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DirecTV Benefits As Yankees' YES, Cablevision Battle

4/15/2002 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Over the last several weeks area retailers offering DirecTV have been privy to a new riff on Shakespeare's maxim on anger: hell hath no fury like a New York sports fan scorned.

Area retailers and DirecTV tell TWICE that they've been witnessing a dramatic increase in subscriber activations due to an ongoing standoff involving the New York Yankees and local cable TV provider Cablevision over the Yankees' new YES Network.

A DirecTV spokesman indicated that the company has seen a fairly sharp up-tick in new customers in the New York area. "In March our activations were up 20 percent in Cablevision territory over this time in February," said the spokesman. "Let's face it, sports fans are a passionate group." (So passionate, in fact that four Long Islanders and one Manhattanite filed a class action suit to force Cablevision to show Yankee games for a 60-day period while it negotiates a long-term deal with YES.)

The YES Network will carry 130 regular season Yankee games and other related programming. The new channel wanted Cablevision to carry it as part of Cablevision's basic package and pass on the cost to its entire subscriber base of approximately 3 million viewers for about $2 per subscriber per month. Cablevision balked, arguing that it didn't want to charge non-Yankee fans for something they would never watch, and offered to carry the YES Network as a premium channel.

The two companies have been locked in negotiations ever since, unable to resolve their differences before the baseball season commenced. And while the current flap has outraged a notoriously energetic fan base and hurt the stock of Cablevision, which also owns metro New York CE retailer The Wiz, it has caused a migration to retailers offering DirecTV, which chose to carry YES in its basic subscriber package.

A RadioShack spokesperson said the chain has seen a "steady increase" in DirecTV activations in the region since the YES-Cablevision conflict began.

"We've seen activations triple over last month, and it's all because people want the YES Network," said a store manager at a Best Buy in Yonkers, N.Y. "It's crazy the amount of interest, they've been pouring in." A Long Island Best Buy manager repeated his colleague's claim, saying his store has seen a surge of mostly Yankee fans looking to sign up with DirecTV.

A sales associate at a Manhattan Circuit City also concurred, claiming that DirecTV sales have blossomed during the last few weeks, particularly as the season opener loomed with no Cablevision-YES deal in sight. "I guarantee you're seeing this all over the city, people want their Yankees," the associate said.

DirecTV has been on the offensive in the region, with a marketing blitz combining direct mail, in-store promos, newspaper and radio ads and even door-to-door fliers, hoping to grab even more disgruntled Yankee fans before a settlement is hammered out between Cablevision and YES. Banners such as one over a Co-Op City RadioShack reading, "Too Bad Cablevision Doesn't Offer the YES Network," capture the spirit of the campaign.

Though the situation is currently unique to the media-saturated New York area and the Yankees' mercurial owner, George Steinbrenner, other Major League Baseball teams are reportedly flirting with the idea of creating their own team-centered TV station to float to local cable providers and satellite TV.

"It's difficult to predict if this situation will repeat itself in other markets," said DirecTV's spokesman, "but we certainly hope it will."

For its part, EchoStar's DISH Network has also not hammered out a deal with YES. EchoStar President Charlie Ergen recently noted that EchoStar offered to carry YES on an a la carte basis, allowing the network to charge viewers what it wanted, but the network declined that option. If they had decided to carry the YES Network, Ergen said that they would have been forced to raise its national rates on packages by a dollar.

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