One question that has been lingering in the background of the euphoria over Dwight Howard joining the Rockets is how many Houstonians will actually get to watch him on television come this fall. In virtually any other city, it would be a ridiculous question -- including the city he just left -- but not here in Houston. Here, the relationship between most of the big cable providers and the channel that carries the Rockets and Astros is, well, complicated.
The Rockets spent an entire season broadcasting to only about 40 percent of potential viewers in Houston thanks to the lack of a carriage agreement with AT&T U-verse, DirecTV and Dish Network. Only Comcast carries CSN Houston. The Astros have spent the entirety of their disaster of a season blacked out from the majority of Houstonians as well.
With the high-profile signing of Howard added to an already young and exciting roster, one wonders if this will rekindle negotiations between CSN and cable providers not named Comcast. Could a Howard signing sufficiently move the needle to get providers to come on board?
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Unfortunately, the answer is probably not. Carriers have drawn a virtual line in the sand with CSN despite the fact that they carry similar networks including Comcast sports networks in other cities like Chicago and Los Angeles. They certainly won't have any incentive to start talking now as the Astros plod through what appears to be another 100-loss season.
And though Howard is the biggest signing of this offseason, these are multibillion-dollar networks we're talking about and even with his celebrity, still a large portion of the city will continue to not care about the Rockets because, whether sports fans like it or not, there are a lot of people in Houston who just don't care about sports.
All the campaigns by CSN and all the petitions people sign weren't enough. I'd be surprised if Howard, despite how important he might be to the Rockets and the fans, is enough. The one thing that might change the tenor of discussions is a change in the pricing structure offered by CSN, but they don't seem to want to budge on that and the major providers seem perfectly content to leave them out of their programming lineup.
So, if you want to watch Dwight Howard and the Rockets this season, be glad that quite a few of their games will end up on national TV because I still think the chances of CSN making a deal with U-verse, DirecTV and Dish Network for the upcoming season are slim.