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“Up to 40 Out-of-Market Games a week”

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It ‘s almost a foregone conclusion, to watch most sports nowadays, you need a subscription service like cable or satellite, maybe even one of the online variety (legal or not).  When you rent that new apartment or buy that new house, one of the first questions that needs to be answered immediately: “How much will cable set me back?”. Naturally, we all want to spend the least amount and get the most out of the package that we end up with. In my case, I don’t really ever miss a Pens game since I live in Sabres territory. It’s been a really sweet deal over the years for me, I’ve missed very few games over the last decade or so. It’s been pretty good to me…

Until this season…

Last year, I had gotten fed up with Time Warner’s never ending rate increases when my packages never actually changed and it was time for a change. I had once even had DirecTV so I could get all of my Steelers games, as well as all of my Penguins games. Sadly, I was asked to sacrifice one of the packages and I don’t deny it (in the face of crucifixion), I’m a hockey fan first. My experience with DirecTV was poor from a reliability standpoint anyway.  It really wasn’t a tough choice for me. Then there was last year’s choice, DishNetwork. I will say this, I have never had any service blackouts with DN, but may I never have to call their customer service again. I am not fluent in anything other than english and that’s as far as I am going with that.

Now last season, I really didn’t care about to much, until I realized that the Sabres were on MSG+, which was not a part of my regular package. Well, that was another $7 a month for a block of channels of which I would only watch maybe 4 times in the season. Ok, I would watch it more than that. I really have been trying to forgive Sabre fan for an incident in 1999 (but that’s another story). So I added to my already sizable bill (standard service + Center Ice Package). The downside to satellite packages? Signing the contracts, and this one with DN was for 2 years.

So here I am kicking off the 2010-2011 season to the news that Dish Network and NewsCorp couldn’t get along. What I didn’t realize though, was that this also involved MSG channels.

Per MSG on Wikipedia, which in this case is fairly accurate:

MSG is available in most of Upstate New York. Rangers, Devils, and Islanders games are blacked out in the Sabres’ primary broadcast territory, which are the Buffalo and Rochester Nielsen markets, but Knicks games are broadcast on Time Warner Cable SportsNet or a temporary alternate channel when there is a conflict with the Sabres, except for Chautauqua County, part of which is within 100 miles (160 km) of Cleveland and gets only Cleveland Cavaliers games on Fox Sports Ohio as per NBA rules. The Knicks are also subject to blackout in eastern-most Connecticut, within 100 miles (160 km) of Boston. However, most of Erie (including Buffalo) and Niagara counties, a territory located within the 100-mile (160 km) radius of Toronto, do not have Knicks games blacked out in favor of the Toronto Raptors. This is most likely because the Raptors’ exclusive territory ends at the U.S. border, although select games did air on Empire while that network operated and no CBC Sports programming is usually blacked out by U.S. cable operators offering a CBC station.

Most of upstate New York (notably AlbanyBinghamton, and Syracuse) gets every Sabres game but also the Rangers, Islanders, or Devils under certain conditions. A maximum of 50 to 60 games per team can be broadcast outside the New York City DMA each season under current NHL rules; this also covers broadcasts in parts of the Hartford/New Haven and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre media markets. The exact number of games aired in outer markets varies each year, depending on how the NBA and NHL schedules come out. MSG’s website lists what games are subject to blackout, and where, with each region designated as a “zone.” Outside Buffalo and Rochester, Knicks games always air on MSG, while MSG Plus carries the Sabres, should both play at the same time.

The presence of Sabres games in the Utica and Albany market led to some controversy, because most non-Adelphia cable systems in that market had not carried Empire for several years, and the fan-base for the Sabres is widely thought to be smaller than that of the New York City-area teams (and even Boston-area teams, as WSBK served the region for several years before each upstate market got local affiliates of the now defunct UPN and WB networks).

Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have made deals so that both MSG Plus and SportsNet New York are available on analog basic in most upstate markets (excluding Buffalo and Rochester), although some only get MSG Plus through digital cable boxes.

Well, Dish Network has resolved it’s issue with NewsCorp, so my Fox Channels are back…but still no MSG, so when you settle in to watch the Sabres/Pens games this season, just know that I am less than an hour away from Buffalo and can’t watch it because of a pissing contest over money.

I’d hate to be a Sabre fan in this situation….but I do know a few of them and one of them shared his emails to the various parties involved in this debacle and now I will share them with you (the names modified/omitted to protect the innocent)

JW to Dish Network:

I am one very frustrated customer. I live in Rochester, NY and am a big Buffalo Sabres fan. Their 2010-11 season starts tonight and I can not watch the game due to the conflict between MSG & Dish Network. What really frustrates me is that the MSG broadcast does not show up in the NHL Center Ice package. Further more, the Ottawa broadcast of the Sabres-Senators game is blacked out as well. Why is the Ottawa feed blacked out when the Buffalo broadcast is not available to me? This makes no sense to me whatsoever.If this situation could be resolved such that I can see Sabres broadcasts on the NHL Center Ice package, I would consider purchasing it for this season while I await MSG & Dish Network to resolved their differences.

I am sending the same email to Dish Network, the Buffalo Sabres, and the NHL.

Dish Network Response:

Dear Valued DISH Network Customer,

We regret that MSG Networks, the owner MSG and MSG Plus, removed their channels because DISH Network would not agree to an outrageous contract demands, including a double-digit rate increase.

We understand these channels are important to you and we are pursuing every avenue possible to restore them as quickly as possible.  DISH Network has submitted a request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for help regulating the terms that programmers, like MSG Networks, are able to demand.

Please help us by calling MSG Networks at: 212-465-6741 then press 0.  Tell MSG Networks to negotiate in good faith with DISH Network and to restore these channels to our line-up.

Sincerely,

DISH Network

Nice a form letter response, I can only imagine this wasn’t the only email they received

JW sent the same email to the Buffalo Sabres with the following message:

I have two years remaining on my Dish Network contract. So, switching is not an option for me.

Here’s their take:

JW,

As Rochester is in the Buffalo Sabres television territory, the opposing team’s broadcast will be blacked out on Center Ice.

At this point, your only option is DirecTV or Time Warner.

Director of Broadcasting

Buffalo Sabres

One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza

Buffalo, New York 14203

Oh, well….There is nothing like catching a radio broadcast and enjoying the euphemisms from this fine gentleman

errrr…

This Guy

and it looks like maybe  I’ll have to buy the tickets to the 12/11/10 game in Buffalo, just to represent….maybe…

/endrant

Todd AKA @OneSmugPug

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7 Comments

  1. Walshy

    November 23, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Dude,

    I have the same problem of being ‘blacked out’ with the Pens radio on the HD2. They spout off about being accessable on the iphone but as soon as you get out of range of a wi-fi connection, iheart radio decides that because you are not from north america you are not worth it to listen to the station.

    This only happened this year when the Pens decided to change format to the clear channel format, I have been pretty pissed at them for it, I have sent emails and have not really got an answer because they do not understand the problem.

    There are so many international fans to this team and well they are going to cut us out of the market if they dont ‘allow’ us to listen to their shows in different time zones away from our PC/Macs, they have to change the platform they run the station from on their mobile devices.

    So much for looking after their ‘best fans in hockey’, there are quite a few of us outside of the states.

  2. Gunner Staal

    November 23, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Seems to me like they are doing these Sabre fans a favor…

    All kidding aside its a complete joke that you can buy the Center Ice Package and still be blacked out on the games. Its complete BS.

  3. OneSmugPug

    November 24, 2010 at 8:46 am

    @Walshy – I really can’t comment on international broadcasting, I just don’t have enough info on that. It deserves a glance thought.

    @GS You may be right, but I was really up to watching some Sabres games this year, and it’s funny because my Center Ice package was automatically renewed. That’s nice and all, but….

  4. Dirk

    November 25, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Dude if ur less than an hour away You need to be at the game showing ur support not complaining about your tv package online.

  5. Gunner Staal

    November 25, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    @Dirk Give me a break.

  6. OneSmugPug

    November 25, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    @Dirk – 1. If I pay for a ticket in HSBC arena, I’d be supporting the Buffalo Sabres, NHL teams don’t share ticket revenues.
    2. I don’t have the cash to toss around since i just came back from Pittsburgh where I spent my money “supporting” the Penguins between the tickets, concessions and the several hundred dollars I spent on the merchandise prior to the game in Pens Gear

  7. Walshy

    November 25, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Pug,

    The whole international broadcasting rules issue thing needs to be sorted out with the internet in relation to their radio feeds. All I want to be able to do is listen to that HD2 station on my phone, and once I get off a wi fi feed they recognise Im outside of the states and block it…

    Really, think about all the European fans from all the teams, esp the Pens with Geno and well Gonch, they would be in the same boat.

    Very narrow minded with the way they are thinking. I am only one squeaky wheel, I need to piss some people off by continuing to bring it up, find the right people in the know and get them to fix it… Its not that hard, just take the IP block off!!! he he he