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Going Whole Hog For Baseball

Service Electric Cable TV in Lehigh Valley, Pa., has a new pitch executives believe will help prevent erosion to satellite TV and cable overbuilder RCN.

The operator will be the hometown cable distributor of all home games for the region's new minor-league baseball squad, the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs of Allentown, Pa.

Service Electric will add 72 of the team's home games to an already strong amateur sports presence on its local origination channel, TV2.

The cabler has 285,000 subscribers in central Pennsylvania. IronPigs television coverage will also be offered by Blue Ridge Cable to 500,000 cable homes in northern Pennsylvania; TV station WLYN will also broadcast games beyond the Lehigh Valley into several counties.

SPORTS SELLS

“We find when customers come back from satellite, it's because they missed the local sports,” TV2 general manager Andy Himmelwright said.

Adding the IronPigs — the top farm club of the market's favorite major-league team, the Philadelphia Phillies — should make TV2's draw even stronger, he said.

The IronPigs recognized the strength of an affiliation with Service Electric, too: The team approached the cable operator for the marketing partnership, according to Himmelwright.

Even though the team needs to fill 8,000 seats in a brand-new (almost-finished) stadium, they wanted to build excitement for the franchise with local TV coverage, the cable executive said. The team also sold stadium naming rights to Coca-Cola.

Airing a complete live home-game schedule is believed to be a first for a minor-league franchise, said IronPigs director of media relations and broadcasting Matt Provence. Other teams have had coverage on a tape-delayed basis, but not live, he said.

“It speaks a lot for Service Electric that they recognized how important this team will be to the local community,” he said of the partnership.

TV2 already covers a wealth of local sports, from pee wee through high school levels. The channel dispatches two remote broadcast trucks and one live coverage unit to games at 23 different high schools throughout its coverage area. A 30-minute daily sports show, Lehigh Valley Sports Scene, to wraps up coverage of all its events.

As the official communications provider for the team, Service Electric's name is emblazoned on IronPig pocket schedules distributed throughout the region, and the cable company will have product demo stations in the new stadium, which it has wired for phone, Internet and video services.

MARKETING OPPS

Service Electric will have other marketing opportunities.

For example, the new stadium has a 500-patron party deck and the cable firm is designing a promotion that might lure new customers or lead to upgrades: tickets in the zone for a Service Electric Day event.

The cable operator is already incorporating the upcoming baseball slate into an acquisition pitch targeting the customers of its competitors, with the slogan: “Don't miss the pitch. Make the switch.”

The ad-sales division may also incent season-long advertisers in the game with season tickets, Himmelwright said.

Promoting a 72-game schedule will be a huge undertaking for the system, the executive said. But Service Electric prides itself on its community spirit.

“Being a good corporate citizen, we are heavily involved in local stuff. Our owners eat and sleep here,” Himmelwright said. The cable business was founded by John Walson Sr. in 1948 and the Walson family still controls Service Electric.