Enough Already: Let's Play Ball

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Odds are that when you read this today, the news media will still be covering every hiccup surrounding the inability of Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network and Cablevision Systems Corp. to come to terms on a carriage deal.

Somehow the New York Yankees — the men who wear our beloved pinstripes — can't find a way to get carriage in Cablevision's 3 million homes, which surround the perimeter of the Big Apple and extend into parts of Brooklyn and even the Bronx itself.

Cablevision maintains it will not pay $2 per subscriber to carry YES Network on a basic tier. That's despite the fact that those are the very same terms to which 25 other cable systems have agreed, not daring to disappoint their tri-state area customers who regard the Bronx Bombers as more than mere baseball players.

Post-Sept. 11, they have become icons. Last fall, as the area residents tried to resume some semblance of "normalcy," the Yankess provided more than just a sporting distraction. They became a symbol of what is right with America — that you can be a winner in spite of pain and loss.

Now, a mere seven months later, all of that seems to be lost on the likes of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Unfortunately, it also doesn't seem to phase Cablevision's owners, who have drawn a line in the sand. As harsh as this sounds, what kind of New Yorkers are Steinbrenner and the Dolans? Did George and Chuck leave their hearts in their old hometown of Cleveland?

True, Cablevision came back to the table with a counteroffer, agreeing to carry YES on a sports tier, willing to let YES chairman Leo Hindery — who's not a New Yorker — set the price and take the money.

As generous as that might sound, it isn't. If Hindery were to do that deal, he would have to make those terms available to all of his other cable affiliates under a most-favored nation clause — and lose millions of dollars in ad revenue.

Unfortunately, all of this bickering exposes the very real, ugly underbelly of major-league sports. Cable operators have long complained about escalating sports rights, to no avail. Now they must either eat those costs or pass them along to subscribers.

Nonetheless, 25 of them decided it would be un-American to deny New York-area residents the joy of watching the Yanks. Last week, The New York Times
quoted one of those operators as saying, "Post-9/11, how can you not offer [the Yankees] to your customers?"

Putting sentiment aside, is this really the time for Cablevision to try to slay the ugly sports-rights monster? DirecTV Inc. has made hay from all of this. It's been heavily promoting the fact that its satellites are beaming YES into Cablevision's territories — and stealing the MSO's customers. And guerilla tactics will continue to be used to steal Cablevision subscribers.

DirecTV was planning to set up a tent outside Yankee Stadium for Friday's opener, to peddle more DBS dishes, according to a source close to the matter.

Cablevision is taking a brave stand in its attempt to tackle the sports Goliath here. But Goliath has done more than stay on its feet — it's starting to display some muscle and smarts.

The arrogance of both parties, however, is inexcusable. Is this public spat supposed to become another sports attraction for New Yorkers to follow avidly? I doubt it. They'd rather see the Yanks. They already feel the pinch in their wallets as they try to take their families to overpriced ball games.

Why deny residents of recession-struck New York the ability to see those games at home?

Steinbrenner and the Dolans are smart men, but they have clearly forgotten the customer in this ridiculous display of testosterone run amok.

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