March 7, 2020

Blackouts are Bullshit

In 1995, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver, Colorado and were renamed the Colorado Avalanche. The ended up winning the Stanley Cup that first season in Denver and with players like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Patrick Roy, I quickly became a fan of the team. This was made easier by, in addition to the nationally televised games, they were shown on our local regional sports network Fox Sports which would switch over to the Rocky Mountain branding whenever the Avs were playing.

I was a fairly hardcore Avs fan until about 2004. This would be the year the contract the team had with Fox Sports expired and Stan Kroenke, the team’s owner, launched his own network Altitude Sports and Entertainment. For whatever reason, my local cable provider Time Warner Cable had no interest in picking up the network. To make matters worse, Nebraska is still deemed at Avalanche territory, meaning Avs games were blacked out on the NHL’s pay-per-view and streaming options. Not being able to watch the games, my interest in the team wained.

15 seasons later, these blackout restrictions still exist and Altitude is still not available in Eastern Nebraska via cable. The only option available is through a satellite provider, where DirectTV is the only one to offer the channel. However, since I live in an apartment, that’s not an option either.

Having availability to watch the games of a team is a big part of building a love affair with that team. It’s how you get to know the players, their strategies, and so on. It makes you want to know more about the organizations from the top down.

I say this to say I totally feel the pain of my fellow Seattle Sounders fans on the east side of the Cascades.

The Sounders have a contract with TV network KZJO, a MyNetworkTV channel otherwise known as JoeTV. This is great for anyone within the JoeTV viewing area. The problem is that viewing area is primarily the Seattle-metro.

There is currently no streaming solution for the Sounders through the rest of Washington. MLS matches are now streamed on ESPN+, but Sounders matches are blacked out within Washington State. Through last season, YouTubeTV had a partnership with the Sounders to stream the games locally, but that was allowed to expire. Since JoeTV is a Seattle based local network, there’s no simulcast through the rest of the state.

This is inexcusable to shudder the ability for a group of fans who love a team to be able to view said team. Blackout restrictions were initially put into place to encourage fans to buy tickets. That said, I’m currently an eight-hour drive from Denver, so that argument seems thin to me. This also doesn’t explain why road games are blacked out. It’s also a bit unreasonable to expect every fan to be able to attend every game.

The Sounders blackouts in Washington hurt the supporter subgroups who gather in bars to watch the games. These viewings help build the supporter community, which is vitally important in soccer more than any other sport. Supporter groups are the lifeblood of a football club as they’re the ones who bring the energy every match with the sole purpose of pushing their team to victory. They’re the ones responsible for tifos, the huge graphical displays which often honor the team itself and often take weeks to design, organize for, and create. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes within a supporter group, so this leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those who look forward to every weekend and travel cross-state to matches. They have a right to feel slighted.

As of last night, the Sounders officially hinted that a deal was coming, but was not ready in time for tonight’s match against Columbus. It’s unknown if alternate methods will be available, even if that means watching the opposing team’s feed via satellite. I certainly do hope my Sounders family in Washington find a solution to this soon.

Bottom line, blackouts kill fandom. This is a multi-league issue that’ll likely take legislation to address nationally. Leagues and teams should be looking to do everything they can to bolster their support and blackouts simply do the opposite.