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TMCNet:  Fans express frustration over lack of Rockets, Astros network

[November 25, 2012]

Fans express frustration over lack of Rockets, Astros network

Nov 25, 2012 (Victoria Advocate - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Fox Sports Houston had been the home of Houston Rockets and Houston Astros games in Victoria for nearly 10 years.

For Rockets fans in Victoria, like Travis Smith, 29, it's been the only way to consistently follow his favorite team. However, both the Rockets and Astros changed television carriers from Fox Sports to Comcast's new venture called Comcast Sportsnet Houston.

Comcast does not currently serve the Victoria area and the new channel isn't being carried by Suddenlink, DirecTV or Dish Network yet. That means fans of either team aren't able to watch their games.

"It's frustrating," said Smith, a fifth-grade teacher at Northside Baptist School. "I was excited for the season to start and since the trades for Jeremy Lin and James Harden I have really wanted to see them play." Smith has been a fan of the Rockets since he was six years old and Hakeem Olajuwon was blocking shots and leading Houston to a NBA title in the 1994-1995 season.

"The Spurs were always on, but I never liked them," Smith said. "It was something about watching Hakeem that made me like them." Now, like other Rockets fans living in Victoria County, he's unable to watch his favorite team play. Currently, Comcast is in negotiations with the major cable and satellite television providers.

"We continue to have good conversations with the major providers," said Rich Bocchini, communications manager for Comcast SportsNet Houston. "Our goal is to be as widely distributed as possible and that's what we're working on right now." Television negotiations like these have a history of dragging out. Comcast began a similar deal like the one with the Rockets and Astros with the Portland Trailblazers six years ago. There is still no deal between Comcast and providers like Dish Network and DirecTV. A year ago, Time Warner Cable and DirecTV finally made a deal to provide the Lakers games to the Los Angeles area. The main roadblock in their deal was Time Warner cable asking for $3.95 per subscriber. The YES Network, which carries the New York Yankees, charges roughly $3 per subscriber.

While there are negotiations and conversations going on between the two sides, there is no timeline for a deal to get done.

"Unfortunately, there is no specific timeline," Bocchini said. "The Knicks had a similar situation last year with Cablevision. Once Jeremy Lin came onto the scene the needle moved a little bit and they got a deal done. There is not set timeline, but we hope to have a deal done as soon as possible." The new channel, which will be available to viewers who don't have Comcast eventually, launched this past October and plans to carry over 150 Astros games and over 65 Rockets games, beginning this season. It has a large footprint with five states (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico) being included in it, but only the Houston area is able to get the channel in Texas.

A majority of Comcast Sportsnet Houston is owned by the Astros, and the Rockets own the second-most. It operates as a member of NBC Sports Group, but is under control by NBC Universal and Comcast, who purchased the company last year.

"Those who have it, love it," Bocchini said. "We're finding people like everything from the news shows to our college football programming. I know that doesn't help those who don't get the channel, but we understand their frustration. We're frustrated as well." While there are some who are happy with the new deal, there are still plenty who aren't. Those people have a place to voice their concerns with an online petition. The petitions are being used to show television providers there is a demand for the channel.

As of mid-October, about 1,000 people from Victoria had signed the petition, Bochini said.

"From when the Rockets' season started, we've seen an increase in the number of names each week," Bocchini explained. "In the five weeks since the season started, the petition has increased 40 percent." Suddenlink is the major cable television provider in Victoria and, along with DirecTV and Dish Network, will be the only providers with Comcast Sportsnet Houston when a deal is signed with each provider, individually. However, not even the NBA League Pass allows fans to watch the Rockets.

"Unfortunately for those fans, until Suddenlink signs a deal, there is no way to watch the games," Bocchini said.

At least legally, that is. Some fans have been able to find Internet sites illegally broadcasting games, but Smith said it's not a good idea.

"It's not something I try to do," he said.

While Smith does like to watch some regular season games, he watches more during the playoffs. However, the NBA playoffs begin next spring, after the Astros and other MLB teams have begun their seasons by that point.

With other television negotiations lasting multiple years in recent history, a deal for Victoria residents may threaten their MLB season and NBA post season.

"They need to fix it up pretty quickly," Smith said.

___ (c)2012 Victoria Advocate (Victoria, Texas) Visit Victoria Advocate (Victoria, Texas) at www.victoriaadvocate.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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