My friend’s grandmother is 84 years old. She has been a lifelong baseball fan and can name the starting lineup of the New York Yankees without hesitation. She doesn’t get out much anymore and stays mainly inside her house.
When the recent dispute between FOX and Cablevision caused her and over 3 million other viewers in New York and Philadelphia to miss the entire NLCS and the first two games of the World Series, she became utterly depressed.
She called Cablevision repeatedly to no avail. The poor woman had waited an entire summer for the playoffs. At 84, her biggest passion is watching baseball and it’s what she lives for. She was robbed – the exact thing that the Sports Fans Coalition is trying to prevent.
If you think that’s unfair, the fact that some viewers in Oregon haven’t been able to watch Portland Trail Blazers games in over three years must be mind-blowing.
The Blazers signed a 10-year, $120 million deal with Comcast in 2007 to broadcast its games. Since that time, Comcast and DirecTV, Dish Network, Charter Communications, and several other cable carriers have not been able to agree on a deal; therefore, most Blazers games are unavailable on other carriers.
This season, Comcast SportsNet Northwest is scheduled to broadcast 55 games exclusively.
Brian Frederick, Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition
Lost in the shuffle of greed is a sports fan’s right to watch games on television that he or she has paid for in cable services.
Struck by the injustice of it all, I sought out Brian Frederick, Executive Director of the Sports Fans Coalition, for a phone interview. The organization sprung up last year because co-founder David Goodfriend, a deputy staff secretary for the Clinton White House and now a lobbyist, realized that a fan advocacy group was missing in a city (Washington D.C.) that had advocacy groups for everything else.
The 35-year-old is perfect for the job. His father, Bob, was a former player, coach, athletic director, and sports education professor at the University of Kansas.
“I grew up in sports. I watched my dad work with the media, boosters, chancellor, and the janitors; I saw him treating everyone the same way,” Frederick said. “He was all about equality and fairness.”
Frederick now carries his father’s vision. “When I say I stick up for all sports fans, I really mean that. I care for all sports fans.”
A Labor of Love
For anyone who thinks that Frederick is making the big bucks, think again. “This is a labor of love,” he said. “We’re non-profit. We’re not trying to get rich, we’re not trying to make money off of this. We believe that sports is important enough that people should be thought of.”
The purpose of the Sports Fans Coalition is to give the people a unified voice. The goal is to become such a powerful presence, like the AARP or NRA, that the organization can influence major decisions in the sports world in a positive way for fans.
“We’re hoping it gets to the point where the next time they want to black out the World Series, we’ll have a million members in the coalition, which will make them think twice about their actions,” Frederick said.
The coalition is made up completely of fans. Frederick encourages fans to sign up and become members through every way possible – even if it means trekking through bars or sporting events with a clipboard.
At the moment, there are more than 2,000 members. When Frederick took over in August as the organization’s first (and only) full-time employee, the coalition only had 400 members. Frederick is interactive with the members; he sends out email updates every few weeks about what they’ve been working on and what the current issues are, as well as writing several blogs a day.
Joining the Coalition
Membership is free. The first step is just about getting members. Monetary funding comes from corporate donors, such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable, who are concerned about blackouts affecting their businesses.
“Down the road, we’re definitely going to have to draw on our members for support if we want to make some serious policy changes,” Frederick said. “But right now, we’re content to just get people to sign up so that we can make more noise to be heard. Right now, we’re about raising the issues.”
Blackouts are not the only issue. Extravagant ticket prices, possible lockouts in the NBA and NFL, and an unpopular BCS system are all negatively affecting a fan’s right to enjoy games to the fullest.
In addition, the fans are the ones who are providing the public money for most of the expensive new stadiums. “Stadiums are sucking money from the public and putting money in owners’ pockets. Sports fans are going to continue being manipulated by people who are running these leagues,” Frederick said.
“The money that people spend on tickets, beer, sporting gear – the money that we invest in sports on an individual basis and in communities is extraordinary. This is about making sure that certain basic rights are met.”
The Sports Fans Coalition encourages its members to take action. Whether it’s lobbying their local government, engaging the local media, or just speaking out, the members have a voice that needs to be heard.
“I don’t think the fact that sports fans are so diverse with so many opinions should dismiss the idea of organizing people. There are things we all agree on, like wanting the NFL season to happen,” Frederick said.
Oregon State Government Gets Involved
In Oregon, the Comcast situation got so bad that the government stepped in. In February, the Oregon House of Representatives held a hearing on the matter; Sports Fans Coalition co-founder Brad Blakeman testified at the hearing on behalf of fans. Click below for his testimony:
The Blazers organization is very unhappy, as well. In July, the Blazers sent a letter to the Federal Communication Commission, asking the agency to look into the dispute. Team President Larry Miller even wrote that fans were being “held hostage.”
As if that weren’t enough, FOX and Dish argued over service fees for a month in October. During that time, all FOX channels were blacked out on Dish, including the FSN regional networks that broadcast games for 17 NBA teams.
Comcast Needs to be Stopped
Fans in Philadelphia are all too familiar with the wrestling of cable companies. Comcast owns the Flyers and the 76ers, which means that Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia is the obvious cable provider for games.
However, the company broadcasts the signals “using microwave and fiber optics it inherited from the Prism Network, which Comcast took over to create CSN. Because those older technologies are not compatible with those used by DirecTV and Dish, Comcast did not have to make CSN available to them.”
It was so ridiculous that the FCC stepped in several months ago and put an end to it, forcing Comcast and the satellite networks to negotiate. However, the negotiations continue to stall.
“Despite the FCC’s ruling that it considers the withholding of sports programming by companies like Comcast to contradict the letter and spirit of FCC rules, Comcast still refuses to make its sports programming available to anyone other than Comcast subscribers,” Frederick said.
In addition, Comcast and NBC Universal filed papers in January, asking the government to approve Comcast’s acquisition of NBC. Frederick said, “Nobody really knows when the process will be completed but the FCC is expected to weigh in sometime in the next few weeks.”
“The FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice have to approve the merger, and states can try to block it via attorneys general, but there don’t seem to be any states attempting to do that right now. But, that’s why we’re appealing to the Oregon state legislature and the Oregon attorney general to take action.”
The Sports Fans Coalition started a petition asking the Oregon General Assembly to “block the Comcast/NBC merger unless and until Trail Blazer fans are provided access to their games on TV.”
500 fans have already signed the petition, and Frederick has been slammed with radio appearances and phone interviews. In fact, he and Blakeman plan to travel to Portland next week.
Bob Frederick Would be Proud
Although it is a hectic and stressful time, the most difficult part of Frederick’s job is not having his father around. Bob passed away this past summer at the age of 69. “I wish that I could call him and talk to him on a daily basis,” Frederick said. “It’s just a shame that all of his knowledge and wisdom aren’t here. It’s the first time I’ve worked in sports, and he’s not around.”
But, Frederick knows without a shadow of a doubt that he’s on the right path and doing the right thing. “My father was always concerned about using sports as a way to instill ethics and integrity. He wanted the game to be free of corruption and scandal,” Frederick said. “I think he would’ve been proud of what I’ve been trying to do.”