Options limited to watch Sabres during stalemate
By JAMES FINK
[email protected] | 716-541-1611
Buffalo Sabres fans hoping to catch some blacked-out games on Time Warner Cable via the National Hockey League's Center Ice package can scratch that option off their list.
According to NHL rules, the package blacks out local games if there is a viewing alternative.
"Blackout decisions for out-of-market sports packages like NBA League Pass and NHL Center Ice are made strictly by the leagues themselves," said Joli Plucknette-Farman, spokesperson for Time Warner. "Time Warner Cable has no role in that decision. The leagues typically black out games on these packages in markets when games are available locally on regional sports networks, regardless of whether there's a dispute like the one with MSG."
The Center Ice package was considered by some as an alternative in light of the broken-down negotiations between Time Warner and the MSG Network.
The long-standing deal between the two expired Dec. 31 and, with no new pact signed and no new negotiations scheduled, those with Time Warner remain shut out of live Sabres coverage for any MSG game.
At issue are carriage fees that MSG wants Time Warner to pay.
Time Warner balked at a proposed 53 percent increase sought by MSG.
The deal affects 330,000 Time Warner subscribers in Western New York but also more than 2 million subscribers in the metropolitan New York market.
MSG carries New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils games in that market. A typical Sabres game is watched by one out of every six Time Warner subscribers locally.
Sabres games are still available via the MSG network, Verizon FIOS and DirectTV. But FIOS is not available in the City of Buffalo.
Time Warner and the Dish network have had a similar dispute since October 2010 that is unresolved. Dish has approximately 3,000 local customers.
The very public battle between Time Warner and MSG has raised the ire of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a hockey fan and youth hockey coach.
"If this is not settled soon, you can bet I will be making some calls," Poloncarz said.
"It is very tough telling a bunch of 10-year-old and 11-year-old fans of the Buffalo Sabres, like the kids I coach, that they can't watch their favorite team because of contract negotiations.
"You try to explain contract negotiations to kids that young," he said.