The blackout of Columbus Crew fans took another unbelievable step at the team’s Media Day on Thursday. After a fan revolt over the team blacking out fans in central Ohio that don’t subscribe to Time Warner, the response from the team’s front office has been woeful. First came the call to switch to TWC or be left in the dark. Then came the mixed messages to fans on why exactly the harsh 75 mile blackout was being put in place.
After a disastrous couple weeks and success on the field with a win in their opening game, you would think the Crew would want to rebuild goodwill with their fanbase. You would think that they would try to do everything they could to reach out to those fans. You would think that there would be some kind of assurance that the team was working to resolve the blackout and fight for their fans.
Of course, if that’s the case… you would be wrong.
In astounding comments, Crew President Mark McCullers told blacked out fans there is no blackout. Via Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch…
“I think the first thing that I’d like for us to start agreeing upon is that there is not a blackout,” he said. “The games are not blacked out. They’re available in the market on Time Warner. We’ve gotten in a habit of talking about the blackout, but there’s not a blackout.”
There’s not a blackout? Really? Really? What would McCullers call this then…
. @CrewPrez So…Not a blackout, correct? #Crew96 #BlackoutTheBlackout pic.twitter.com/6RnUZtY0EG
— FC Nordecke 96 (@FCnordecke96) March 20, 2014
If it looks like a blackout, smells like a blackout, and says it in big bold letters… then it’s probably a blackout! If I still can’t watch Columbus Crew games on MLS Live and Direct Kick because of the 75 mile blackout radius, guess what, I’m being blacked out.
This is reaching a stage of unprecedented absurdity.
If it’s not really a blackout, then why did McCullers call it a blackout on Twitter?
@hamurobbie Within a 75 mile radius of #crew96 stadium, Direct Kick and MLS Live are blacked out unless you can’t get TWC.
— Mark McCullers (@CrewPrez) March 6, 2014
Why did McCullers call it a blackout here once again where he also admitted to a “mistake” when he tried to publicly push the blame for the blackout back onto the league’s shoulders?
“If I said it was league-mandated, that was a mistake,” he said. “We have a 75-mile commercial radius that impacts our commercial-rights territory, but the local and regional television rights and blackout ranges, those are part of negotiations, so they do vary.”
McCullers is the team president. Presumably (one would hope) he was heavily involved in negotiations with Time Warner Cable. It’s interesting that he would only admit to making that mistake after MLS said publicly, including in a statement to this website, that blackout policies are determined by the clubs and not the league.
At least McCullers admitted that the Crew has compromised its fans on the “blackout that totally isn’t a blackout but really still is a blackout” deal with Time Warner Cable. He said the franchise is working on increasing the distribution, but fans shouldn’t get their hopes up…
“What we’re trying to do is increase distribution and access,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to improve. Those two things were compromised in this agreement, so those are things that we’re working on and I don’t have an update at this point in time.”
“I do not want to speculate at this time,” he said. “The only thing I will say is that we understand, we’re aware, (and) whether it’s this week, next week, next month, whatever the case is, distribution is important. Our fans’ access is important and we are going to continue to try to improve that.”
If those things truly were important, why were they given away in the first place? If reaching fans and access were truly important, the team would not have instituted a blackout policy that channels the legend of Bill Wirtz. Do the Columbus Crew really want to be known as one of the least fan-friendly franchises in sports? That’s the path this blackout, and the way it’s been handled publicly, is leading them down.
It’s a bad deal for fans and from these public comments it’s only getting worse. At a time when alienated fans are crying out for an olive branch from the team, the front office is instead turning its back on them. Instead of reaching out to disaffected fans, the Crew are telling them it’s a “you problem” because you won’t switch to Time Warner Cable.
The blackout was bad enough. Not telling the full truth to fans was even worse. But telling those blacked out fans that they aren’t being blacked out may be the most unbelievable step yet in one of the worst local television deals in sports.
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