Major League Baseball fans are always optimistic come spring, before the regular season starts. The same might well be said of millions of fans in the New York City region whose cable provider doesn’t have an affiliate deal yet with SportsNet New York, the new network partly owned by the New York Mets.
SNY, which will air 125 Mets games this year, also is owned partly by Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable. Their cable systems will carry the new network. So if you’re a fan in Northern New Jersey or Manhattan, you can pick from four regional sports networks when this newest one debuts March 16.
The key number there being “four.” In an unprecedented test of the New York City market’s willingness to accept overkill, SNY will air alongside Madison Square Garden Network and FSN New York, as well as the four-year-old Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network, whose owners include the New York Yankees.
MSG and FSN New York sell to distributors for about $4 per month per household, in tandem. YES is estimated at up to $2.25 and SNY has been estimated at $1.50-plus. SNY president Jon Litner has told Multichannel News his network is talking to all possible distributors in its footprint.
The biggest carriage gap for SNY is Cablevision Systems Corp., the biggest New York area cable company with systems serving more than 3 million customers altogether.
Cablevision owns MSGN and FSN New York — both diluted by the loss of Mets games — and fought a well-chronicled, yearlong standoff with YES before adding it. Still, the operator isn’t ruling out a deal. “We fully expect to carry Mets games this season and beyond,” has been Cablevision’s stance, restated last week.
Cablevision’s programming services — including AMC and WE as well as MSG and FSNY — are carried on Comcast and Time Warner. Those two companies also would love to buy Cablevision’s cable systems someday. Those are strategic incentives to getting a deal done beyond just appeasing Mets fans.
DirecTV seems close to a deal with SNY, based on what industry executives have said. Dish Network, by contrast, has still no deal with YES, much less this new channel. Spokesman Marc Lumpkin said Dish is “willing to negotiate a carriage agreement at a fair price,” though, just as it “remains willing” to do a deal with YES. Can Dish compete without YES or SNY — basically without either of the region’s MLB teams? Lumpkin points to other Dish attributes, such as a new, low-priced family tier package ($19.99) and other channels that carry baseball games and other sports.
Patriot Media, serving about 80,000 homes in central New Jersey, hasn’t reached a deal with SNY, either. The New York Daily News reported Patriot told customers it wouldn’t be carrying SNY, but vice president of operations John Gdovin said that’s not the case. “Like any new service, we’ve been talking to them but we haven’t been able to reach an agreement until this point,” he said. Gdovin wouldn’t amplify on the negotiations “or the points of agreement or disagreement at this point.”
He said call centers have fielded some calls about adding SNY and said Patriot wants to “maximize” its lineup to suit customer interest, but channel decisions have to be made “on an economically viable basis.”
“We’re not sure where it’s going to come out,” Gdovin said.
Fans are petitioning Charter Communications Inc. to add SNY in northeastern and western Connecticut, too. A Charter spokesman last week said he could only confirm preliminary carriage talks had been held.
RCN Corp. is still in talks to add SNY. (Moment of disclosure: I am an RCN subscriber in Manhattan and a Mets fan, so I have a rooting interest.) RCN has typically added whatever channels are new, available and of interest.
So what about SNY? RCN director of programming David Parsons sounded optimistic last week. “We want to offer the best sports packaging to our customers without doubt. And we are trying to find every way economically feasible to make that happen. That’s a very attractive property in New York that some of our customers would be interested in having. So we’re discussing the opportunity to see if we can provide it to them.” Parsons said he couldn’t go farther than that, citing the negotiations.
The Mets’ prospects won’t be known until well after the team’s regular season starts on April 3.
Many fans who watch the games on TV will keep watching a different scoreboard until then.