April 6, 2005

Mets Fans Caught in the Middle of Television Dispute

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“I can see Shea Stadium from my roof, but I can’t watch a Mets game in my living room? That’s just crazy!” opines Andre from Corona, Queens. Yes, it’s a difficult time for New York sports fans. Thanks to the squabbling of Time Warner and Cablevision, 2.4 million New Yorkers have been without MSG, Fox Sports Network NY, and Cablevision’s other sports networks since March 7. This of course also affects the 350,000 Time Warner subscribers here in upstate New York. While one would normally expect to see the FSN NY and MSG networks on channels 24 and 100, respectively, they have been replaced by College Sports TV and NBA TV while the two parties duke it out.

Up until Monday, many of you were probably unaware of the channel pull, because, let’s face it, no one really wants to watch the Knicks right now. However, with the start of the baseball season on Sunday, many of you were anxiously waiting to see the new-look Mets play their season opener on Monday against the Reds. Alas, that never transpired.

You probably first tuned into ESPN and ESPN2, but there were other games on instead. “Oh, it’s probably on MSG,” you thought. But wait, NBA TV was there in its place.

At this point, you were probably screaming at your television set. You would not be able to see Pedro’s and Beltran’s first games as members of the Mets. You were going to have to wait to see the highlights on SportsCenter. While you were listened on the radio or constantly updated the score on the Internet, you missed the Mets doing what they do best-losing the game after the bullpen squanders the lead.

Now that we’re all familiar with the pain that Mets fans are experiencing, let’s get to the actual dispute between Time Warner and Cablevision. According to givebackmsg.com, a website run by Cablevision:

“MSG has attempted to negotiate a fair and reasonable rights deal with Time Warner Cable for MSG Network and FSN New York. Time Warner Cable has declined the offer to keep games on while the dispute is brought to binding arbitration. Instead, Time Warner Cable has pulled the plug on MSG Network and FSN New York. MSG is still prepared to live by the decision of an independent arbitrator and call[s] on Time Warner Cable to give the fans back their games.”

Right on, MSG! Fight the good fight! Interested to know more about the “reasonable deal” that MSG had offered, I perused the site for a few minutes, only to find that there was no other information about this deal. Instead, there were only video testimonials from such impassioned Mets fans like Gregg from Queens, who proclaimed that “We deserve to be able to see … the Mets; The Knicks too. I mean, c’mon.”

Gregg has chosen to invoke the classic “I mean, c’mon,” argument, which can be very convincing. However, that wasn’t enough for me, so I sought out a different source. According to the New York Daily News, Cablevision wants Time Warner subscribers to pay 30% more per month for FSN NY and MSG. Time Warner refused this increase because no one wants to pay more to watch the Knicks’ drive for a lottery pick, and Mets games are not worth nearly as much as Yankees games. Cablevision’s offer to settle the dispute via binding arbitration was rejected by Time Warner because the company felt that going to arbitration would only lead to higher prices for its cable subscribers.

While each side has been involved in similar disputes in the past (Cablevision with the YES Network in 2002 and Time Warner with Disney in 2000), I can’t really in good conscience side with a company that tried to derail New York’s Super Bowl and Olympic bids, stop the Jets from getting a West Side stadium, and run the Knicks and the Rangers into the ground.

Let’s not forget that this whole dispute was probably caused by Time Warner’s investment in the new Mets network, which debuts in 2006. With the Mets off of MSG and FSN NY, Cablevision will only have the pitiful Knicks and Rangers to show on its networks. Who is going to pay 30% more per month to watch those games? Not me.

While the Mets may have self-destructed on Monday, it would be very ironic if the team completed a huge turnaround this season and made the playoffs when a large portion of its fan base only got to see a third of its games. However, don’t despair, dear Mets fans. If you send a copy of this column into DirecTV, you’ll get free installation and free HBO for six months, as well as all the Mets game you can handle. If you’re still angry at Time Warner for taking away your Knicks and Mets games, you can find solace with fellow Knicks fan Harold from Englewood – “I’m a real diehard Knicks fan. Not being able to see any of the new Knicks and things like that, [not] being able to see Sweetney and all that other stuff, it really makes me mad.”

Jonathan Auerbach is a Sun Staff Writer. I Never Kid appears alternate Wednesdays.

Archived article by Jonathan Auerbach