SBD/Issue 235/Sports Media

DirecTV Set To Drop Versus If No Deal Reached By Next Tuesday

The deal for DirecTV to carry Comcast-owned Versus expires next Tuesday, and as "bad blood is brewing at the negotiating table," DirecTV is "prepared to drop-kick Versus to the curb if an 11th-hour deal can't be reached," according to Ray Buck of the FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. DirecTV Dir of PR Robert Mercer in an e-mail said the company is "continuing to try and negotiate a fair deal," but it intends to "hold the line on our programming costs and protect our customers against unwarranted price increases that may result from Comcast’s demands that we believe are discriminatory and unrealistic given current market realities." Buck notes NHL and Mountain West Conference fans "have the most to lose if Versus and DirecTV decide to break up." The net begins its college football coverage on September 12 with "three nationally ranked teams playing on back-to-back Saturdays."  But Mercer said DirecTV customers "still have the ability to watch NHL, college football and other sports available on Versus on channels like Big Ten Network, The Mtn., ESPN, ESPNU, the regional sports networks, NHL Network and NHL Center Ice, for example." Buck writes that is "negotiation-table fodder that seems to put the heat on Versus, or does it?" A Versus source yesterday said the net views itself as a "growing network on fire." Versus: "We’re still talking and hoping we can reach an agreement." Versus is currently in 75 million HHs, up from 62 million in '06 (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 8/25).

IMPACT ON SPORTS: In Milwaukee, Dave Kallmann wrote the dispute is not good for "fans of the IRL, NHL, college football and the Tour de France, among other sports." DirecTV not carrying Versus is the "last thing the IRL needs as it tries to build its fan base complete and high-quality broadcasts" (JSONLINE.com, 8/24). The INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL's Anthony Schoettle wrote while DirecTV "doesn't represent a huge viewing universe, the IRL can hardly afford to lose access to its more than 17 million North American subscribers" (IBJ.com, 8/24). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS' Maggie Hendricks reported World Extreme Cagefighting's (WEC) September 2 WEC 43 event in Youngstown, Ohio, has been postponed until October 10. But the "good side of this postponement is that it gives executives from Versus a chance to work out a deal with DirecTV" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/24).

REALLY IN GOOD FAITH? The SPORTING BLOG's Dan Levy wrote both sides "claim to be working in good faith on a fair-market deal, but one has to wonder if DirecTV is turning the screws on Versus because the network is owned by Comcast." Levy: "Or conversely, is the network trying to overcharge DirecTV as part of some weird, face-spiting, counter-intuitive plan to have the network on fewer television services, thus giving Comcast (the cable carrier) more exclusivity with the NHL and other sports leagues that have coverage deals with Versus" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/24).

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