"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, November 15, 2010

Television blackouts in Wisconsin for some Marquette fans

Some Marquette fans were left in the dark Friday night for Marquette's first game of the season. Unfortunately, it won't be the last time. Time Warner Cable (TWC) has purchased the local television rights for a number of Marquette games this season. As part of the agreement, TWC has exclusive control of MU games in certain zip codes in Eastern Wisconsin and even part of Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The area in black is controlled by TWC (map insert below). So what does this mean for
Marquette fans living in those areas? It means you're out of luck unless you have Time Warner Cable.....well, likely out of luck. You may have a few options but none are guaranteed.

We should probably first state that what TWC has done is nothing new. In fact it's part of the general landscape of television content, especially sports, across the country. With cable providers losing substantial number of subscribers in the last 10 years to DIRECTV, DISH Network and more recently to FIOS and Uverse, they have chosen to purchase rights to local sports content to prevent customers from leaving their systems. It's a protective strategy. Cox Cable in San Diego does it with the San Diego Padres, Cox New Orleans has a similar deal with the Hornets are just two of a number of examples.

So what's a girl (or guy) to do to watch her Warriors this year on the tube? First, let's identify what games this current situation extends to. TWC has agreed to carry 14 games on their cable systems as part of TWC Sports 32. Two of these games have already been played, so 12 to go for the year. If you live in a TWC area and have TWC, then you're good to go. If you live in a Charter area and have no ability to get TWC even if you wanted to (cable territories are monopolies and agreed territories are contingent upon the cable provider and the community)....well you have no true television option if you stay with Charter. However, you do have an ESPN3 option...more on that later.

What about satellite or Telco customers (AT&T Uverse)? TWC 32 is not offered as a local channel on DIRECTV or DISH Network for obvious reasons. Customers of those two services may have some luck by purchasing the out of market RSN (Regional Sports Network) packages. For DISH, it is called the Multi Sport Package and includes 25 RSNs, including SNY and MASN from the East coast. On DIRECTV, the package is called Sports Pack and includes 28 RSNs, including SNY and MASN. The reason why SNY and MASN are key is that they are partners with the Big East in delivering the Big East Network. Some Marquette customers living in the blackout listed areas above may be able to see the games (the TWC 32 feeds) if they subscribe to those packages. On Friday evening, some fans reported the ability to watch the games from both satellite services if they had those packages while others did not have the same luck. This is no guarantee that will continue in the future.

What about the ESPN Full Court option? Sorry, not an option. ESPN Full Court is considered an Out Of Market sports package, much like many others that you read about (NBA League Pass, NHL Center Ice, etc). ESPN is taking the TWC32 feed and delivering it via Full Court to customers subscribing to that sports package but ONLY if they live outside of the designated TWC territories (i.e. not in the black areas on the map).

ESPN3.com? ESPN3 is also packaging ESPN Full Court as part of their service offering. However, in order to become a customer of ESPN3 one must be a customer of an ISP (Internet Service Provider) that has a deal with ESPN. In other words, a customer cannot just sign up for ESPN3. Instead, ESPN has struck deals with large ISPs much like they do for their linear content television distributors. If you happen to be an ESPN3.com customers in the areas listed in black above, you may be ok. The fact of the matter is that blackouts are rarely applied on internet delivery broadcasts...at least not yet in all areas. That won't last forever, but you will likely be ok in the short term until the technology catches up to geo block. Mileage may vary on that, depends where you live.

Of course there are also some additional creative and crude ways in which MU fans are watching games this year. We don't recommend or condone any of them, but industrious fans will often go the extra mile if they are cut off from their content.

It's easy to get angry at Marquette Athletics or TWC in this situation, but they're both doing what they feel is right for their business. In MU's case, they get distribution and some money. Unfortunately their partner doesn't provide their channel to other providers in the Milwaukee or surrounding areas, but that's the situation in a very competitive pay television industry today. For TWC, they're just doing what they can to prevent poachers of their service to other alternatives.

For those caught in the middle, we wish you the best and hope that one of the alternatives works for you.

GO Warriors!

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