Comcast's Next Big Battle May Be in Its Backyard

Comcast (CMCSA) will soon need to compete for the hearts and minds of sports fans in the Philadelphia area.

Under the terms of the recently approved takeover of NBC Universal, the world's largest cable company is required to make Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia channel, whose programing includes games from the Philadelphia Phillies, Flyers and 76ers as well as college teams and sports talk shows, available to satellite companies, along with its other regional sports networks.

For years, the Philadelphia-based company had refused to do so, arguing that FCC rules did not require it because unlike most cable channels, Comcast SportsNet is broadcast using terrestrial -- not satellite -- equipment. This has meant local sports fans have had little choice but to be Comcast customers or miss watching many of their favorite teams on TV.

"Sooner Rather Than Later"


"Comcast's market share in Philadelphia [and its suburbs] is higher than in other regions in the country," says Craig Moffett, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. Moffett rates Comcast shares as outperform, and he says Comcast SportsNet is one of the reasons why. He says the channel would be available to other pay TV customers "sooner rather than later."

The impact of the sports channel is far reaching. As the FCC noted in the NBC Universal deal, "Comcast's withholding of the terrestrially delivered Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia RSN [Regional Sports Network] from DBS [Direct Broadcast Satellite] operators caused the percentage of television households subscribing to DBS in Philadelphia to be 40% lower than it otherwise would have been."

As the start of Major League Baseball's spring training approaches, Comcast's rivals are making their move. DirecTV (DTV), the top satellite-TV provider, tells DailyFinance that it's in talks with Comcast about offering the company's Philadelphia sports channel. Jade Ekstedt, a spokeswoman for the El Segundo, Calf.-based company, declined to elaborate further.

Her comments were echoed by the DISH Network's (DISH) Francie Bauer, who says in an email: "DISH Network continues to evaluate new programming additions but has nothing new to announce at this time." She also declined to elaborate further. Comcast does allow the sports channel to be broadcast over Verizon's (VZ) FiOS Network. Spokespersons for the cable giant did not return several calls and emails seeking comment for this story.

Because Comcast has offered Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia to FiOS, it has to try to strike a similar deal with the satellite providers under the terms of the merger agreement. The issue will go to an arbitrator if it can't be resolved. Striking a deal may prove to be a challenge.

Cable Giant Won't Surrender Easily

Comcast is serious about sports, which is one of the main selling points of any pay-TV service. Besides owning the Flyers and 76ers, the company's cable properties include the Golf Channel and Versus, which, thanks to the NBC Universal deal, may be transformed into a rival to Walt Disney's (DIS) ESPN. It also owns the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia, where the two teams play.

Philadelphia sports fans are a market that Comcast won't surrender easily because of their passionate devotion to their teams, which sportscasters sometimes mock. This is exactly the type of audience that advertisers covet.

For instance, the first-place Flyers have the National Hockey League's fifth-largest TV viewership, while the National Basketball Association's Sixers have struggled for years to attract fans. In July, more than 200,000 fans tuned in to watch Phillies games, an increase of more than 16% from the previous season. At the time, the team was playing barely .500 baseball. The Phillies attracts the seventh-largest radio audience in the major leagues. Baseball fans have huge expectations for the Phillies this year because of the off-season signing of pitcher Cliff Lee, who was a fan favorite during his earlier tour with the team.

Comcast will have to offer these fans some sweet deals once they can watch their teams on satellite.


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keelytm

This is really interesting. My brother lives in Philly and is a big sports fan. But he's not a Comcast customer. He's actually one of the DirecTV Philadelphia customers. We don't talk a lot, so I'm wondering if their deal ever went through to make it so he's be able to watch his sports. I think it should, otherwise it kind of sounds like a monopoly situation, which I think is illegal. ( http://www.mydirectgroove.com/direct-tv/directv-philadelphia-pa )

February 29 2012 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
keelytm

This is really interesting. My brother lives in Philly and is a big sports fan. But he's not a Comcast customer. He's actually one of the DirecTV Philadelphia customers. We don't talk a lot, so I'm wondering if their deal ever went through to make it so he's be able to watch his sports. I think it should, otherwise it kind of sounds like a monopoly situation, which I think is illegal. ( http://www.mydirectgroove.com/direct-tv/directv-philadelphia-pa )

February 29 2012 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
andytobia

ATTENTION FOLKS!! Join the following Facebook Group, "Give DirecTV the BOOT if they don't add Philly Comcast Sportsnet NOW!!". The link to the group is right here:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_192572164127058

DTV customers who are Philly sports fans have suffered long enough without having Comcast Sportsnet to see their favorite games. Share the link with family and friends. Let DirecTV know we're FED UP!!

June 05 2011 at 8:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
yolanda

I hate Comcast and will never go back to them. They wanted to charge me an extra $60 just to add 3 channels to my current Extended Basic package which was $11.99. I told them to cancel it, and to punish me, they added $30 to my internet service, so I told them where to go. Now I have dishnetwork for $14.99 with HBO for an extra $16.00. The programming is great, and so it their cutomer service. For internet, I signed up with AT&T for $14.99/month. One of these days Comcast is going to self implode - their customer service reps (I have seen them in person) are brought in with special buses from certain low income neighborhoods in the city, and many of them you can tell can hardly speak English correctly, much less even want to help you. They sound like a bunch of robots with ghetto accents !!!!

February 10 2011 at 2:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alinskysucks

Yep, take comcast up on their $99 a month bundle for TV, phone and internet, and watch your bill double after the introductory period expires... Then what?

February 10 2011 at 12:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jvmayer

DEAR COMCAST,

Years ago I cancelled my cable tv with you because you CHARGE WAY TOO MUCH, PERIOD!! I bought a cable converter box so I could at least watch tv (12 channels of crap I might add) but hey, at least it's some t.v. rather than no t.v. at all. And why, by the way, do we have 6 of those 12 channels playing mexican t.v. programs? <--question aimed at the free t.v. gods, not comcast. My point is, I'd rather sit and watch an entire program in espanol, not know a damn thing they are talking about, be bored to death and yadda yadda yadda, than pay COM-COMMUNISTS my hard -earned $$$ for their junk. BUT, THE SAD THING IS, YOU HAVE MONOPOLIZED THE COUNTRY FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT AFFORD SATELLITE T.V. AND TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH YOUR $60 A MONTH FOR HIGH SPEED INTERNET IS A BONA FIDE RIPOFF.

February 10 2011 at 10:34 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jvmayer's comment
alinskysucks

Yeah, they pretty much have us by the ... well, you know...

February 10 2011 at 12:15 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
manmi1

Why is there NO competition in cable t.v. companies? I don't like dish t.v. as every time it storms here it goes out. But why is Comcast the ONLY provider in a market area?

February 10 2011 at 9:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Holly Pc

If you dont like the high prices. DONT watch T.V. Plain and simple...... Go to Best buy and buy a box where you can still watch t.v. , it cost 49.99 and NO MONTHLY fee.... Shut the xxxx up

February 10 2011 at 9:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elaine

Comcast BITES

February 10 2011 at 8:20 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
LunarSnowStorm

Comcast can do anything they want. They own just about all the congressmen. Now you know why they charge so much, BRIBES DON'T COME CHEAP.

February 10 2011 at 6:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply