Bad news on the TV front. On Thursday, CSN Houston president Matt Hutchings said in a phone interview that the network is "less and less optimistic" that carriage deals will be struck by Opening Day or by the first game aired on the new home of the Astros on Tuesday.
"We have worked extraordinarily hard here in Houston, trying to get deals done," Hutchings said. "Despite all on-going efforts, we are growing less optimistic by the day that a deal is done by start of season, including Sunday and Tuesday, our first day to cover the team.
"Our goal from day one has been that we wanted full in our five state region. We worked to make it happen by the network's launch date. We worked to get it done by Opening Day for the Rockets, for the Dynamo and now with the Astros."
You all know the drill by now. Though Hutchings didn't go into specifics about negotiations, we've talked about the points a number of times here. There's the issue of the carriage fee, which seems less on a per subscriber basis than in the Dallas market. But, there's also the issue of with DirecTV seemingly wanting to put the channel on a sports tier instead of including it on the basic channel package.
Hutchings addressed this by talking about how Houston is the only Top 10 media market without its RSN being carried on the basic tier.
"In every top 10 market, regional networks are carried in these systems," Hutchings said. "DirecTV carries local RSNs in every top market. It's confusing that Houston fans are being treated unfairly. They are not being treated the same as other markets, like Dallas. We offered our network at a competitive market rate, which is a good value for the cost, which is pennies a day. Houston and Houston teams should not be penalized."
Hutchings said that negotiations are ongoing and that they check in with the other carriers multiple times a day. They have proposals in front of every major carrier in the Houston area who does not currently carry the channel.
"We have conversations multiple times a day with our counterparts in negotiations," Hutchings said. "There are multiple components to the deal. There's a lot going on, and all hands are on deck around here to get a deal done. We are moving everything forward as fast and as furiously as possible."
When asked about whether CSN Houston has looked into lifting the blackout restrictions for MLB.TV subscribers, Hutchings said that was the league handled that and was not part of these negotiations. There also hasn't been much movement on negotiations with cable providers outside the Houston market, which is also bad news for many of you TCBers.
Hutchings' main point was that fans should take control of the situation and make a stand with cable providers. If you want the channel, demand it from them or demand money back, since they're carrying a channel instead in Fox Sports Southwest that isn't in your market.
Not sure how well that will work, but it's worth a try.
"One thing I've learned is that fans hold much more power than they think they do," Hutchings said. "Fans should call their providers and demand that they are treated the same way as fans in other major markets. Dallas gets their teams, why shouldn't Houston? Dallas is treated with respect. We're asking the same.
"We've got nearly 90,000 petitions registered through our website, through signatures collected on the street and through our toll free numbers. We've put the proposals in front of the providers. Now, they need to hear from fans. Fans should demand money back off their bill. Fans should tell them, ‘if a provider hasn't put it on, I'm going to make a choice.'"
If you're in the Houston area, be sure to tune into AM 610 tonight for Barry Warner's show. He'll have Jim Crane on at 6:30 p.m. and plans to address the TV deal along with other fan concerns.
Update: Houston Astros owner Jim Crane weighed in on negotiations as part of a radio interview with Barry Warner on SportsTalk 610 in Houston on Thursday.
"These deals have gone down to the wire in other big markets," Crane said. "We want a competitive deal for the city of Houston. We want a rights fee that is competitive with the Angels and the Rangers. There may be some short-term pain, but we're interested in long-term goals.
"DirecTV has 17 deals with Comcast. We want a market deal, the same rights deals as other teams have. We want to be a top six market and we have to get a fair deal. We don't want to jeopardize our future with a below-market deal."