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Welcome to the New Normal: Where Houston Sports Fans Can't Actually See Teams Play

This is what an Astros game looks like when it's packed.
This is what an Astros game looks like when it's packed.

The Houston Astros host the New York Yankees tomorrow night. It's Opening Day, the team's second as a member of the American League. The game will be aired on CSN Houston for anybody unwilling to pay the exorbitant prices brought on by the Astros' dynamic pricing model. That means that most of the Houston area will be unable to see the game as the Astros start season number two with CSN Houston available only on Comcast and some minor cable systems.

This is the new normal for Astros fans, and fans of the Rockets and Dynamo, a new normal marked by the inability to view the games on television. The network's in bankruptcy, Jim Crane has sued Drayton McLane and Comcast for fraud over the value of the network. The Astros and Rockets have taken the lead in attempts to get carriage deals for the network, and they've failed.

The CSN Houston parties met in the chambers of Judge Lynn Hughes on Friday. While there they signed an order that allowed the judge to mediate the case. He gave it a shot. That mediation appears to have failed. (A note for those who read the Houston Chronicle story on this matter: there is no language in this signed order that opens up the possibility of more mediation. The order was drafted to specifically allow for a mediation last Friday, and last Friday only).

The concept of mediation of legal cases is a good idea in theory. It gets the parties of a litigation under one roof where they can air grievances without fear of legal repercussions. The goal's to get the parities talking, to get them off of their extreme positions, to find a compromise all involved can live with. The case settles, there's no hard feelings, and money's saved because of the sudden lack of billable attorney hours.

The problem with mediation is a simple one: all parties have to be open to compromise. If a party's not open to the topic, there's no amount of talking that will change any minds. Only the parties to the mediation session know what was said on Friday, or what the mindsets were, but the issues weren't settled, and based on public statements over the past six months since this thing started, about the only party open to any kind of compromise or settlement appears to be the Rockets, and in the case of CSN Houston, there are three parties that must be open to the idea.

So the network continues to be unavailable to most of Houston -- it needs to be remembered that even if the mediation would've settled the bankruptcy matters, the judge had no authority whatsoever that could force Direct TV, Uverse, Time-Warner, Dish, to add the network to their lineups. The Astros' appeal of the bankruptcy order continues. The bankruptcy court's work toward keeping the network on air continues (i.e., paying salaries and paying vendors), and the fraud lawsuit continues to hover between state and federal court.

 

It's not the bankruptcy that's keeping CSH Houston off of various cable/satellite lineups. It's the sought after amount for carriage fees that's the cause of that (that and the fact that everybody's waiting for the network to die so they can pick apart the corpse). It's this same thing that's making the Dodgers unavailable to most of Los Angeles , and that's preventing most of Philadelphia from watching the Phillies. It kept the Padres off of many San Diego televisions last season, it's prevented the people of Portland from watching the Trail Blazers for seven years, and it affected the ability of large parts of New York City to watch the Yankees and Knicks in past years. The new normal is rapidly becoming one in which fans can't watch their teams on television, and with rapidly escalating ticket prices, most fans are also now being shut out from any kind of experience with their team of choice.

CSN Houston's not getting carriage across Houston and Texas until this bankruptcy matter is settled. It's possible that Judge Hughes will call the parties back to his chambers again and attempt to mediate a settlement, but there's no guarantee he's going to do that, or that there's any chance of his being successful. And with the network on life-support and the parties arguing over pulling the plug, there's absolutely no reason in the world for Direct TV to sign a carriage deal for any amount, no matter how high or low the requested carriage fee.

Welcome to the new normal Houston. You might not be able to watch the Astros lose game after game. And you can't watch the Rockets or the Dynamo. So just go get a second mortgage on the house so you can afford to take the family to Minute Maid to watch the Yankees this week, or else just watch the Rangers on Fox Sports Southwest. Both options suck, but that's now the way of the world.


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