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DirecTV files for arbitration over Comcast’s sports costs

Thu, 01/08/2009 - 7:15am
Mike Robuck

Yesterday, DirecTV notified Comcast that it intends to file for arbitration over the cable operator’s rate increases for its sports networks in its San Francisco and New England footprints.

According to Reuters, DirecTV said Comcast is seeking increases of 25 percent to 40 percent. Despite the current impasse, executives from both Comcast and DirecTV told Reuters that they expect the two sports networks to stay on the air during the arbitration process.

“We continue to negotiate in good faith and have put a fair offer on the table that reflects the growing value of our networks, the investments we have made in them, and is reasonable based on market trends,” said Comcast SportsNet spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick via e-mail. “As a company with several regional sports networks of their own, DirecTV should be familiar with the rising cost of sports and the negotiation process. We would prefer to resolve this at the negotiating table, but are prepared to proceed with the arbitration process because our goal has always been to serve our viewers without interruption.”

Comcast SportsNet carries games by the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors and San Jose Sharks, which are currently in season, as well as the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics baseball teams.

DirecTV has said that Comcast is not only charging above market rates in those areas, but that the MSO is also offering one-third less programming on its Bay Area network by dropping coverage of the Oakland A’s and San Jose Sharks.

Both Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and Comcast SportsNet California, which includes Sacramento, are available to viewers throughout the area. Comcast SportsNet is looking at moving the A’s and Sharks over to the Sacramento market since the Bay Area Network currently has more professional sports teams, but both sports networks are in the process of adding more HD, increased local sports coverage, news, analysis and talk shows that will be available to all viewers.

Reuters reported that DirecTV can still negotiate terms with Comcast during a two-week cooling off period. Once the two week period is over, there will be a demand for a formal offer that includes a final offer. An arbitrator could issue a decision 30 days from the date of appointment, but a decision may also take several months.

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