To Be… Or Not To Be… [A Rangers Fan]
Sorry for the ‘Conspiracy-Like’ rant. As it turns out the lockout may be over but the Philadelphia Flyers are still blacked out for non-Comcast fans [and season ticket holders] in Philadelphia.
For the 2011-12 NHL season I not only bought season tickets for my Dad, but I went to [almost] every game with him. At the games, I love watching all the visiting goalies. Despite liking all the visiting goalies, I do have a sense of hometown pride & proudly wore Philadelphia Flyers T-Shirts, hoodies, jewelry [with matching Philadelphia Flyers purse]. Once I wore the visiting teams’ goalie jersey over my Flyers Tee while watching warm-ups hoping the goalie would notice & maybe sign the goalie stick after warm-ups. AND I took it off once I was back at my seat. AND I only did it because it was Carey — my favorite. Aside from that Canadiens game, I always supported the Flyers by buying and wearing all of their merchandise. As they are my home team, I cheered for the Flyers and wanted them to win, even if I really liked the visiting goalie. [I just didn’t want them to win by a lot, so it wouldn’t hurt my fave goalies’ save %] .
I got sick during the 2011-12 season and had to miss a few games, so my Dad went with my Mom. I figured I’d watch the game from home so I could talk to my Dad about it afterwards, and stay up to date on what was going on with my hometown team. That night, at 7:05, puck-drop time, I turned to my local sports channel and there they were, my hometown team on my local sports channel [Known as an RSN in the television industry – Regional Sports network], wearing their classic red & blue jerseys. Wait a minute, that’s not right. After recalibrating the colors on my HDTV, and still not seeing any orange & black, it hit me. DirecTV probably figured since I live in New Jersey, I must be in the New York sports market area. It’s a common mistake, whenever I tell them I’m from NJ, they automatically assume its North Jersey in the suburbs of New York, when I actually am right across the Delaware River from the city of Philadelphia. I just need DirecTV to switch my RSN from MSG [The North Jersey & New York Market are RSN] to CSN [the Philadelphia are RSN]. I called DirecTV and was repeatedly informed their database indicated MSG was RSN assignment. While they didn’t outright explain why their database had the wrong market area for my RSN, research later showed that apparently CSN REFUSED to provide their programming to DirecTV. To meet FCC regulations requiring television programming providers to provide a regional sports network to every subscriber, they’d struck a deal to provide me with programming from MSG. [Had I lived 18 miles south, in Delaware, I’d be seeing Capitals games instead of the Rangers].
Wanting to keep up with my home town Flyers when they were on the road, I purchased DirecTV’s Center Ice package. My understanding of ‘blackouts’ was applicable to ‘local’ [or ‘home’] games but while on the road, I could see them on Center Ice via the other teams’ ‘out-of-market’ RSN. As it turns out, when the NHL references their ‘occasional blackout’, they actually mean “every Flyers game except when the Flyers visit the Islanders, Devils & Rangers’. [Those games being provided by my ‘local’ RSN’ – MSG. [While I don’t know if it is still the case, I’d heard that MSG did something similar with the MSG RSN & and the Cablevision Cable company they also own. ]
I also tried a subscription to Game Center Live which yielded the same results. I discovered when travelling to OTHER areas, outside of the Flyers’ market area, I was still unable to watch ANY non-MSG Flyers games AND in addition, I could no longer watch any games featuring the team whose local market area I had traveled into. [Even if the local team’s RSN was not one of the stations available at my hotel].
If your not familiar with the Philadelphia area, you’re probably thinking, why would an RSN like CSN not want additional revenue from selling programming to DirecTV subscribers? Or, why wouldn’t NHL teams want people IN THEIR OWN MARKET area to see games [promoting the sport to a wider audience & broadening the potential fanbase — possibly increasing hockey revenues]. According to a report provided by the FCC, if CSN [Comcast Sports Network] programming were available to television providers competing with the Comcast Cable company, Comcast would no longer have 40% more subscribers in the Philadelphia market than any other area they operate in. [Charging higher subscription rates than those offered in every other area in which they operate.]
Those of you not from Philadelphia wondering how the Philadelphia Flyers feel about their programming being limited to Comcast subscribers [along with lost revenue DirecTV would have paid to the team [aka HRR], guess who OWNS the Philadelphia Flyers. Would it surprise you to learn the Philadelphia Flyers were owned by Comcast.
** Fun Fact… Did you know Comcast recently purchased majority controlling share [51%] in another company, NBC/Universal. That would be the same ‘NBC’ as ‘The NHL on NBC’. The ‘NHL on NBC’ refers to the long-term multi-billion dollar television deal between the NHL and NBC [51% of which is owned by the same company that owns ONE of the NHL teams]
Already in the middle of a DirecTV contract and not happy with previous Comcast customer experiences I came to accept the reality that is never being able to see regular season Flyers games on TV. As my Dad really enjoys going to the games and I liked spending time with my Dad [and watching the visiting goalies]. I intended to continue purchasing season tickets, but decided I wouldn’t provide additional support for a company that engaged in that type of business practices [Which are in violation of several FCC regulations]. I stopped buying new Flyers T’s, clothes & merchandise at the arena-based store. I ate dinner [or lunch] before games & brought fruit or snacks with me to the arena. [Unless we aren’t allowed to bring food/snacks into the arena, in which case I DID NOT bring food/snacks into the arena].
I eventually went back to wearing my Flyers Tee’s and of course there was always a new Tee or Hoodie at the arena store that I was unable to live without. As the hockey season moved on, I enjoyed my Center Ice & Game Center subscriptions watching all of my favorite goalies play all of their games that weren’t against my home team & my distaste for Comcast eventually faded. [But Not so much that I was willing to subscribe to their Cable service].
As a season ticket holder, I also bought tickets to all of the playoff games and cheered for my hometown Flyers when I took my Dad to the home playoff home games. [Does Round 1 Flyers-Penguins playoff hockey sound familiar] After going to 2 very exciting home games, I couldn’t wait to watch the drama unfold in Pittsburgh during Game 5. The game was being broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Center, a channel which I did receive although NOT included in DirecTV’s base package, it required a higher priced package to be purchased]. I’m sure you can picture how I felt as I tuned to the nationally available NBCSC a few minutes before the game and saw a message across the blacked-out screen instructing me to view the game on my local RSN. I wasn’t surprised MY local RSN [MSG, according to DirecTV] was NOT broadcasting the Flyers Penguins game as per the message on the blacked out Nationally broadcast NBCSC station. I argued with DirecTV for some time about their database stating I was in MSG’s market area and thus should not be blacked out of games in another team’s market area. Reasearch revealed the NHL on NBC’s contract provisions entitled the local RSNs for round 1 games [aka it was being broadcast on CSN, the RSN which is unavailable to DirecTV subscribers, yet required DirecTV to BLACK-OUT the game on the national station NBCSC from all of DirecTV’s Philadelphia Market area subscribers. [Someone at Comcast must have gotten the idea that BLACKING OUT nationally televised playoff games from one of the team’s market area would be a good way to win over those 15% of subscribers still receiving television service from DirecTV. [If anything, this made for a convincing argument of exactly WHY I did not want Comcast Cable as my television service provider. Who wants to buy products/services from a company that engages in this type of unfair business practice despite SPECIFIC DIRECTIVE from the FCC to discontinue such practices.
This wasn’t a local game, it was in Pittsburgh. Despite marketing & advertising claiming that my Center Ice and GameCenter Live packages would include all of the playoff games. It was not a situation where a few games were blacked out, the NHL completely discontinued these services in the US at the START of the playoffs. It was deemed unneccessary because “every game, every night” was being broadcast via the ‘NHL on NBC’. Everyone in the country could watch all of the games on the NATIONALLY broadcast NBC Sports Center [and other nationally broadcast NBC stations] so the NHL felt there was no reason to continue these services into the playoffs, despite CONTINUING to market that playoff games were included with GameCenter Live Throughout the playoffs. Those of us here in Philly took the new marketing campaign of “every game every night” to mean “every game, every night, unless u live n Philadelphia and don’t subscribe to Comcast”.
For a moment despite the $400 DirecTV contract breaking fee, I considered purchasing Comcast service again. [Several previous experiences with Comcast had me spending long hour on the phone having admittedly erroneous charges removed from my bill, only to see them appear again the following month, along with several $35 charges for ‘free service’ visits to fix the continuous issues with their service, thus my hesitation to deal with them again].
Their website advertises a promotional rate of $29.95 for their lowest programming tier [which includes local RSN sports programming]. [I understand the offered promotional rate is for a limited amount of time] I attempted to purchase their base service level for $29.95 service. The very first piece of information required was my zip code. Upon entering my [Philadelphia Market Area ] zip code, I was informed that the $29.95 package was ‘not available in my area’, but I could buy a ‘similar’ package for just $39.95. I suddenly remembered why I had switched to DirecTV in the first place.
I can not understand for the amount of money I spent on season tickets, playoff tickets, parking, food, merchandise, [Cadillac Grille Membership] just at the Wells Fargo Center. Combined with money spent on NHL stuff like Center Ice, Game Center Live, more merchandise from shop.nhl.com the Philadelphia Flyers & NHL thank me for my support my blacking out my home team’s away playoff games. Really? [I had cancelled my Center Ice & Game Center subscriptions LONG before the word lockout started to be tossed around.
With the lockout over I have to say, I’m MORE upset about the blackout of the playoff games the I was about the lockout. The lockout is over yet DirecTV subscribers in Philadelphia still can’t see their home town team on TV.
Being unable to follow my actual local home team, I’ve been debating becoming a Rangers Fan. I’m just not sure if I REALLY REALLY want to be a Rangers fan or if what I REALLY want is to buy Rangers girlie Tees & wear them to Flyers games with my dad. [My initial thought was to wear Penguin’s Tees just because that would likely garner more attention, but since I don’t intend on paying for ‘out of market’ game packages [because of the blackout thing not the lockout] from the NHL I won’t get to see them on TV. The Rangers do have a REALLY hot looking goalie. And he’s really good, so it’d be cool to be a fan of a team with a decent goalie for a change right?
My other option is to move 18 miles South to Delaware. Obviously Delaware is too far South to justify MSG as ‘local regional sports’ so non-Comcast subscribers in Delaware [within the Philadelphia Market Area] are assigned the home team of the Capitals. [Which oddly enough is broadcast over a Comcast-based regional network. Comcast isn’t opposed to selling their other area CSN programming to alternate providers, only the Philadelphia CSN RSN. The Capitals DO have a hot goalie [Holtby] AND Ovi.
*** Update ***
Having analyzed my television viewing habits during the lockout, I determined that without NHL hockey, the majority of television I consumed was available on NetFlix, Amazon & other various sources on my Sony Smart TV. [Before you can say Hulu, you should know Hulu is owned by NBC [51% of which is owned by Comcast], they weren’t going to get $7.95 /month from me. So I cancelled DirecTV. I discovered my ‘Smart TV’ wasn’t ‘Smart’ enough for all of the programming I wanted to watch [like the AHL games — where I was able to see ‘the Flyers’ on my TV for the first time, just being called ‘Phantoms’]. So I bought my TV a computer that just tunes in whatever I want to watch on the Internet and HDMI connects to my TV.
Following the lockout, as a season ticket holder, the NHL offered a free one-month subscription to their Game Center Live package. I initially thought this to be a great concession to the fans [season ticket holder anyway.] Despite the one-month subscription not costing anything, I found it quite annoying to discover not only could I still NOT watch Philadelphia Flyers games. [Or any games being broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Center] but Game Center Live was also blacking out all of those teams provided by MSG. A total of 4 teams [and their opponents] would be blacked out. Without inter conference-play, this meant at any point in time, there were 8 different teams in the Eastern Conference whose games I was unable to see [Flyers, Devils, Rangers, Islanders and the 4 teams they were playing against]. Leaving me pretty much with a large assortment of Western Conference teams.
As it turns out, it doesn’t look like ‘Rangers Fan’ is an option for me anymore. I’m left to select from mostly Western Conference teams [coincidentally enough I won’t get to see this season.].
One of the recurring themes during the lockout was a reference to the NHL’s lack of ‘the casual fan’. From the articles I’ve read, the NHL hasn’t quite figured out why they don’t appeal to the casual fan. I don’t work in the field of marketing, but it would seem to me that the casual fan might be more attainable if the NHL allowed EVERYONE living in an NHL market area to WATCH their local NHL team on TV regardless of their television provider. I would think the ‘casual fan’ would be someone wanting to support their local hometown team. It seems counter-intuitive the sport will be able to broaden its audience & appeal to a wider fanbase when potential fans are unable to watch their local team on TV. I can’t imagine a ‘casual fan’ as the type of person to be interested only in games occurring on the other side of the country.