Comcast Presents Nats Baseball, Color Commentary by Kendel Ehrlich
Groundbreaking ceremony--coming soon.
Team owner--coming soon. Really.
After many months of brutal backstabbing and other political delights, things are finally starting to come together for baseball in Washington. With one ginormous exception: The worst TV deal in professional sports.
The standoff between Peter Angelos' last weapon against Washington--his Mid-Atlantic Sports Network--and the folks at Comcast cable continues with no end in sight. Result: Most D.C. area viewers will get to see hardly any of the Nationals' 162 games this season. A dramatic cut in the number of games to be shown on broadcast TV, along with zero progress in getting the games on cable, means the team's attendance is virtually certain to slide. You can't build a fan base if people can't see the games and follow the team.
While the two big companies hold their collective noses and stamp their feet, the Nationals and their fans are getting a little more desperate to force some sort of deal. Last summer's fan-based grassroots movement hasn't shown any signs of life yet this season, but it's early.
So we're starting to see some agitation toward a political solution. Several Montgomery County residents have asked their county government, which licenses cable operators, to intercede. "Shouldn't the county cable commissions get together and tell Comcast they are failing to meet the needs of customers area-wide by refusing to air coverage of a matter that is of high interest to members of this community?" wrote one resident, John Vittone. "If Comcast said they refuse to carry C-Span, or NBC4, would Montgomery County let them do that?"
Such appeals have so far received polite demurrals. One Montgomery official, Keith Watkins of the Department of Technical Services, wrote that "Unfortunately, the County only has authority over the PEG (Public, Education and Local Government) channels. We have received a number of complaints regarding this issue, but we don't have the authority to require Comcast to carry that channel."
And in fact, few viewers would really want their county governments ruling over which channels cable operators should offer, as long as they offer the basic local channels and the public services.
But governments do regulate the cable industry and do have some powers of persuasion. Now state Delegate Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery) has stepped in, asking Gov. Bobby Golfclub to press Comcast to carry the Nats games. (Full text of Franchot's letter after the jump.)
Given that Comcast already pays Mrs. Ehrlich a nice salary, the company might wish to consider cutting a deal with Angelos to air the Nats games with the state's First Lady as color commentator. She'd certainly be far better than Ron Darling, the dumped and unlamented color man on the inaugural season's telecasts.
What will break the logjam? Money, of course. Angelos has apparently been wheeling and dealing enough to score a contract with Cox cable, adding it to the list of smaller providers that will carry this year's games. But this is about control of the sports TV market locally. In Comcast's view, Angelos is an unwanted interloper. Comast, after all, has enjoyed a near-total lock on local sports broadcasts, except for football.
In some cities, these cable stalemates have dragged on for years, but they've also been resolved quickly in some places. What it will take is a willingness on both sides to give up some of what they have--MASN's lock on the Nats' TV money and rights, and Comcast's control over the sports presented in the majority of local cable TV homes. Neither side is known for generosity of spirit. Only fan voices--and politicians' thundering threats--can bring this one home. The Ehrlichs, above all, seem rather well situated to apply some pressure, or does pressure move only in one direction?
The Honorable Robert L. Ehrlich
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Dear Governor Ehrlich:
As a Washington-area lawmaker and resident, and as an increasingly frustrated baseball fan, I am writing to request your assistance on a matter of great importance.
In a few weeks, the Washington Nationals will begin their second season of play in our Nation's Capital. Families throughout the region (it is estimated that nearly three-quarters of the team's fan base hails from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs) will head to RFK Stadium and watch the Nats try to improve on that unforgettable summer of 2005. Others will listen in on the radio, and some hardy fans will even follow the games on the Internet!
For the second consecutive year, however, the 1.3 million Comcast subscribers in our area will be unable to see Washington Nationals games on television. Comcast continues to refuse to carry Nationals games despite numerous requests from the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), which will broadcast nearly all of the games this year. While MASN has entered into deals with smaller cable companies, as well as DirecTV, Comcast obviously remains the dominant service provider in this region.
As a result, most Nats fans in Maryland will be unable to enjoy one of the most timeless joys of summer -- the opportunity to end a long day by relaxing in one's favorite chair, with their beverage of choice, and rooting for their hometown team. It is one provided as a matter of routine to fans in every other Major League Baseball city, yet Comcast has no qualms with denying it to a fan base that already suffered through more than three decades without baseball in Washington.
I am concerned that Comcast's short-sighted and unresponsive approach will do considerable harm to the long-term viability of a franchise that needs more, not less, public exposure in their new market. Speaking as a longtime fellow Orioles fan, I am also concerned that it will diminish prospects for a friendly rivalry between the two franchises, one which could heighten rooting interest in both teams and generate a true sense of civic passion in their respective regions.
While you and I may differ on many issues of the day, we share an abiding love for the National Pastime and a respect for its fans. It is in that spirit that I ask for your assistance in this matter. Specifically, I would ask that you consider "going to bat" for Maryland's baseball fans with the appropriate decision makers at Comcast. Please remind them that an entire generation of fans in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties grew up without Major League Baseball in the region, and let them know that it is inexcusable to deprive them --and their children --of the chance to see their own Washington Nationals play in 2006. I eagerly await your reply, and appreciate your consideration.
See you at the ballpark!
Peter V.R. Franchot
By Marc Fisher |
March 16, 2006; 10:27 AM ET
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