Starting this baseball season, an estimated three to four thousand St. Louis Cardinals fans that use DirecTV and Dish Network in areas that include Springfield, Peoria, Champaign, and Bloomington-Normal in central Illinois as well as parts of Iowa and Kentucky are experiencing blackouts of their favorite team’s games on FSN Midwest.
Fans that subscribe to FSN Midwest via their cable television provider are not affected by these blackouts.
Just a few weeks old now, this dispute was initiated by a policy change from FSN Midwest, the Cardinals rightsholder, with both DirecTV and Dish Network. In the past, FSN Midwest may not been collecting revenue from these providers for carrying their signal. Yet the satellite carriers had included FSN Midwest as part of their fee-based sports tier packages.
FSN Midwest is already delivered via the basic or expanded basic package in most cable systems in the area and the network wants the same arrangement with DirecTV and Dish. In fact, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which telecasts White Sox and Cubs games, is already offered in the basic tier both via cable and DirecTV/Dish Network in these areas. There is the rub.
Specifically, FSN Midwest is asking both of these satellite providers to move their channel out of the premium sports tier package and into the providers’ basic packages and with it, to pay them the appropriate per-subscriber fee for the channel. This would put FSN Midwest on equal footing with Comcast SportsNet Chicago on both cable and satellite in these areas.
If the proposed move of FSN Midwest from premium sports packages to basic service on DirecTV and Dish occurs, the number of Cardinals fans able to see games could increase substantially over those that subscribed to the premium package previously.
At this point, the parties are not in agreement, which is the reason for the blackouts. While unable to identify when the stalemate will be resolved, Geoffrey Goldman, FSN Midwest Media Relations Manager, characterizes the situation as “not a heated dispute, but a business decision for DirecTV and Dish Network”.
Well-sensitized by customer dissatisfaction due to the recent nationwide controversy over MLB’s Extra Innings package, neither DirecTV nor Dish Network will comment on this, or any other negotiations over programming, for that matter.
However, The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Illinois did extract a reply from one of them. "All I can say is we apologize for any inconvenience to the customer, and that we're working with all parties to find a reasonable solution," Robert Mercer, DirecTV's director of public relations told the paper.
FSN Midwest’s Goldman had this to say. “We know there are a lot of Cardinals fans in this area. We think it is important that the whole community has access. That is why we are working with the satellite companies to give them access equal to that of the local cable systems.”
Frustrated fans in the affected areas may choose to express their concerns to DirecTV and Dish Network, as the ball seems to be in their court as to whether on not they will accept FSN Midwest’s terms to break the stalemate.
In the meantime, Cardinals fans in the blackout areas have several options in addition to waiting the storm out. They include a monthly subscription to FSN Midwest via cable or a $14.95 monthly subscription to MLB.TV to see the games over the internet. Be aware that live viewing on MLB.TV will also likely be blacked out due to territorial rights, but one could still watch the archived games after the fact. MLB Extra Innings will also likely be blacked out in these areas, so that does not appear to be a viable alternative.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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