By John P. Lopez
At first blush, it seems ludicrous to think something as basic and petty as team- or city-allegiance could affect a multi-million dollar deal involving sports fans in Houston.
There simply CANNOT be more than a simple business impasse when it comes to why ATT Uverse, one of the nation’s largest television providers, has reached such a stone-cold negotiating wall.
It’s just money, right? It’s a cut-and-dried, simple difference of opinion at the negotiating table, right? Money, after all, usually trumps fan allegiances and relationships. Houston is the nation’s sixth-largest media market and CSN Houston, owned in-part by the Astros and Rockets, is just caught in the crossfire until a deal is done.
Right? ……. right?
Well, consider what ATT Uverse’ actions have been since then-president of content and advertising Jeff Weber in essence told a recent media summit that Houstonians were bad sports fans who wouldn’t miss their Rockets, Astros and daily sports coverage of the Texans.
In May, Weber, who now directs special projects for AT&T Uverse, said the following:
“We’re not carrying certain regional sports networks in one of our biggest markets. We’re not carrying it and we knew we didn’t need to because the data was crystal clear about how intense those viewers were.
“We looked at not just viewership. Everybody can have access to that. We looked at how many of our customers watched zero of those games, one, two, all the way through 150 games for baseball and 80 games for the basketball team that we’re talking about, and you could see that if a customer watched 30 games, pick a number, that’s a pretty intense viewer, and they are really passionate and the likelihood that they are going to churn goes up.
“We could compare that against a bunch of other teams, and it was very clear that the viewership intensity in that particular market was low, and therefore we didn’t need to pay the rates that were asked, and we’re not.”
Viewership intensity? The short interpretation of Weber’s comments: Houston fans don’t care, so why bother?
Now consider where AT&T, headquartered in Dallas, has invested millions of sports dollars recently:
The media giant AT&T spent $20 million toward naming rights for Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
That sponsorship is in addition to what AT&T spent for naming rights of arenas in San Antonio, home of the Spurs, and San Francisco, home of the Giants.
Weber’s words echo loudly now more than ever.
AT&T understands sports and sports fans pay the bills — just not in Houston, despite nearly 30,000 Houston ATT Uverse subscribers taking part in an online petition encouraging the provider to add CSN Houston.