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NY cable dispute blacks out Knicks, NHL for 2 million subscribers, could last entire season
NEW YORK (AP) ' As the glow fades from the Giants' Super Bowl triumph, some New York sports fans are tuning in to basketball and hockey, with the Rangers in first place and the Knicks' overnight sensation, Jeremy Lin, sparking "Lin-sanity."
Others can't. More than 2 million Time Warner Cable subscribers lost TV access to the NBA's Knicks and the NHL's Rangers, Devils, Islanders and Sabres on Jan. 1 because of a fight over rate increases between the cable giant and MSG Network. And dozens of college basketball games as well as boxing, soccer and sports talk shows have been blacked out too.
Perhaps worst of all for Time Warner subscribers, MSG Media President Michael Bair says the dispute could last through the end of the NBA and NHL regular seasons in April.
"We have not had any meaningful conversations in quite some time," Bair said Thursday. "We have made numerous proposals for more than two years and they have rejected every single proposal."
Time Warner spokeswoman Maureen Huff agreed that "there really hasn't been any marked progress."
Huff said MSG is demanding a 53 percent increase in the price Time Warner pays for its programming. Bair called that figure "simply incorrect" but didn't say how large a hike MSG was seeking. MSG's chairman, James Dolan, is also CEO of Cablevision.
The dispute affects subscribers in New York City, upstate New York and parts of Bergen and Hudson counties in New Jersey.
For Time Warner subscribers who follow the blacked-out teams, options include switching cable providers, watching at a bar with DirecTV or finding a website that streams the games illegally.
MSG owns the Knicks and Rangers as well as Madison Square Garden, where both teams play, and some fans are pointing fingers in that direction. One is even considering switching his allegiance to the Nets.
"It's weird how they think they can treat fans this horribly," said the Knicks fan, Wes Schierenbeck, 20, who lives in Brooklyn.
Schierenbeck has been watching the Knicks online and at friends' houses. But those are stopgap measures, and the Nets, in comparison, grow more appealing: They will move from New Jersey to Brooklyn next season, and their games air locally on the YES Network and are not affected by the MSG dispute.
Just how much is he willing to put up with for the Knicks, he wondered.
Anthony Torres of Queens agreed.
"The owner doesn't really care that he's alienating the fans," Torres said of Dolan. "The Garden is still selling out. And it's almost like a stalemate."
Others say there is blame to go around. "I blame Time Warner. I think they make enough money that whatever MSG's asking for they can cover," said Jeremy Eisman, 24, a Devils fan who lives in Manhattan.
While Knicks fans who subscribe to Time Warner missed Lin's first starts, Rangers fans are missing a Stanley Cup contender.
"That's basically the only reason that I subscribe to cable," said Andrea Dulko, 28, of Brooklyn.
"It's miserable," said 25-year-old Manhattan resident Carl Tirella. "I'm a die-hard Rangers fan. I can't watch any Rangers games. ... I thought it was going to get resolved quickly but it's been a month, a month and a half."
MSG has sponsored viewing parties at bars to ease fans' pain.
Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black appreciates the viewing parties and said MSG "is doing a lot in our community." He believes it's Time Warner that's stalling and wishes the two sides would get back to the table.
"This is a real hockey town, and to take away something that everyone loves is cruel and unusual punishment," Black said.
MSG also shows nearly 150 college basketball games a season.
Josh Culpo, 27, of Boston was in New York on Wednesday to watch his brother Mike play for Long Island University Brooklyn, which beat St. Francis, 86-77. Culpo said his parents are Time Warner subscribers and would like to watch Mike's games, most of which are on MSG.
"They have to watch on a computer," he said. "It's not as good."
Bair said fans should switch from Time Warner to another provider such as DirecTV, RCN or Verizon FIOS, and he said some are doing so.
"The distribution of other services is broader than you might think," he said.
Huff said an "insignificant" number of Time Warner customers have left.
Those who have changed providers, or who have tried to, say it's not that easy.
Rangers fan Desmond Lim switched to Verizon. "The install date was a month from when we placed the order," he said.
Karl Stanton tried to switch but learned that FIOS isn't available in his Manhattan building. He'll shop for a FIOS-friendly building when his lease is up.