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Mayor Parker should follow the money: What you don’t know about Comcast-Astros-Rockets negotiations

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(Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images)

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By John P. Lopez


To no one’s surprise, the ongoing TV-provider impasse keeping 60-percent of Houston Astros, Rockets and Dynamo fans in the dark is about greed.
It is of course true that everyone with a stake in this television carriage agreement dispute is looking out for No. 1. Everyone’s greedy. Everyone wants the best deal, for themselves.
But the misconception is that carriage providers currently not airing the local teams — AT&T U-verse, DirecTV, Dish Network and Suddenlink — somehow are victims.
In reality, the exact opposite is true. They’re the greediest of all. Carriage providers have taken fans and those at the heart of negotiations for a ride. And all the while, they’re giddily taking your money.
That’s why if Mayor Annise Parker truly wants to help settle the impasse, she should demand that carriage providers refund or credit all Houston-area TV viewers the money they have been charging every month for a service they have not provided. That sum is in the millions.
For the past nine months at least, carriage providers like AT&T U-verse and DirecTV have charged TV viewers every month for Astros, Rockets and Dynamo games. They have aired none. To date, some fans have made the call, waited on-hold, asked to speak with a manager and ultimately demanded and received credits.
It’s a slow and bulky process, but it’s worth it to the AT&T Uverses and DirecTVs of the world. After all, the Astros are motivated to get this deal done. The Rockets definitely are motivated to come to the table. Certainly, the Dynamo are as well and no entity is more motivated to get it done than Comcast.
Those taking your money, however, have no reason to rush any deal. They’re still getting paid.
Comcast has felt the brunt of venom from angry sports fans, largely because the network carries the same name as the cable provider that is in direct competition with the other big-four providers.
Comcast Sports Net is an entirely different thing from Comcast the cable provider. For obvious reasons, casual TV viewers consider them one an dthe same. They are owned by the same parent company, but that parent company owns lots of TV networks that are widely distributed on all the providers.
There’s just something about AT&T U-verse or DirecTV carrying a “Comcast Sports Network” that doesn’t sound or feel right to the big-wigs at those competing cable providers.
They have no problem, of course, carrying the E Network or Golf Channel, which also are owned by Comcast as are numerous other networks owned by Comcast and aired by most providers. They’re just not called “Comcast Golf Channel.”
Had Comcast/NBC Universal called the local sports network the, “Houston Sports Channel” or “Southwest Sports Network” surely providers like DirecTV and Suddenlink would be more receptive to including the network in their broadest-tier cable package.
Still, they would be in no hurry. They’re getting paid.
Jim Crane and the Astros also have been demonized as greedy in this negotiation, especially after reports surfaced in October that the deal was close to being done until Crane held it up.
The truth is until providers begin to feel pain on the bottom line, they’ll be happy to sit on the sidelines while Comcast gets blamed and the Astros and Rockets figuratively wring their hands.
Mayor Parker and the rest of us should know the fact that DirecTV, U-verse, AT&T and Suddenlink are crediting those who do complain and ask for their money back up to $40 per-month reflects just how valuable those providers believe Comcast SportsNet truly is.
They know something else you should know: The price that Comcast, the Astros and Rockets believe providers should be charged — reportedly $3.40 per-month — is a relative bargain.
Consider: At the high end of provider charges per-month is ESPN, for which cable providers charge $5 per-month. At the lower end is the NFL Network, for which providers pay 90-cents per-month.
The $3.40 for Comcast SportsNet is either lower or in line with every other Regional Sports Network in the country and less than Fox Sports Net in Dallas. The price in Houston also is a three-fer.
Most every Regional Sports Network in the country hinges its agreement around a single team. The Houston agreement would include three major local teams.
As the Rockets approach the playoffs, while Astros and Dynamo coverage has gone dark for 60-percent of viewers, frustration from all angles continues to rise. Even the Mayor wants to kick a few backsides.
One problem: She may be aiming at the wrong rumps.

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