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TMCNet:  Civil War Blackout

[November 20, 2012]

Civil War Blackout

Nov 20, 2012 (Mail Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- John Watt never believed he and his wife Cathy would be in this dilemma in the first place.

Diehard Oregon State football fans, the Watts had already begun preparations for their annual Civil War get-together when Sunday's news hit as hard as the overtime field goal attempt by Oregon's Alejandro Maldonado one day prior against Stanford.

Instead of being able to host their 35-40 friends -- some fellow Beavers and others who support the Ducks -- Watt learned that would not be possible given that this year's 116th Civil War would only be made available on television through the Pac-12 Network.

In southern Oregon, only DISH Network and Ashland Fiber Network carry the Pac-12 Network and, like many in the Rogue Valley, Watt doesn't have either as his television provider.

"It's just become a wonderful get-together over the years," Watt said of his event, complete with his own specially grilled ribs and oysters. "We're all friends but we have this one time where we can kinda root for our teams and have fun with that and all of a sudden we're in danger of not having that experience. I've got I don't know how many pounds of ribs and four or five dozen of oysters and suddenly I'm not sure what to do." Fortunately for Watt, good friends and Jacksonville Inn owners Jerry and Linda Evans subscribe to DISH Network and subsequently offered up their home for Saturday's game, which kicks off at noon in Corvallis.

"It was very gracious of our friends to offer," said Watt, who served four terms as Oregon State Representative for Medford. "I was sure somebody was going to pick up the game, Fox or ESPN, so we didn't do anything until we were out at an event with them (Sunday night). You feel like you're imposing on people when you're talking about having that many people over but Jerry just said, 'This is an excuse for me to go buy another big-screen TV for the house.'" While that resolves the issue for one local group, it doesn't solve a dilemma many others will have as they strive to follow a contest involving two of the nation's top teams in fifth-ranked Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) and No. 16 Oregon State (8-2, 6-2). Listening on the radio remains an option for fans of the Ducks and Beavers (880-AM and 105.1-FM, respectively), but those requiring a more visual experience will either have to find willing friends to invite you over or find a local restaurant or bar that can carry the contest.

"We are going to the game," Medford's Jim Wright said in an email response, "but I pity the poor people that are planning Civil War parties." One place the game is sure to be on is at Lava Lanes, where owner Bret Breeze said there are 60 big-screen televisions in the bar area and another 20 40-inch flat-screen televisions that were recently added along the 40 bowling lanes.

Breeze said the Lava Lanes bar has been full of Oregon and Oregon State fans all season. The ability to watch the game throughout the bowling concourse adds another dimension.

"Families can come watch the game there as well, you don't have to be old enough to sit in the bar," said Breeze. "That's kind of the advantage that we've got. You can come in and just sit down and watch the game as long as there's seating. It's just first-come, first-served. We'll have our normal people bowling on Saturdays but on the lanes you don't have to be bowling to watch the (Civil War) and wherever you sit on the concourse you're going to be able to see the game as well." Breeze said capacity of the 6,000 square-foot bar is 325 and he wasn't exactly sure about the entire 50,000 square-foot building but he's willing to test out those figures.

"It's going to be a zoo," he said in anticipation of Saturday. "We're going to be fully-staffed, obviously. We've been really busy every game but the fact that it's both Oregon and Oregon State, I think everybody in town that's got the game is going to be full." "We're just going to let as many people in as we can hold and whatever the code is, that's where we'll stop if we have that problem," added Breeze. "I'm sure that we won't have that issue, though. Once it gets too full, it's not comfortable and people will find another place to watch the game." The fact that traditional gatherings have to be uprooted is upsetting to many who subscribe to Charter Communications or DirecTV, two of the area's main distributors who have not signed a contract with the Pac-12 Network.

"We are so disappointed that we will not be able to sit in the comfort of our own home and view the Civil War game, it's a family tradition," Medford's Gloria Moody-Swift and Tom Swift said via email. "We have viewed the last three OSU games at a sports bar and that's not ideal because it's so loud you really cannot hear the commentators." Wrote Medford's Jim Botsford: "In my opinion, the revenue battle taking place between the two media giants of Charter Cable and DirecTV against the Pac-12 Network demonstrates the absolute opposite spirit that is possessed by all of the wonderful athletes who proudly participate and compete in the variety of sports in all of the Pac-12 schools. Everything that we teach our young people and young athletes about the fairness factor, in both the competitive sports arena and in the competitive arena of life, has been thrown out the window of common sense because of greed, pure and simple." Each side continues to put the onus on the other as negotiations appear to be at a standstill between the Pac-12 Network and Charter and DirecTV.

Frank Antonovich, vice president and general manager of Charter-Northwest, said via email that Charter doesn't negotiate through the media. He did add that, "In past seasons, this game has routinely been available to Charter customers on other networks, but the Pac-12 has decided to start their own network, demand unreasonable terms and conditions and, as a result, hold fans hostage to pay their exorbitant fees." When reached by phone on Monday, Pac-12 Enterprises President Gary Stevenson disputed such claims.

"We've got no indication from either Charter or DirecTV that they have any interest in making a deal with us," said Stevenson. "We've reached an agreement with over 50 distributors across the country, including four of the five biggest in the country (Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and DISH). We've had an offer in front of DirecTV and Charter from the beginning. It is, in essence, the same offer that we've offered these other companies." As for Saturday's television schedule, Stevenson said the selection process is based on a rotation for equity, with ESPN (which partners with ABC) and Fox owning the rights to carry 22 football games each season and the Pac-12 Network at 35 games. The Notre Dame at USC game was selected first by ABC, with the Stanford at UCLA game then chosen by FOX. That left Saturday's Civil War to the Pac-12 Network.

"We don't feel any shame or regret," Stevenson said of Oregonians being deprived of a cultural tradition because of corporate greed. "We're frustrated for the fans and we understand the fans' frustration. The fact of the matter is we have what's already been decided is a fair market price for DirecTV and Charter and they're not listening to the fans." Stevenson said his group approaches Charter and DirecTV each week about coming to terms but neither appears interested in doing so at this time and fan frustrations likely will only continue to mount since 70 percent of this season's Pac-12 basketball games will be on the network.

He suggested that hearing from their subscribers might be the only thing that may sway Charter or DirecTV since the Pac-12 Network isn't inclined to make a deal with each that doesn't fall in line with ones it already has with its distributors or ones the TV companies already have with similar sports networks.

"We're ready to do a deal this moment," added Stevenson. "I'll fly down on Thanksgiving morning and sign a contract if they want to carry our networks but we're not going to accept something in the short term that's not fair to our fans and our student-athletes and our universities in the long term." While all that may be well and good, it doesn't do much for fans like Watt, Breeze, et al.

"I don't really have an idea how negotiations are going on and who's demanding what from who," said Watt, "but it sure seems to me that some of our local providers could really go out of their way to ensure that we got coverage down here. This is it for me. If something's not resolved then I'll just go to another provider." ___ (c)2012 the Mail Tribune (Medford, Ore.) Visit the Mail Tribune (Medford, Ore.) at www.mailtribune.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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