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Comcast, YES dispute threatens shutout of Yankees fans

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Money may force close to one million Yankee fans to scramble for ways to watch the team in 2016.

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Spring training is finally upon us. The fresh start of another baseball season stimulates all of the fans' senses. You can almost smell the freshly cut grass on the practice fields where outfielders shag fly balls. The sweet sound of the crack of a bat during batting practice rings in your ears. And your sense of sight allows you to take in.....this screen.

(Image from Philly.com)

(Image from Philly.com)

As many of you know, Comcast and the YES Network have been locked in dispute that resulted in Comcast dropping the network on Nov. 18, leaving over 900,000 people in Connecticut, northern New Jersey, and Pennsylvania without the Yankees as the season rapidly approaches. Granted, not all 900,000 YES subscribers in those areas are Yankee fans, but many are.

The crux of the dispute is that YES (which is 80% owned by 21st Century Fox, with the remaining 20% owned by the Yankees) is demanding that Comcast pay a higher fee in order for the cable provider to carry the network (otherwise known as a carriage fee). Comcast has claimed that viewership of YES in those areas has dropped drastically over the past several years, and that such a rise in the carriage fee (YES is reportedly asking for a 33% increase) for Comcast to pay is not worth it. For its part, YES claims that the carriage fee they are currently asking for is on par with what other regional sports networks in the area sell their rights to Comcast for.

Now, considering that this has happened during baseball's offseason, it hasn't really been a major deal to this point. As a Comcast subscriber myself, I can't say that I missed watching my Nets play horrendous basketball or seeing "Yankeeography: Derek Jeter" for the 257th time.

However, with baseball season right on our doorstep, it's beginning to get pretty dicey. With the Yankees first spring training game set for tomorrow, an executive for YES recently told NJ Advance Media that there was "nothing to report" on any kind of negotiations between the two sides.

For such Yankee fans in a similar predicament to me, there are few options available. You can switch cable providers, obviously, but in the days of bundling as an option to save money, you may end up in a worse position. Bundling with another provider may give you access to YES again, but you also risk getting a slower internet provider. Or, if you choose just to switch who you get your TV from, the total cost of what you pay might go up by paying for phone and internet with Comcast and using another provider to pay just for TV. That is provided that you have other cable providers to switch to in your area (where I am in Connecticut, for instance, Comcast is inexplicably the only cable provider in my area, and it is certainly not cheap).

Out-of-market broadcasts of Yankee opponents are blacked out on MLB.tv (baseball's streaming service), so that option will do no good. This means that, for example, you wouldn't be able to watch the Twins' broadcast if the Yankees were to play Minnesota at home or away (however, MLB.tv does allow you to watch the broadcast of the game 90 minutes after the game is over, so yeah, there's that).

Of course, there's good old-fashioned radio, which is nice for a game or two a week while you are outside during a hot summer day, but I'm not sure many people would want to listen to 130 games of John Sterling's famous "IT IS HIGH....IT IS FAR...IT IS...CAUGHT IN SHALLOW RIGHT FIELD" calls (I say 130 games because roughly 30 Yankee games a year are not broadcast on YES, so Comcast subscribers can see games on Sunday Night Baseball, FOX Sports 1 on Saturdays, or WPIX. You can also watch NESN broadcasts of Yankee/RedSox games, but yuck). Or, you can go on StubHub Yankees Ticket Exchange to see if you can print and buy seats at Yankee Stadium where Lonn Trost allows you to buy them.

If you think "They won't possibly let such a large audience not see the Yankees, there's too much money at stake," there is very recent precedence of that very thing occurring. Los Angeles Dodgers games were not shown in much of southern California due to a very similar set of circumstances. Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica explains:

"Dodgers games have been unavailable to most pay-TV subscribers in the region since the beginning of the 2014 season. That's because Time Warner Cable has exclusive rights to air Dodgers games locally on its new SportsNet LA regional network, and that company demanded that other TV providers like Charter, AT&T, and DirecTV pay more money for broadcast rights than the companies are willing to spend. Because the other TV providers refused to pay TWC for access, Dodgers games have been shown locally only on Time Warner Cable, which covers about 30 percent of the region."

Sounds pretty similar, no? Dodger games only came back on at the end of May 2015, meaning that people were paying for a station that they weren't even able to access for over a year. This is what is making many people angry with both sides of this dispute (an increase in carriage fees for YES would result in an increase in cost that Comcast users would have to pay for).

This very same thing may happen this year with YES. Could a deal come together before the regular season, making this whole story moot? Absolutely. Will a deal come together? It's hard to say, but it does not look too great right now.

(There is a bit more to this story than just carriage fees. This article from the Wall Street Journal does a very good job at explaining the entire issue as it relates to carriage fees and the new model that favors online streaming as opposed to actual TV viewership. I highly recommend it.)