to cable, satellite or phone operators offering pay television rather than go through the complicated process of procuring the equipment required to receive digital broadcasts,” according to the Journal.

In September, LIN TV told its customers that they could switch to a different cable provider, such as Dish Network or Verizon’s FiOS TV, if Time Warner chose to cut its signals, the Times reports.

Related Topics: The Heidi Game; YES Network vs. Cablevision

A 1968 game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders changed the way sporting events have been broadcast on TV. The Jets were beating the Raiders 32-29 with 65 seconds left to play, and the Jets kicked the ball off to the Raiders. NBC then switched over to the movie “Heidi,” which had been scheduled to air at 7 p.m. As the image of Shirley Temple, starring as the Swiss girl, took over television sets, incensed viewers missed seeing the Jets lose the game 43-32 following a stunning, last-minute Raiders effort.

The Heidi Game, as it is still called, “prompted the NFL to insert language into its TV contracts guaranteeing that, in the future, games of visiting clubs would be shown to their home markets in their entirety,” according to the St. Petersburg Times. “Since then, virtually all major games in major sports are televised in their entirety.”

In a more recent sports-televising controversy, the Yankees quarreled with Cablevision in 2002 when the team sought to initiate its own station, YES, for broadcasting its games. Cablevision chose not to broadcast any Yankees games for an entire season, until state attorney general Eliot Spitzer helped fashion an agreement in 2003. The New York Mets avoided a similar fate in 2006, when a deal brokered just before opening day allowed Cablevision to present SportsNet New York (SNY), the new station partly owned by the Mets.

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