Technical Difficulties: Why Thousands of Ohioans Might Miss the Buckeyes' Opener Against Navy

By Kyle Rowland on July 18, 2014 at 8:33 am

Nineteen cents. That’s the amount of money that will keep thousands of Ohio State fans from viewing the season opener against Navy Aug. 30. It has nothing to do with ticket prices. Instead, the argument centers on cable service providers and an obscure sports channel.

It costs 19 cents to carry CBS Sports Network, which will air the Ohio State-Navy game live from Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. Time Warner, DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T U-Verse all carry the channel on premium packages, but WideOpenWest and Buckeye CableSystem do not – and probably will not by game time.

As host, Navy holds the television rights. CBS wasn’t an option because of U.S. Open tennis coverage. With the boom in sports-specific channels and rise of TV rights deals, rarely does a Saturday go by without access to every FBS game. It hasn’t always been that way. But with the new norm, any difficulty in viewing a game raises the panic level.

WOW, available in Central and Northeast Ohio, hotbeds for Buckeye football, is considered one of the little guys in a multi-billion dollar industry. The Denver-based company was founded in 1999 and is the country’s 13th-largest cable provider. It’s routinely rated among the best in terms of customer service, but that could be changing in Ohio.

Complaints on Ohio State message boards have already appeared and the Columbus WOW office has received phone calls about the channel’s status. But director of programming Robin Feller said it’s an impossibility for the company to add CBS Sports Network before Aug. 30.

“We don’t have a contract to carry CBS Sports Network, so that’s why we can’t carry the channel,” Feller told Eleven Warriors. “It’s not possible to get it by Aug. 30. They’re wrapped up into a different contract that we just signed, and that was not part of our rights. At this time, unfortunately, we cannot get the rights to carry it.”

For WOW, decision-making is based on space and money. Cable networks and providers often play tug-of-war regarding subscriber fees. Big Ten Network and Longhorn Network are two sports-specific channels that have dealt with cable companies not wanting to charge subscribers a fee they felt was too high.

Nineteen cents is a minimal amount of money, especially when it’s compared to ESPN’s bloated $5.40 monthly subscriber fee. But pennies can be the difference in hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions.

“There’s a finite amount of space to carry every channel, and we cannot afford to carry every channel,” Feller said. “We do the best to get the best product mix on all the channel lineups in all the different markets. Right now, we’re out of channel space so we have to drop something to add something. It has to make sense financially for us.”

CBS Sports Network launched in 2002 as the National College Sports Network and later became CSTV, before being re-branded as CBS Sports Network in 2008. The channel now has more than 53 million subscribers and carries all Navy home games through 2017. Beginning in 2015, when Navy joins the American Athletic Conference as a football-only member, the Midshipmen’s entire season will be broadcast on national television, with home games appearing on CBS Sports Network and road games on ESPN (through 2019).  

The ESPN rights deal is worth $130 million to the AAC.

“There is no question that this situation constitutes a win-win for Navy. We’ve received wonderful exposure for our package of home games through CBS and to now have our schedule of away games elevated to ESPN is significant,” Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said last fall. “It is a very positive step for Navy and our fans to know that all football games will be on national television.”

If only they were available in every corner of Ohio. Buckeye CableSystem, available in Toledo and Sandusky, said there are ongoing conversations about adding CBS Sports Network before Aug. 30. It’s not always that easy, though.

Brad Mefferd, President and GM of Buckeye Cable, said it’s possible to get the channel, but it will take negotiating. He pointed out the difficulties cable operators experience in balancing content, prices and giving subscribers what they want.

“The beauty of cable,” Mefferd said, “is it has something for everyone.”

As for CBS Sports Network allowing Buckeye Cable subscribers access to the channel for one day, Mefferd believes that’s a pipe dream. So it could be no Buckeyes on Buckeye Cable.  

Time Warner, the dominant cable provider in Central Ohio, makes CBS Sports Network available to its customers through its Digital Basic package. In Ohio, nearly 80 percent of Time Warner subscribers have access to CBS Sports Network, according to Time Warner spokesman Mike Hogan.

“Most of our customers will get the Navy-Ohio State game,” he said. “At this time, there are no known plans to open this game to customers who subscribe to lesser packages. Customers are welcome to contact us if they are interested in packages that carry the CBS Sports Network.”

The same is true for DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T U-Verse. Premium packages equal CBS Sports Network. Overflow crowds at Eddie George’s Grille 27 and Buffalo Wild Wings at the corner of Lane and High are the norm on game days. But they expect even more inquiries because of the road opener combined with the channel issues.

There is one place in Columbus that comes fully equipped with CBS Sports Network: Ohio State’s dorms. Quick, call up your neighbor’s kid. 

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