Oregon (and some Washington) sports fans are being forced to endure their forth season of Comcast's stranglehold over Portland Trail Blazers games. Fans are being forced to subscribe to Comcast in order to watch the games and folks who live in areas that don't get Comcast can't even see the games because Comcast is trying to force its competitors out. It's a cautionary tale that anyone concerned about the Comcast-NBCU merger should be following.
On Thursday, Blazers fans will be rallying outside the Rose Garden before the game to hold up their remote controls in symbolic protest of the control Comcast has over their games.
The Blazers situation is indicative of Comcast's treatment of sports fans. And it's also going on in Philadelphia, as well. If Comcast purchases NBCU, they may force fans of NBC Sunday Night Football or the Olympics to subscribe to Comcast to see the games.
But don't take it from me. Here are the words of Joel Barker, a lifelong Oregonian:
I am one of the many rabid fans that populate this city. We have only one major league team and only one national championship in the entire state. We put everything we have into the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are a link between Portlanders, between Oregonians. When we come in to work in the morning, in the midst of our days, we talk about the Blazers. Chit chat about the Blazers is what brings us together.
We are famous for our fandom, and for our sellout crowds. A year ago, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons said in an interview with Ian Ruder published in the Oregonian:
The Blazer fans are crazy. They're like the crazy dude at the bar who's just so irrational you don't want to get into a full argument with them because you might get a beer bottle smashed into your head. It's because they're on the team, so it's like they're arguing about their kids almost.
If you have ever been in the Rose Garden when the Lakers come to town, you know what he's talking about. When we walk through the Rose Garden doors, we go from friendly latte-sipping hipsters to blood thirsty Cro-Magnons defending our turf.
We are blessed with an organization that is committed to our community and many of our team alumni choose to make a home in Portland after they retire. Watching the games is a communion for us fans. We do it as families, with friends. A win means a lot, but so does Coach Mo Cheeks saving the young national anthem singer.
Comcast has put a ransom on our extended family. They promised to negotiate with other providers, to compete in a fair marketplace. Instead they are making every effort to function as a monopoly. In addition, how does the NBA feel about Comcast's anti-competitive activities? The league is trying to build a fan base while Comcast is limiting their potential audience.
I am certainly appreciative of the effort that Comcast goes to in providing the games and I believe that they should be fairly compensated. They have an opportunity to be a part of our family and benefit from that goodwill. It surprises me that they should choose to instead inspire their customers - and potential customers to begrudge their very services. Is that they way that they want to do business?
This weekend, frustrated Trail Blazer fans like Joel intend to put the ball back in Comcast's court.
Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and lives in Washington, D.C. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.