Yankees Network Ramps Up Comcast Fight as Baseball Season Nears

  • Advertising effort will span print, TV, radio, social media
  • Comcast dropped YES Network in November over a price dispute

The TV network that airs New York Yankees games is starting an ad campaign urging viewers to switch away from cable giant Comcast Corp., firing a new salvo in a battle that’s being closely watched throughout the industry.

The YES Network’s ads, which begin airing Wednesday, seek to pressure Comcast to restore the channel to its lineup before opening day of the baseball season. Comcast dropped YES in November following a contract dispute, cutting off about 900,000 subscribers in New Jersey, Connecticut and Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Sports networks and pay-TV providers are clashing across the country as cable, phone and satellite companies seek to rein in price increases to avoid losing subscribers. Some cost-conscious Americans are cutting the cord -- getting rid of pay-TV altogether -- in favor of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. That’s led companies like Comcast to take a tougher stance with networks in negotiations over fees.

YES, majority owned by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc., and other sports channels seek higher fees from cable providers to help pay rising prices for the rights to air live games. They’ve long depended on the cable business model, in which subscribers pay for a large package of channels whether they watch them or not.

Costs Cited

Comcast has said the channel isn’t worth the cost, estimated at about $5 a month per subscriber by researcher SNL Kagan. More than 90 percent of customers watched less than a quarter of the 130 Yankees games the network aired last year, and when baseball wasn’t in season, viewership was even lower, the Philadelphia-based cable TV operator has said.

In Los Angeles, Time Warner Cable Inc. holds rights to the Dodgers and has been unable to come to terms with other pay-TV providers there, blacking out games to much of the potential audience.

The dispute between Comcast and YES is coming to a head because spring training is under way and the Yankees open the regular season on April 4.

The ad campaign will target Comcast subscribers in the New York region. Messages will run on the Fox broadcast network, billboards, radio stations, newspapers, and on digital and social media. The ads will feature a website, KeepYesNetwork.com, and a toll-free number, 1-800-8-KEEP-YES, where Comcast customers can enter their addresses and see which other pay-TV providers serve their area.

“If you’re a Yankees fan, we’re basically telling you that you need to switch providers,” YES Network Chief Executive Officer Tracy Dolgin said in an interview. He called the effort “a multimillion-dollar campaign,” without offering specifics.

John Demming, a Comcast spokesman, declined to comment on the ad campaign.

YES bought ads in the New York Times, New York Post and the Newark Star-Ledger, among other newspapers, as well as on WFAN sports radio, Facebook and Twitter. Ads will appear on area buses and on billboards outside bridges and tunnels between New Jersey and Manhattan.

Started in 2002 by the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the YES Network is the nation’s largest and most expensive regional sports channel. It has 8.9 million subscribers, according to SNL Kagan.

If Comcast doesn’t restore the channel, YES could lose about 10 percent of its annual affiliate fees, or about $60 million, according to Geetha Ranganathan, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

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