DirecTV: Meet the Mets

DirecTV Inc. stepped up to the plate in the dispute that has resulted in Cablevision Systems Corp.-owned Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports New York going black before some 2.4 million Time Warner Cable homes in the Big Apple and upstate New York.

The direct-broadcast satellite leader began running ads in a number of newspapers Wednesday touting its service as an option to see Major League Baseball’s New York Mets.

Thursday’s copy touted recently acquired pitcher Victor Zambrano making his debut for the “Amazins.” Under the headline, “Mets vs. Brewers -- Zambrano Debuts, Read About It Here Tomorrow, Because You’re NOT Going to See It on Time Warner Cable!,” DirecTV’s ads told readers they wouldn’t have to miss any of their favorite club’s games and they could get 125 channels for $39.99 per month.

The ad’s bottoms were tagged with the names and logos of various retail outlets, including Circuit City Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. Inc., where DirecTV is available.

A DirecTV spokesman said Wednesday that the ads were scheduled to run in the New York Post; The Record of Bergen County, N.J.; the Staten Island Advance; the Times Union of Albany, N.Y.; the Press & Sun-Bulletin of Binghamton, N.Y.; the Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y.; The Observer-Dispatch of Utica, N.Y.; the Watertown Daily Times; the Poughkeepsie Journal; and the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y.

The spokesman said DirecTV planned to run the ads, with updated copy, through the weekend. The DBS provider would also consider a longer run should the channel remain dark on Time Warner Cable systems.

The spokesman said DirecTV has high hopes for the promotion, noting that during March and April 2002 -- when the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network-Cablevision contretemps were heating up and about to shut out the Bronx Bombers on the MSO for the entire season -- it registered a 186% increase in activations in Cablevision ZIP codes versus the same span the prior year.

Mets fans in Time Warner Cable systems missed their first game Tuesday night on MSGN in the contract squabble that forced the removal of the two networks from the MSO Sunday morning.

Time Warner and MSG Networks failed to reach a new agreement over licensing fees by the Sunday-morning deadline. The pact had originally expired Dec. 31, 2003, but the networks remained on the air as the parties continued to negotiate.

A Time Warner spokesman confirmed that the MSO has received calls from subscribers regarding the loss of the channels, but he said it hasn’t been an “extraordinary amount.”

He added that many of the callers expressed appreciation for the MSO’s $2-per-month rebate, which it is offering while the networks are off the air.

“We’d like to return MSGN and Fox Sports New York to our customers,” the spokesman said. “Unfortunately, we’re prevented from doing that by Cablevision, which is still not willing to grant us an extension, nor are they willing to come to terms on a longer-term deal that fairly represents the value of those networks.”