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?

Knauss on 95.7 The Game: We think the world’s changed here

Clorox CEO was on with Chris Townsend earlier today. As usual, Townsend had a pretty thorough, wide-ranging interview that touched on a number of A’s and stadium-related topics. I’m going to highlight a couple of items.

Townsend: When it comes to buying the A’s, are you personally interested? Is Clorox interested?

Knauss: No I wouldn’t say we’re interested (Clorox) in buying the A’s. We clearly would love to work with the current ownership, Lew Wolff and John Fisher, on keeping the A’s here. I think there’s a lot of old data that Lew Wolff has about working in Oakland… We think the world’s changed here.

Later in the interview…

Knauss: I think we have this tremendous site down Howard Terminal, which is just adjacent to Jack London Square. We have what I believe can be the premier site in baseball… When I last talked to Lew about that last year, he said ‘we looked at that a long time ago, it’s not viable’. I think the last time the A’s actually sat down with the City in any serious way was over five years ago with Mayor Dellums. At the time I heard some of the old excuses why Howard Terminal wouldn’t work and they’re all void now, it’s a completely different place.

Townsend: Why do you believe Howard Terminal is viable?

Knauss: In 2005 the last time they looked, the Port was close to full capacity. Now it’s under 50% utilization. The Port can easily use Howard Terminal for a ballpark without adversely affecting the shipping business… The second thing I’ve heard over the years is that there is this environmental contamination on the site and people throwing some crazy numbers around about remediating that site. We’ve done the diligence there as well and have been assured by experts that the ballpark can be built on that site without a substantial cost associated with cleanup. Basically we can build a ballpark right on top of that site without scraping the site clean, the same way AT&T Park was built on that pier.

Knauss went on to talk about the revitalization of Jack London Square and the recent Brooklyn Basin deal. Then Townsend moved onto Knauss’s potential interest in owning the A’s.

Townsend: In the past you’ve talked about having a group to buy the A’s. Why have you never made an offer?

Knauss: We’re trying to respect baseball’s protocol. Our attitude is to negotiate this and not litigate this… We’d love to have Lew sit down with us and go over the new world that’s down there, not the old world that he’s familiar with. The other thing is that we’re close to getting this lease renewed so I think we’re demonstrating that you can get things down in Oakland and Alameda County… The second thing is getting site control of Howard Terminal. So I think that’s the reason we haven’t said, ‘Let’s find another ownership group.’ We think that could be viable, but I think clearly we’d rather say, ‘Look Lew, we’ve got a viable site, we believe that the team deserves a new world class ballpark, but there’s a way to get that done here in Oakland.’

Townsend: Clorox moved a number of jobs to Pleasanton. Why do you do that but yet you still say, ‘Ah we’re still about Oakland.’

Knauss: It’s a fair question. There are two things we wanted to try to achieve with that. One is, it’s a bus- it’s really a focus on innovation. The reason we’ve been around for 100 years is because it constantly innovates new products. We wanted to get all of our innovation people in one location. Now obviously innovation is driven by R&D, and we’ve always had R&D people folks out in Pleasanton. We had about 400 scientists out there and we’ve had ’em out there for decades. What we’ve learned over the years is that when you put all of the functions out there that drive innovation – marketing, sales, finance, human resources, legal, etc. – put all those people out there with the R&D people, then you get much quicker innovation, you get bigger ideas developed. So we wanted to create a new campus out in Pleasanton where we had our nucleus and add those people. We moved a lot of those folks out of downtown Oakland out to Pleasanton – but we kept them in Alameda County.

The second reason we did it was a business continuity issue. The headquarters building – obviously we’re all in the Bay Area sitting on various faults. We wanted to get some dispersion of our IT resources out in Pleasanton too where we thought we could spread out some of our risk from a business continuity standpoint. Those were the two central reasons: better innovation, better business continuity, minimizing risk. We’ve kept people in Alameda County, and we’ve kept our general office in Oakland, and certainly I’m sitting here in Oakland and I live in Oakland. So we’re committed to Oakland.

Let’s try to put this in perspective. Don Knauss was brought in as Clorox CEO in October 2006, shortly before Ron Dellums was elected mayor. Knauss is clearly referring to the anti-sports Brown administration and the general absence of leadership during the Dellums era. Are we – and Wolff & MLB – supposed to believe that a new sheriff is in town, that Oakland has suddenly gotten its act together? Moreover, Knauss recited Quan’s stance on the ballpark issue: As long as we provide the site, the A’s and MLB can’t turn us down. I think it’s pretty simple. If Oakland provides all site prep costs, streamlines the process, and throws in $200 million, then you can get MLB to pay attention. Without that it’s not really an even playing field with San Jose, where the greater number and size of upfront revenue commitments can help pay down ballpark debt early, just as is being done in Santa Clara.

Knauss also talked at length about the issues associated with developing Howard Terminal, which he minimized as much as possible. Muppet151 has a little insight into this:

HT is in a state of constant and PERMANENT review. I talked to the guy in charge of overseeing the site who said it’s somewhat similar to what contained contamination at the San Jose Arena. You can read the SJ documents here:


The HT project manager explained things a little further in an email to me when he said “While the Land Use Covenant restricts activities that would interfere with the cap from being conducted without DTSC approval, it is common in development plans to engineer acceptable solutions that modify cleanup remedies including caps under DTSC oversight.” If the footprint of the stadium extends outward to the point it’s over the capped area, and it’s my understanding it would, the stated scenario would take place.

From a technical standpoint, HT is definitely possible, and can be done. The problem is that this is not a 1 time fix. This is a permanent issue, and worst of all this is infrastructure work that the public will be on the hook for. There was cleanup work done in the area in 2004 making the ballpark possibility a little stronger. But the 200,000 cubic yards of capped material remains, as done the 2002 CA DTSC estimate of a $100 million cleanup should something go wrong. And again, that’s public money. Things might go smoothly….but over time, caps need maintenance, and putting a stadium over the underwater caps makes the situation remarkably unique.

Currently, nothing can be built at the San Jose Arena parking lot, including a garage for the arena or a future high speed rail terminal, without a comprehensive and costly remediation plan. Right now there’s only a sealed asphalt cap there.

Knauss also brought out the “respecting the process” stance used by many on the outside, including the mayors of both San Jose and Oakland. They’re all willing to “respect the process” until they hear something that doesn’t work with their agenda. That’s how the game is played. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen recently, the only way to get Bud Selig’s attention these days is to sue baseball.

When asked about Clorox’s move of hundreds of jobs to Pleasanton, Knauss’s previously well-focused responses devolved into some incredibly inane, weaselly CEO-speak. Read that response carefully. Earthquake faults? When Loma Prieta hit on the San Andreas fault, the Coliseum had enough structural damage to force Games 3 & 4 to be played at the ‘Stick, despite the Coli being on the Hayward fault (and supposedly less prone to damage). Knauss didn’t touch the issue that really caused the move: many of the scientists and their families lived along the 680 corridor and preferred to work there instead of commuting to Oakland. Knauss had to make the tough decision to keep Clorox competitive. That’s the reality of the move, not some BS reasoning about earthquake faults or risk management. And that’s the irony of it. Clorox is perfectly able to move 500 jobs to Pleasanton or 300 jobs to Arizona if it has business or competitive reasons. In terms of pure economic impact (tax revenue, job creation), the A’s are a much smaller company than Clorox, yet they can’t move 35 miles for competitive reasons. Makes me wonder if Knauss just did this to provide cover for the company’s previous and future moves under his leadership. It didn’t cost him anything, that’s for sure.


Further reading:

Raiders moving to The Game starting with 2013 season

The Raiders and A’s share a stadium. Now they’ll also share a radio station. It took a couple years, but the Silver and Black will finally start having their games broadcast on 95.7 The Game starting with the upcoming 2013 NFL season. It’s a move that has been speculated since the station launched as the A’s flagship.

While the Raiders’ coverage will decrease in comparison to former home KSFO on the AM side, the sports radio station’s programming is far and away more compatible, especially because play-by-play man Greg Papa is already a fixture in The Wheelhouse’s noon timeslot. Non-game coverage will expand, with the Raiders displacing the 49ers in the Monday themed day, good for armchair QB-ing and GM-ing. Previously the Raiders’ day was Friday.

In the event of a conflict with the A’s, Raiders broadcasts will be on 102.1/98.5 KFOX, home of the Sharks and Entercom stablemate. KFOX has a better coverage footprint than KGMZ (The Game), which leads me to think that the Raiders actually negotiated this provision knowing that it was available via Entercom.

Potential for some conflict is high, though not so much in head-to-head timeslot situations. Mostly it’s a case of an A’s game finishing just before the start of a Raiders game during preseason or early during the regular season.

Overlap in A's and Raiders schedules. Raiders games will be broadcast on KFOX-FM (102.1/98.5) in case of a conflict.

Overlap in A’s and Raiders schedules. Raiders games will be broadcast on KFOX-FM (102.1/98.5) in cases of conflicts.

Since the Raiders are expected to have full pre and postgame coverage for each game, it’s likely that all of the weeks above will be on KFOX, with the exception of the 8/29 game against the Seahawks.

Eventually, fans may clamor for more games on KFOX due to the better distributed signal. Of course, that will run into further conflicts with the Sharks, whose season starts in October as the baseball season ends. The 2013-14 NHL schedule, which will be the first under the new realignment scheme, has not yet been released.

Conflicts or not, it’s good that the Raiders are back on a sports station, which they haven’t been since they left 1050 years ago. Whether this will turn The Game into a proper East Bay-focused station is up to Entercom, whose station management has been careful to cater to all Bay Area fans much to the dismay of A’s and Raiders fans. In turn, the Raiders may have to beef up their affiliate network to compensate for The Game’s less signal.

To kick off the new relationship, Raiders draft day coverage is being held today on The Game.

2013 A’s TV schedule

When Comcast SportsNet released its A’s broadcast schedule for 2013, I took a brief glance at it and it looked similar to previous years so I didn’t pay much attention to it. This week I’ve had a chance to look at it in greater depth, and while it is not much of a departure from past years, there’s a quirky stretch in there that could throw fans for a loop. CSN California will show 144 regular season games and two spring training contests. The April 3 game vs. Seattle will be shown on KOFY-20 instead of CSN California, as both the Earthquakes and Kings have 7 or 7:30 scheduled games that night. As for the quirky stretch, it’s during the dog days of summer.


Late July and August schedule has several games that will not be on CSN California

Thanks to a number of getaway day games both home and away, nine games in a month-long stretch will not be on CSNBA. This is something we’re used to, as the A’s prefer to have their “businessperson’s special” games not televised in order to get more fans out to the Coliseum (there are exceptions late in the season). Road games are more of a mystery, and seem like nothing more than cheapness or a product of a ratings cost/benefit analysis. In any case, it seems like there are a lot of holes in that stretch. Fortunately, three of the games during that month are Saturday day games that will be regionally broadcast on Fox (KTVU). In fact, the A’s will be on the big Fox network at least six times during the season, with the possibility of additional broadcasts coming at the end of the season if the A’s are in a pennant race. That’s a huge improvement over the mere two planned Fox broadcasts last season, one of which was a game against the Giants. Those six games with broadcast times are:

  • May 25 – Oakland @ Houston, 4 PM
  • June 15 – Seattle @ Oakland, 4 PM
  • July 27 – LA Angels @ Oakland, 11:30 AM
  • August 3 – Texas @ Oakland, 12:30 PM
  • August 24 – Oakland @ Baltimore, 12:30 PM
  • September 14 – Oakland @ Texas, 9:30 AM

There’s also the chance for games on ESPN, ESPN2, and TBS. Given those networks’ East Coast biases, I don’t expect any gaps to be filled in. ESPN and TBS haven’t filled out their season schedules yet, and TBS’s incomplete schedule is so heavily weighted towards the Eastern Time Zone that it’s worth asking why anyone from the West Coast would bother watching TBS.

Next year will be a little more complicated in terms of national broadcasts with the advent of Fox Sports 1. Fox will program frequent Saturday doubleheaders, with the day game on Fox and the night game on FS1 or both on the cable network. The deal calls for FS1 games to involve teams whose games are already carried and produced by Fox Sports regional networks. That could prove problematic for the two Bay Area teams, as they are under the Comcast SportsNet umbrella. Chances are that if we see the A’s and Giants on FS1, it will be with broadcasters from Fox Sports West/Prime, Southwest (Texas), and the YES Network, which Fox bought an interest in last year.

All told, the A’s will have 150 regular season games on TV, 144 on CSNCA and 6 on Fox. Get your radio out for the rest.