NEW YORK — A battle between media giants Time Warner Cable and Fox/Liberty/Cablevision Systems will deprive 1.1 million New York City cable subscribers of 12 of the remaining games of the New York Mets’ 1997 season.
Time Warner claims that it was still negotiating in good faith in an attempt to lower the $3 million in additional charges Sportschannel New York wants to impose for the extra Mets games. These add-on games became available earlier this year when WWOR, the broadcast outlet for the Mets, decided to carry only 50 games instead of last year’s 75. (Sportschannel is 60% owned by Chuck Dolan’s Cablevision and 40% by Rupert Murdoch and John Malone’s Fox/Liberty Sports.)
Sportschannel has a different story, arguing that TW adamantly refused to pay what Sportschannel regards as a fair price for the additional games of a team with a shot at the playoffs and that the negotiations were going nowhere. TW’s Gotham system will still carry 11 Mets games based on the old contract.
The tug-of-war is part of a bigger dispute in which cable operators such as TW are trying to get a handle on soaring programming costs.Sources say TW Cable pays a staggering $1.25 a month per sub for the Madison Square Garden network, which, like Sportschannel, is owned by Cablevision/Fox/Liberty. It pays less for Sportschannel — a still strapping monthly fee of 75¢ a subscriber — because the cable system, at the request of Dolan, agreed two years ago to move it from pay to basic.
The Sportschannel contract with TW Cable ran out in January — with both sides agreeing to continue under the old agreement as they keep talking — and the MSG contract is up at the end of 1997. Sources say the two sports channels are asking for an increase of 50% in monthly license fees, which TW is firmly resisting.
Barry Rosenblum, president of TW Cable of New York City, says MSG and Cablevision either own — or have long-term rights deals with — all of the Gotham pro teams, “so they think they can charge whatever fee they want. They’re asking us to pass the cost on to 100% of our basic-cable subscribers when only about 15% or 20% are interested in the games.”