Broadcasting Still a Major Concern for the Hornets (2011-2012 edition)

Published: August 18, 2011

On the B.S. Report, David Stern mentioned that the Hornets are negotiating a new TV deal. Since their contract with CST runs another year, it’s a safe assumption that the negotiating being done is with them at this stage. I can imagine that the team’s number one priority is secure as many greenbacks as possible, but that really shouldn’t be the sole determining factor in negotiations.

A while back I wrote an article titled Broadcasting Still a Major Concern for the Hornets, which was met with some well deserved criticism from TopherPrice. At the time there were a few issues which I didn’t fully grasp (and that likely remains the case today). Don’t get me wrong, though. The problems were real and they remain to be real. I may have oversimplified and placed blame on the wrong people at the time, but thanks to Topher, I can now re-approach the subject from a more informed perspective.

Before we begin I want to express my deep admiration for Cox Sports Television’s staff in the New Orleans Arena. Everybody I have met has been fantastic, and the broadcast is overall an exceptional experience. Also, since we last checked in last time, the number one problem (the Northshore issue) has been crossed off the list. That was a big deal, and it opens up a large, wealthy, quickly growing population to the world of the Hornets. Unfortunately, it took eight years or something like that to get it done.

The Hornets put forth so much effort and consideration into building and maintaining a fan base in the community through local events, camps and parties, that it is all the more surprising that for so many years they have allowed a sub-par broadcasting contract to slow their growth in the local market. The following are issues that have long existed on the business side of things, and will only prove a burden as the franchise tries to cement itself as a local fixture.  These deficiencies incontrovertibly slow the growth of the local fan base, creating hurdles where none should exist for hundreds of thousands of potential season ticket holders, merchandise consumers, and fans.

Problem one: DirecTV doesn’t carry Cox Sports, and Cox doesn’t have NFL Sunday Ticket

New Orleans is football watching town, and although there is clearly room for two sports, NFL Sunday Ticket reigns supreme. It’s awesome, and combined with Red Zone it’s the best thing going in football broadcasting. Since only DirecTV carries this, sports bars (and fans) in New Orleans (who traditionally lean toward football) have to choose between watching every NFL game through DirecTV, or most of the Hornets games through Cox.

So many bars decide to get DirecTV for Sunday Ticket. The result is that a huge number of bars in the area simply never have Hornets games playing on their TV’s, which means there is little to no Hornets exposure to people who aren’t already fans.

If you’re at a bar and the local team is in a tight game, you know that most people, sports fans or not, are going to watch the last few seconds. It’s in those seconds that fans can be made. All it takes is one buzzer beating three resulting in a bar explosion of high fives and yelling, while someone is a little tipsy, to turn them into a casual fan. All it takes for a casual fan to turn into a real fan is a little more exposure (like seeing a game at home on TV). Maybe they then decide to check out a live game some time, and what do you know, they have a blast. All of a sudden they want season tickets, not just for them, but for their family and friends.

But no… That can’t happen at a stupid number of bars. Even if it does, those would-be fans might never see the game on TV at home that takes their fandom to the next level.

I tried to book watch parties at a few places a while back, and it wasn’t until after I had nearly wrapped up negotiations that I realized that the bar had DirecTV, not Cox. I had to scrap those plans. Oddly enough I did the same thing a few months later when trying to book another one. Maybe it’s because I naturally assumed that sports bars would be able to show Hornets games. I sure am foolish!

The strangest thing about the issue isn’t that you can’t watch the Hornets at all the local sports bars (but really, isn’t that crazy?), it’s that the Hornets aren’t broadcast to sports fans with a proven willingness to pay hundreds of dollar out of pocket just to watch additional sports one day a week on TV. Doesn’t it seem like that would be exactly the audience that the Hornets would insist have access to their product?

My solution: Stop blacking out NBA League Pass for locals, or pressure CST to get a deal done with DirecTV as part of the new agreement. If necessary, the Hornets should take less money to get this done.

Comment from hewhorocks: I’m a season ticket holder and cant watch away games because I have Direct TV. Away Games! OK so buy the League pass? Nope they are blacked out! Hmm League pass broad band? Nope! So essentially I can ex DirecTV and go sans Baseball, NFL etc, or get an IP Mask and get international Broadband league pass. Quick question Hornets– What are the chances of a typical sports fan in New Orleans (NFL -first) flicking stations and catching a Hornets game and seeing the team and becoming a supporter? Not very likely.

TopherPrice’s Response: I know that Direct TV doesn’t want to add it because of the large amount of capital outlay to get the feed back to their closest satellite aggregation and uplink area. (edit-some incorrect information was removed) NFL Season Ticket is an exclusive channel offering between the NFL and Direct TV.  Call the NFL and ask them why they won’t let any other video providers offer the service.  Any cable company, phone company, and even Dish Network would offer it if they allowed it, but they don’t.  Oh while your at it, call your congressman and ask them why Direct TV is allowed to have sole control of a commodity and service as impactful to the entertainment world like the NFL.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some competition as to who you could pick to provide you with your NFL Sunday Ticket.

Problem two: Who Dat Broadcast all the Games?

There are 15 games this year that Cox sports and national TV don’t cover. In order to watch those all 82 games this year, a local fan would have a to purchase a combination of the NBA TV, NBA League Pass and Cox cable/Dish.

For obvious reasons the local fan base should be given every opportunity to follow the team, and what better way to get them involved than to give them an easy way to watch all the games?

My solution: If Cox Sports has exclusive broadcast rights, then make sure that they provide coverage of every game unavailable on national TV. Or perhaps H247 can just offer to broadcast games with a webcam.

LSUhornet17’s comment: What makes it worse is that CST inevitably chooses a majority of their blacked-out deals to be road games, so even season ticket holders can’t watch the games. If they are dead set on this miserable 65 game plan, they should at least have the decency to televise all the games that locals can’t go a buy a ticket for and attend.

TopherPrice’s Response: I agree.  But again, blame is on the Hornets.  As they approach the re-negotiation of the broadcasting agreement, they have leverage to pressure moves they want like more complete coverage.  Maybe, those 15 games they don’t cover isn’t as high a priority as some other concession to the Hornets organization.  But in the end, the Hornets are the problem as long as CST is fulfilling their agreement.

Problem three: High definition is often not available

Watching a game that isn’t in high definition feels like watching a VHS tape from the 1980′s. It’s 2011, so CST needs to get with the program and offer high definition broadcasts for every game. High definition is a substantial upgrade in sports viewing, especially among the younger crowd and those more likely to splurge on tickets or merchandise. Even on a big TV in standard definition, it’s sometimes hard to tell who the players are. Provide fans who desire high definition with a higher quality viewing experience and they are going to enjoy it more, virtually assuring that they keep watching in the future.

Solution: Make sure the next agreement stipulates that the games are broadcast in high definition.

JCS’s comment: As fan, I have put my faith and money in this team and would greatly appreciate hearing local announcers for home games on League Pass as well high definition.

TopherPrice’s response: Yep, it would be nice to have it on all games.  It costs money to broadcast in HD.  From renting the special truck to process the video, to the large difference in cost to uplink the larger bandwidth feed, to other operating cost involved with HD vs. standard definition.  Again, this is all on the Hornets organization to make CST understand how and what is important to them moving forward.

Problem four: 249 channels for the price of one?

What if you live in New Orleans and you want to watch the Hornets games, but don’t want the other 55,000 shopping, religious, foreign language, music, and news channels? What if you, like so many others, have realized that almost every single network show worth watching is available legally through Hulu and the network websites, so really all you need is an internet subscription to see whatever you want with less commercials? Well, that and a 10 dollar HDMI cable for your laptop.

Tough luck.

Oddly enough, it’s those who live outside of New Orleans who get to watch nearly every Hornets game for the price of NBA League Pass. It’s blacked out for locals not just in New Orleans, but for every NBA market.

My solution: Stop blacking out NBA League Pass for locals, or at least for those who purchase ticket plans. This is contractual problem at the moment.

TopherPrice’s Response: Thing to remember is that ALL the blame [for packaging channels] lies on the channel providers like ESPN, FOX, Disney, etc.

I realize this remains a wishlist, but the fact of the matter is that in a small market like New Orleans, the Hornets need access to all possible fans.

The reality is that you can find free illegal streams online for every NBA, NFL, and MLB game. This isn’t something that is going to decrease in availability, either. Actually, illegal streaming has become a huge problem for the NFL and MLB. Their attempts to combat it have been failing thus far, and as people realize more and more that there are alternatives to packaged cable, they will turn away from the stone age cable companies.

In medicine, preventative care is much cheaper than curative or palliative care, and that same principal came be applied to the problems the Hornets face in their local market. It’s in the Hornets best interest to combat these issues before they completely snowball into something nearly impossible to fix. Once the Hornets have been in town for 10 or 15 years, and everyone with DirecTV still hasn’t seen a game on TV, it’s going to be next to impossible to convert them even if they can all of a sudden watch the games at home.

Small market clubs like the Hornets rely more on ticket sales to earn a profit than the big market teams do. The time is now to increase their local television viewership, overall fan base, and consequently their attendance. Unfortunately, the odds of season ticket holders being given an exemption from the blackout of NBA League Pass are slim, and the chances that CST will broadcast every non-nationally televised game on Cox, or any at all on DirecTV, is probably just as unlikely.

While there is little doubt that CST will offer the Hornets the best deal in terms of yearly monetary compensation, one must wonder whether or not the Hornets should shoot themselves in the foot again by accepting a new deal without assurances that the games will be broadcast to a greater percentage of the local population. By allowing a bunch of television executives, more concerned with their own quarterly profits than the long term viability of the Hornets franchise, to dictate who receives game broadcasts, the Hornets will continue to face an uphill battle expanding their local fan-base.


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