Sens. Want Comcast to say YES to Yankees

As the MBL prepares to "Play Ball!," the Connecticut senatorial battery--Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy--have called on Comcast senior VP David Cohen and YES Network to resolve their respective companies' carriage impasse and Comcast to restore YES's regional sports network programming--which means Yankee games--to customers in their state, as well as New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Comcast balked at the suggestion, saying the programming will only go back up when the asking price to carry it comes down.

While they said they respected private negotiations, and took no sides in the dispute (i.e. not playing umpire), the Senators said the impasse was a disservice to Yankees fans and put Comcast on the spot.

"Sports programming, which has been protected and promoted by government intervention, should not be used as a weapon to negotiate who has a bigger claim to consumers' pocketbooks," they told the execs.

They put the onus on Comcast to resolve the viewer Yankees blackout if not the underlying dispute.

"If not long-term agreement is possible by Opening Day[April 4 for the Yankees], we urge Comcast to work out a temporary solution so Yankees fans are not shut out form viewing their favorite team," they said, and also urged Comcast to give refunds to all of its subs no longer getting YES a sum "commensurate" with the sports net's value.

Comcast was not ready to give up its leverage for the sake of congressional baseball fans, and signaled it would continue to negotiate for the sake of its customers.

"YES Network is already the most expensive regional sports network in the U.S. according to SNL Kagan, and is trying to increase its prices to our customers by so much that we could no longer justify carrying the network," the company said in response to the letter.

"We would note that Senator Blumenthal has consistently expressed concern about the rise of cable prices.  And consistent with his concerns, this is a clear case where we are trying to protect our customers, the vast majority of whom watch very little YES content, from a major price increase. 

"YES is the first major cable network that our customers have lost access to in our history. The issue we have with YES is not unique to us as other distributors have chosen to not carry the network as well. It remains our hope to bring back YES to our customers and we are willing to work with YES to resolve this impasse. But we can only return YES to our customers if the network and its majority owner, FOX, become realistic with their price demands."

“We share the Senators’ feelings about the importance of baseball and the popularity of the New York Yankees, and stand ready to resume negotiations to return YES to all our viewers consistent with our approach last season," said YES Network President Tracy Dolgin.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.