YES Network’s Dispute with Comcast Shows No Signs of Ending

In 2002, when George Steinbrenner launched the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network, it had two primary slogans— “The Home of Champions” and “Where Yankee Fans Get Their Yankees.”

This season at least, many aficionados of the Bronx Bombers in the Tri-State area will still be feeling the Pinstripe blue, and I do not mean Navy Blue either.

YES Network, which airs the vast majority of Yankees games when they’re not on national television is locked in a dispute with Comcast. This is a big deal because Comcast is a major cable provider for much of New Jersey and Connecticut.

Those in New York State itself are not greatly affected since Cablevision, Time Warner, and Verizon FIOS are the major cable and/or telco providers in the Empire State.

YES is also the home for Brooklyn Nets basketball and NYCFC.

This has been a dispute that dates back to November, after last year’s baseball season had ended. Much was not made about the dispute until March when interest in the team began increasing again with the start of Spring Training.

The stance of Comcast in the dispute is that YES is not worth the $5 and change the network is asking per subscriber.

Obviously, the stance of the YES Network is very different from that of Comcast. Its stance is that YES is charging the cable provider the same price per subscriber other cable companies had agreed to pay.

Tracy Dolgin, president of YES, expressed pessimism on The Michael Kay Show that the network and the cable provider will kiss and make up now or anytime soon.

“There’s virtually no chance [the dispute will be resolved by Opening Day],” Dolgin said. “I can’t imagine under any circumstance it can be solved by Monday, and—unfortunately—I’m not very optimistic about it being solved during this season.”

He also says there have been virtually no talks between the two sides to settle their differences.

Kay, of course, is the voice of the Yankees and his ESPN 98.7 New York radio show is simulcasted on YES.

With all of the sniping that is going on in the media between YES and Comcast, it is easy for Yankee fans to feel as if they are being used as pawns in this PR battle between the two sides.

YES has inundated the Tri-State area with advertisements on television and out in the open encouraging current Comcast subscribers to drop Xfinity and switch to another provider.

Comcast has also run ads explaining their decision to drop YES.

One aspect of the debate that has not been delved into much is the possibility of a conflict of interest, however so slight. The YES Network also competes with SportsNet New York (SNY) and MSG for the eyes and hearts of New York sports fans.

Comcast owns a stake in SNY—along with the New York Mets and Time Warner.

Now, politicians are getting involved—including United States Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy—both Democrats from Connecticut.

“For almost a century, federal, state, and local governments have helped sustain and promote professional sports by providing direct and indirect public benefits—including tax exemptions, public transportation infrastructure to stadiums, and exemptions from federal antitrust law. Sports programming which has been protected and promoted by government intervention, should not be used as a weapon to negotiate who has a bigger claim to consumers’ pocketbooks. YES Network has a responsibility to be responsive to the interests of the Yankees fans it serves. Fans should be able to watch the games they have helped pay for. We urge YES Network to commit to finding a way to return programming in time for Opening Day.”

A New Jersey State Assemblyman (Craig J. Coughlin, D-Middlesex) also plans to introduce a resolution urging the two sides to kiss and make up like two jilted lovers coming off a bad breakup, but cannot get over each other.

With April 4 only a few days away it is looking likelier that YES and Comcast will continue to argue, leaving many of their fans on the outside looking in when the Yankees’ season begins.

What many Yankees fans in New Jersey and Connecticut are likely to experience this season is similar to what Los Angeles Dodgers fans have experienced the past few years with SportsNet LA—the new Dodgers owned channel.

SportsNet LA debuted in February of 2014. Demand for the channel was expected to be high among cable providers and satellite providers in Southern California. Dodgers fans have actually themselves been left out in the cold as only Time Warner Cable (LA’s primary cable provider) has inked a deal with the channel.

SNLA was originally worth $4.30 per subscriber. One suggestion was that SNLA would offer a one-year deal to cable and satellite providers for coverage at a lower rate.

The cable and satellite providers said no.

Other MLB teams thinking of launching regional sports channels may need to take heed of the Los Angeles and New York snafus.

One of those teams is the Chicago Cubs.

As Comcast is the primary cable provider for much of New Jersey and Connecticut, they also serve as the primary cabler for the Chicago DMA.

They are currently on Comcast SportsNet Chicago until 2020—the last year of their deal with that regional sports network (which they own a stake in along with the White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks).

The Cubs are planning on launching a regional sports network for Chicago that will likely follow the model of SportsNet LA. Given that AT&T is the primary telco provider for the Chicago DMA, and that AT&T just bought DirecTV, it is looking likely (at this point) a good guess can be that the Cubbies will partner with AT&T for a “Root Sports Chicago.”

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