Dish Network and Comcast SportsNets extend deadline to resolve carriage dispute

I was getting ready to write about Dish Network dropping the various Comcast SportsNets (Bay Area, California, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington). As I did a cursory check to see if there was anything new, I saw a new page when I went to the website:

notice page accessed at 8:45 PM PT

A check of the sites for CSN California and CSN Chicago produced the same results. NBC Sports is negotiating the channels as a package, though with different monthly subscriber fees for each.

So I suppose cooler heads have prevailed for now. There has been no official statement from either Comcast or Dish regarding the previous impasse, nor an indicator of whether there has been any legitimate progress. Dish covers approximately 500,000 households throughout Northern California, and while it generally appeals to many who prefer not to pay excessively for sports – especially potential cordcutters – many fans of the Warriors have recently expressed their displeasure at the possible CSNBA drop by Dish. CSNCA, which carries the A’s and Sharks, would also be affected.

The satellite provider has told some customers that the extension would run another three weeks. Dish and CBS reached a similar extension before Thanksgiving over the carriage of CBS-owned local stations, including San Francisco’s KPIX-5 and Los Angeles’ KCBS-2.


Interview on Swingin’ A’s Podcast

Yesterday I did lengthy interview with Tony Frye (@GreenCollarBB) of Swingin’ A’s about all manner of stadium stuff. Since it came on the heels of the election, we talked a lot about that and the Raiders. We talked a good deal about the A’s too, and I tried to show how the two are interrelated and how the teams’ fates are intertwined as long as they’re in Oakland.

Swingin’ A’s Podcast Episode 4

My part of the interview comes about 36 minutes in and runs a whopping 50 minutes.

In the interview I discuss Walter Haas and Steve Schott, the latter a subject of a Frye blog post from earlier today. I focused on Haas, partly because of some renewed interest in what he did towards the end of his ownership tenure. Take a look at some of these articles:

A’s fight economics to build dynasty 


Athletics to move if Raiders return?


Athletics seek protection against return of Raiders


While we remember Haas for his great generosity, winning teams, and partnership with Oakland, what has gotten lost was that when the winds started to swirl around the Raiders and their potential return to Oakland, Haas picked up on it early and voiced his worry about it. He soft-played it, didn’t want to make appear like he was threatening to move out of Oakland. He made it clear, however, that the team was losing money because of his family’s sacrifices. He was going to sell at some point if it got much worse, which it did. He ended up selling at a heavily discounted price because of the big debt load. Haas felt his business was threatened, so he reacted the way you’d expect a business owner to do – to try to protect his team. Some owners have taken this to unseemly extremes, and it’s unfortunate that Oakland has had to suffer the worst of that behavior from Al Davis and Charlie Finley.

I’ve mentioned this before and it bears repeating: it’s no coincidence that the A’s salad days occurred when the Raiders were gone. The three-peat A’s won the most, but turnout was not particular good and Finley whined about it frequently. With no competition from football on or off the field, Haas didn’t feel a threat. He allowed the Giants to explore the South Bay, in hindsight a strategic error on his part. Haas was as genial guy as ever existed in the Bay Area. But he was still a businessman who knew what was Priority #1 when backed into a corner.

Listen to the interview, rate it on iTunes, and give feedback here in the comments section. I had a good time talking to Tony, and I expect to do another one of these in February, after the Coliseum City ENA expires. Then we can talk next steps. For now, give this a listen.

P.S. – The day Frye asked me to do the interview, Mike Davie of Baseball Oakland wanted to be on too. He’ll have his own episode at some point with a lot of Oakland cheerleading and ownership bashing, I assume.

Damon Bruce in, Rise Guys out as part of reshuffle at The Game

The Game finally got their man today, as they pulled Damon Bruce over from KNBR purgatory to host the afternoon drive time slot starting on March 31 (Opening Day). Bay Area Sports Guy has the scoop and the press release. In the process, the show hosted by Chris Townsend and Ric Bucher will move to the mornings, displacing The Rise Guys (Whitey Gleason, Mark Kreidler, Dan Dibley) in the process. The other daytime shows will remain as is. As it stands the lineup will now look like this:

  • 6-10 AM – Bucher & Towny
  • 10 AM-Noon – Haberman & Middlekauff
  • Noon-3 PM – The Wheelhouse with John Lund and Greg Papa
  • 3-7 PM – Damon Bruce

You may remember that Bruce got himself suspended over a bizarre misogynistic rant he gave over the air in November. Whether that was off the cuff or a stunt designed to help him ease out of the 1050 gig, we may never know. Memories are short in sports talk, and some guys can get gigs no matter how much Neanderthal behavior they exhibit.

The 7 PM slot will apparently remain open, as it has from the beginning, perhaps to keep any one entrenched host from complaining too much about A’s baseball interfering with his hours. That’s just as well. I listen to The Game primarily for the A’s, not the sports talk.

FCC to consider eliminating its own sports blackout rules

Don’t get your hopes up yet. Well, maybe a little. FCC Acting Chairperson Mignon L. Clyburn wants the agency to consider eliminating its sports blackout rules. This isn’t your typical Friday afternoon, sweep-it-under-the-rug type of press release.


“Today, I circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to eliminate the Commission’s nearly 40-year old sports blackout rules.

“Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games. Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events.

“Nevertheless, if the record in this proceeding shows that the rules are no longer justified, the Commission’s involvement in this area should end.”

The language in the release emphasizes that many sports leagues enter into their own blackout agreements that are often the cause of blackouts. However, it’s the NFL that most often comes under fire when local games incur blackouts, and it’s the FCC’s rules that govern those instances. MLB gets protection thanks to its antitrust exemption, which has resulted in the teams creating the Byzantine TV territories and rules that we all know and love. Both the NFL and MLB are facing a class action lawsuit over blackouts.

Mostly, it’s the leagues’ various exclusivity agreements with the national networks that have dictated blackouts. Asked to respond, the NFL stated that a change would “undermine the retransmission-consent regime and give cable and satellite operators excessive leverage in retransmission-consent negotiations.”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), also discourages eliminating the rules:

“…However, we’re concerned that today’s proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports. Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community.”

Moreover, Clyburn made this move on her way out the door, as her tenure as acting chair ends Monday. It’ll be up to the next chair and Congressional muscle to push this through, which will be tough given the networks’ and leagues’ gargantuan lobbying efforts. Still, it’s a step forward for fan and viewer-oriented groups looking to fight back against the unwieldy beast that is TV.

The FCC last visited the rules in 2000. Naturally, nothing came of the inquiry, which helped get the ball rolling on TV mega-deals.

TV rights wave brings A’s along for the ride

When the A’s made the move to basic cable full-time, it was considered to be a solid, though not groundbreaking, improvement for the A’s in terms of revenue. More games would be broadcast (still not all games), and peripheral coverage would would improve via CSN California’s revamped local programming. While the second part would prove true, it wasn’t clear what financial benefits the A’s were getting. As late as last fall the rights fee being paid by Comcast to the A’s was kept hush-hush. I had heard the rights fee started at $15 million with escalators for improved ratings. Whatever the figure truly was, it wasn’t supposed to be terribly competitive within the new TV rights bubble, let alone the mega-deals signed by the LA teams and Texas.

Well, turns out that Lew Wolff and Ken Pries worked out a pretty good deal after all. In Wendy Thurm’s latest post on Fangraphs there’s a table that shows updated TV rights deals (courtesy of Sports Business Journal). The A’s are in pretty decent shape with a deal that works out to $43-48 million per year, which is a lot more than previously speculated or earned in the previous contract. $43+ million still pales in comparison to the Rangers’ or Angels’ $150 million, but those teams were playing a different game from the A’s anyway. The boost is enough to help the team competitively, not enough for management to start making a bunch of stupid personnel decisions. The annual rights fee puts the A’s at 11th or 12th depending on how you’re counting, squarely within MLB’s CBA-defined Top 15 markets.

Of course, the downside is that what looks good now could look puny a decade from now, when the A’s can exercise their first option to renegotiate or extend the CSNCA deal. Several teams will have the opportunity to renegotiate their deals or start their own RSNs before the end of the decade. Chances are good that they’ll do just that. Look for the A’s to follow suit a years later.

How the A's TV deal stacks up against division and crossbar rivals

How the A’s TV deal stacks up against division and crossbay rivals

Despite the added revenue, let’s be clear about something: the A’s are still last in the AL West in terms of TV revenue (and probably radio as well). I suppose that no A’s fan will care as long as the team keeps leading the division in the standings.


Note: The SBJ article dates back to Opening Day. Either I missed it completely or I skipped over the updated figure. Apologies.

Radio interview with 1010 AM SoCal, talking Raiders & A’s stadium issues

I’m still in Pittsburgh. While resting at The Church Brew Works (a must-see if you’re ever in Steel Town), I did an interview with Julie Buehler and Geoff Bloom of Team 1010, an AM sports talk station in Palm Springs. Normally when I do when of these, I hem and haw a little on the “percentage chance something happens” game. This time I didn’t. Take a listen.

Video streaming by Ustream

Thanks to Julie and Geoff for having me on, and the Trib’s Matthew Artz for linking us up.

Oakland Mayor Quan with Bucher & Towny, 7/3/13

Update 7/5 5:00 PM – The Trib’s Matthew Artz confirmed what we were all thinking:

Get on that, Oakland. Chop chop!


Oakland Mayor Jean Quan continued to make the case for Howard Terminal on Bucher & Towny’s show today, talking up site control at both the waterfront site and at Coliseum City, which she more-or-less admitted MLB has little interest in based on their inquiries. She even got a dig in at Lew Wolff, saying that “to say there are no sites in Oakland you have to have blinders on.”

Streetscape of The Embarcadero adjacent to Howard Terminal

Quan also revealed that the A’s Coliseum lease extension is very close, that the JPA has been negotiating all spring, and one item remains to negotiate – the scoreboard replacement. A capital improvements fund that was set to cover replacement scoreboards was raided to cover costs associated with the Coliseum City study, and that chicken has come home to roost. There’s no reason to think that the scoreboard would be a showstopper for the two parties moving forward, but this is the JPA we’re talking about. Who knows what can happen in the coming weeks.

Chris Townsend alluded to a July 11 announcement that Howard Terminal could be fully available. In all likelihood that’s dependent on the Port approving settlement terms with SSA, which are now under fire by the longshoremen’s union.

Townsend also tried to get an explanation for what needs to be done with railroad tracks at Howard Terminal, which brought on the following exchange:

Townsend: Someone has told me that one of the problems with Howard Terminal – I wonder if you can speak to this – is that the railroad tracks that run through there… can you talk about that one main concern?

Quan: Well, the ones that go to the Amtrak are outside the (area) so I don’t see that as a problem at all. The other tracks were going straight to the ships. If that’s no longer a terminal they’ll just be lifted up or out, or maybe we’ll make it part of a new light rail system into the ballpark. I don’t know. All of the developers I’ve had look at it have never raised that as an issue.

A couple things to point out here. First, the main tracks that run down The Embarcadero are owned and operated by Union Pacific, who also has a huge yard just northwest of Howard Terminal. The rail line is a vital part of port operations, and that won’t be moved. There’s no chance of that. The issue, as we identified last year, is that a bunch of infrastructure has to be built in conjunction with Howard Terminal’s conversion to a ballpark site in order to support cars, bikes, and pedestrians that would all converge there for games. Plus there would have to be streetscape improvements and safety equipment installed to prevent people and drivers from playing chicken with heavy diesel trains. Add in the presence of a gas pipeline and you have a situation where the Public Utilities Commission will have to come in and approve everything that gets done along The Embarcadero.

Second, the tracks on the site are little more than an afterthought at this point. They were preserved as part of the capping process. If, as Quan says, the tracks can be lifted up or out, the cap would be breached. I always figured that the cap would have to be breached to prep the site, so no big deal there, right? But if a ballpark is supposed to be built without disturbing the cap, how is digging up and removing the tracks supposed to be compatible with that? Moreover, the thought that the tracks could otherwise be folded into a light rail or streetcar project shows how little Quan understands about the situation there. There are strict federal rules about separating freight and other heavy rail trains from light rail trains, to the point that grade separations are frequently required to ensure safety along both lines. The tracks as they sit feed directly into the big railyard, so they couldn’t be used for light rail or a similar purpose unless someone built another bridge to lift trolleys above the heavy rail tracks. The cost to do that would be astronomical on top of the other bridges that would be required there.

Look, I don’t expect Quan to be on top of all of the little details. She seems content to delegate much of the work to her teams and committees, and that can work in many instances. On the other hand, this puzzling response about the rail safety issues clearly shows that her background info on Howard Terminal is very limited. Maybe there’s a reason for that, and that reason is that there is no environmental impact report. Townsend suggested that there’s an EIR for Howard Terminal is coming, but Quan backtracked from that, saying that the Coliseum City EIR is around the corner while not providing a timeframe for Howard Terminal. She said that she believed the Port Commission has ordered the review work. There’s no record of any initial or ongoing environmental review happening at Howard Terminal, so color me confused. Quan took some time out to talk about the importance of CEQA, so she’s fully aware of how mindbogglingly thorough CEQA can be. CEQA is so thorough that new construction has to at least have an initial determination of whether or not a project requires the rest of the CEQA process. So far, there’s no record of that step or any beyond that happening. Now, the Port could be doing some background work to help supplement an EIR if it gets formalized. If that has occurred it hasn’t been publicized. That’s far different from the running clock on an EIR. Oakland won’t be able to cut the EIR clock in half by doing prep work. There are hearings and public comment periods that are required.

Quan fielded election-related questions at the end, with the knowledge that no one of note is running against her in 2014. She’s full of bravado if not outright swagger, propelled by the green lights at the OAB Port project and Brooklyn Basin. She even articulated Oakland’s general stance about the stadium effort in a very succinct way, “You have to prove that we can’t do it.” Well, it’s been proven that Victory Court was a loser. Will Howard Terminal and Coliseum City be strikes two and three?