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Comcast Dispute Leaves Yankee Fans Without A TV Network To Watch

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Major League Baseball begins on Sunday. And many fans in the Northeast are in danger of missing the action when the Yankees start on Monday. The Yankees Entertainment Sports Network, or YES, has a contract dispute with cable provider Comcast. Yankee fans, you might miss the game, and Boston Red Sox fans feel so sorry for you. Here's Stephen Nessen of member station WNYC.

STEPHEN NESSEN, BYLINE: Joseph Katarba is a 40-year-old auto mechanic. But he defines himself as a dyed-in-the-wool third-generation Yankees fan. But he lives in Washington, N.J., where the only cable provider in town is Comcast.

JOSEPH KATARBA: It makes me nuts. The price that I pay for my Comcast cable is over the line to begin with.

NESSEN: He has no plans to abandon his pinstriped pride, but Comcast, on the other hand, hasn't carried YES since November. And Katarba isn't so loyal to his service provider.

KATARBA: It's going to be a big change to not be able to watch the games. I'm sure I'll be able to watch online. But it's just not - it's not the same thing.

NESSEN: Both sides are digging in their heels prepared for a long slog. At issue seems to be money. Comcast says YES is charging too much to broadcast its channel. YES says Comcast is asking for preferential treatment in its contract. The blackout affects Comcast customers in parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Comcast says these viewers don't watch YES enough to warrant the high fees, which are passed on to all customers. YES CEO Tracy Dolgin says it charges roughly the same price no matter where customers are located.

TRACY DOLGIN: The reason we're able to do that is that the Yankees are pretty much as popular, you know, in New York City as they are in Buffalo, N.Y., the edge of our territory.

NESSEN: Dolgin says Comcast is being disingenuous and that after it dropped YES in November it actually raised its fees. Comcast says that's true, but it's due to other channels raising their costs. Comcast Executive Vice President For Consumer Affairs Marcien Janckes says there's just not enough viewers to make it worth carrying YES at the current price.

MARCIEN JANCKES: I think they believe that they could hold the Yankees fans, on some level, hostage around this price negotiation, and that's what they decided to do.

NESSEN: John Ourand is a media reporter at Sports Business Daily. He says cable companies are realizing they don't have to pay the high fees demanded by regional sports networks like YES.

JOHN OURAND: I think that distributors really have become emboldened now. They're much more willing to drop sports channels in markets where the fans aren't as avid.

NESSEN: The Yankees do charge some of the highest fees for broadcast rights. As cable customers demand smaller packages and lower costs, it's harder for companies to pass on high network fees to consumers. And the cable companies know switching providers isn't always so easy.

Fifty-year-old Yankee fan Craig Rieman in Avon, Conn., had to make a tough decision. He's relied on Comcast for everything, from Yankees games to his email account, for 20 years. But he's been a Yankee fan all his life. So he spent this week downloading every email in his Comcast account. He signed up for a new provider.

CRAIG RIEMAN: We're going to save $40 a month. I hope the service is good. I hope the Internet's as fast.

NESSEN: So he's ready for opening day. YES and Comcast - not so much. Both sides say they're not budging. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Nessen in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.