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Sneaky Blog Tactics Allegedly Used by Comcast PR Agency

Comcast’s image took a beating on Big Ten university sports fan blogs earlier this week after a negative, anonymous Big Ten Network posting on several sites was traced back to a PR agency in the hire of the cable operator.

The operator, and other potential distributors in the conference’s markets, are under pressure to carry the nascent sports network, a partnership of the Big Ten Conference and Fox Cable Networks. The issue: whether distributors in those markets must offer the network on widely distributed “analog” tiers, at a cost distributors claim is $1.10 per subscriber; or be able to offer the network on sports tiers, sold only to fans who wish to pay the price.

An online commenter, labeled Victory4MSU20, trashed Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who’s been outspoken on the network’s behalf and taken issue with recalcitrant distributors, particularly Comcast. Including at an East Lansing, Mich., launch party two weeks ago.

“WHAT A CROCK ... the BTC has already sold the best games to ABC and ESPN,” the post said in response to Delany, adding “the Big Ten greedmongers” want to charge fans for games they’d be able to see on local cable.

“To learn about the Big Ten’s big-time rip-off, I found a Web site that explains a lot ...,” the post concluded.

Early last week, that same post appeared on sites such as SpartanTailgate (fans of Michigan State); WildCatReport (Northwestern University) and TheWoverine (University of Michigan).

A close examination of reveals it is operated with funds from Comcast.

Trevor Barnes, site administrator of SpartanTailgate, wrote he had pinged the IP address of Victory4MSU20. The post was sent from Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, a Lansing firm in the employ of Comcast.

Posts in response flamed the Comcast effort as “Astroturf” (the term used for fake grass-roots opposition groups) and worse.

David Waymire, partner in the advocacy firm, posted on SpartanTailgate within 24 hours of the criticism, apologizing for the post. He confirmed the post was from his offices but attributed them to an employee, “a legitimate Big Ten fan,” who wasn’t familiar with firm policies.

Waymire told Multichannel News that his firm does post on blogs, “but in a transparent way,” on behalf of clients. Anonymous posts “are against my agency’s policy,” he said. His agency was hired by Comcast to get its side of the issues known, he said, including channeling concerned fans to the Web site.

He and Comcast officials said the cable operator was not involved in the strategic “mistake.”