Thursday, April 11, 2013

Who's really to blame for network fiasco?

So now Houston mayor Annise Parker has decided to get herself in the middle of the fray between the Astros and Rockets' regional sports networks and satellite and cable TV providers. According to Mayor Parker, the fact that the network is available to no more than 40% of Houston cable and satellite subscribers is "intolerable." So, to break the impasse she has invited representatives from the sports network, DirecTV, AT&T and Suddenlink to sit down and work it out.
“The proud followers of our Houston teams – many of whom have paid for the venues where the Astros, Dynamo and Rockets compete – have been patient as your negotiations with Comcast SportsNet Houston have unfolded,” Parker wrote. “That said, as the Rockets push toward the NBA playoffs and the Astros and Dynamo seasons get underway, the situation is intolerable.”
Most telling is her comment about who paid for the stadiums in which the teams play. When these multi-million dollar playpens were built, the public was told the bill would be paid by folks who came to town and stayed in hotels and rented cars. Well, that's not entirely correct. Local government officials agreed to finance the stadiums and placed an additional tax on hotel rooms and rental cars. That additional tax was supposed to cover the costs of the stadiums. But, should those tax revenues fall below the level necessary to pay off the bondholders, who do you think is responsible for coughing up the balance?

In her pandering to the owners of the franchises, Mayor Parker seems to have forgotten that both the Astros and the Rockets had existing deals with one of Fox Sports' regional networks to televise their games. The Dynamo had no broadcast outlet for the majority of their games. The Fox network was available on all cable and satellite systems as part of a basic (or expanded basic - whatever the hell that means) subscription.

The ownership of the Astros and Rockets made the decision to go in with NBC Sports to create their own regional sports channel in hopes of making more money than they made with Fox. In order to bring in the revenue, the network has asked cable and satellite providers for a certain amount of money per subscriber. The providers say the asked for price is too expensive for them to make the channel available for basic packages.

Yes, the providers are trying to bid down the price so they can make more money carrying the channel. But the lion share of the blame must rest on the Astros and the Rockets for being greedy. The Astros have spent the last two seasons in the cellar and will likely sit on the basement sofa eating Cheetos come October. The Rockets are in the playoffs for the first time in I don't know how long (truth be told, I couldn't care less about basketball). I guess no one in the front offices realized that teams that aren't doing well on the field (or at the gate) don't have much leverage when it comes to negotiating television deals.

If Mayor Parker were really interested in the plight of Astros and Rockets fans she'd put the blame where it belongs - on the teams themselves. These teams had new stadiums built for them with the public picking up the tab (damn those poor folks who are scamming the government to get our tax dollars so they can sit at home all day and not work). With those kind of subsidies, these teams should be operated as a public trust.

Instead the owners of both teams have shown themselves to be greedy little monsters out to squeeze every dollar from the fans they can.

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