Opening Day is less than a month away, and fans across the country are eagerly anticipating watching their favorite team. That is, if you are not a New York Yankees fan who subscribes to Comcast. Since last November, the second largest cable company in the United States is locked in an acrimonious dispute with the YES Network over programming costs.
The YES Network, also home to Brooklyn Nets basketball and New York FC soccer, lost 900,000 customers serving parts of Connecticut and New Jersey. As is the case with most disputes of this nature, the primary argument is programming fees. The YES Network is looking to increase the carriage fee with Comcast by 33 percent but could not come to terms with the service provider despite negotiating throughout last season. In contrast, Comcast contends that the majority of their subscribers do not watch Yankees games on YES and the proposed rights fees are not justifiable.
With spring training underway and the prospect of a blacked out Opening Day, FOX, the owner of 80 percent of YES, unveiled a plan to put ads on TV, radio, and print urging Comcast subscribers to switch to a competitor. “We felt we had no choice but to let our customers know if they want to watch the Yankees they have to switch,” said Tracy Dolgin, president and chief executive of YES.
The tension between YES and Comcast hearkens memories of a similar dispute with Cablevision when YES initially launched in 2002. Frustrated over losing its Yankees broadcast rights 12 years after signing a then-massive $486 million deal with MSG, Cablevision chose not to place YES on a basic cable package leading to a year-long impasse between both sides, which took congressional intervention from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in March 2003 to reach an agreement.
Without a deal by Opening Day, Yankees fans who subscribe to Comcast will only be able to see a maximum of 30-35 games which are available in the New York area without YES. Those who wish to watch every Yankees game without changing carriers could sign up for MLB.TV which lifts local blackout restrictions roughly 90 minutes after the final out of each game. Without a deal on the horizon, the optimism of a new season begins to fade as fans search for alternative ways of following the team hoping a resolution can salvage their season before Dallas Keuchel takes the mound at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day next month.
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