Time Warner Cable's Orlando, Fla., system may be
losing more than baseball games this year if it can't reach an agreement with
SportsChannel Florida; it may also lose subscribers.
DirecTv Inc. is planning a major marketing blitz aimed at
Orlando baseball fans who are unable to see Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays Major
League Baseball games due to a carriage dispute between SC Florida and the Time Warner
SC Florida has been feuding with Time Warner over
distribution rights for years, despite the continued growth of the regional-sports
network. Since sports mogul Wayne Huizenga took over SC Florida in 1996, its subscriber
base has skyrocketed from 600,000 to more than 3.2 million, the network said.
The network's ability to wrestle professional-team
television rights from competitor Sunshine Network -- including full rights to the
Huizenga-owned, World Series champion Marlins -- has certainly played a part in its
growth. Last year, Sunshine and SC Florida split the rights to 70 Marlins games.
Now, with the full Marlins package and a 64-game package
for the expansion Devil Rays, SC Florida controls both Florida MLB teams. Yet it has not
been able to reach a distribution deal with the 550,000-subscriber Time Warner system,
which, incidentally, owns a piece of Sunshine.
For DirecTv, the situation could provide an unexpected
opportunity. Rod Mickler, vice president and general manager of SC Florida, confirmed that
DirecTv contacted him about developing a major acquisition campaign that would utilize
local print, radio and television media. DirecTv carries SC Florida, as well as most of
the regional-sports networks, as part of its extensive sports-programming package.
"We're not behind it. We're not instigating it," Mickler said.
"As a competitor, DirecTv is looking to take full advantage of the dispute."
Representatives from DirecTv could not be reached for
comment at press time.
As in many disputes between operators and sports networks,
licensing fees are the issue. Mickler said Time Warner maintains that there isn't
enough interest in the teams among subscribers to justify the cost of the service,
although he would not provide specific rates. Sources close to the situation, however,
said the service would cost Time Warner less than 70 cents per subscriber, per month.
Time Warner officials could not be reached for comment at
Orlando falls outside of both the Marlins' and the
Devil Rays' inner-market audience, and games from the National Basketball
Association's Orlando Magic -- the only major professional team in the market -- are
distributed by Sunshine. But subscribers recently voiced their outrage over the situation
to daily newspaper Florida Today. In a call-in survey conducted by the newspaper
two weeks ago, an overwhelming number of subscribers complained about the lack of baseball
coverage in the area, according to Jeff Duncan, sports editor for the newspaper.
"They just wanted to see the Marlins, and they were
upset that they weren't getting it," Duncan said. "A lot of the respondents
were saying that they would go to DirecTv."