Comcast Xfinity Syndication: AsburyPark

On Tuesday, Comcast pulled the Bally Sports regional sports networks (RSNs) from its Xfinity broadcast lineups across the country after the two parties couldn’t agree to a new carriage deal.

One of the major sticking points in the dispute was Comcast’s desire to move the RSNs to its Ultimate TV tier. That tier is more expensive and contains more channels. The Bally RSNs were previously on its mid-range Popular TV tier.

On the surface, this is a reasonable point from Comcast. After all, that’s been the company’s established strategy with RSNs recently. Comcast moved Root Sports Northwest to the Ultimate tier in the fall and moved MASN to the Ultimate tier in March as part of a new carriage deal.

However, in markets where NBC Sports RSNs exist, Comcast isn’t practicing what it’s preaching. And that likely rankles a larger company like the Diamond Sports Group (the owner and operator of the Bally Sports RSNs).

In the Philadelphia market, NBC Sports Philadelphia is available on the Popular TV tier, as are both NBC Sports Bay Area and California in San Francisco. The same is true in Chicago for NBC Sports Chicago and in Boston for NBC Sports Boston. Those two markets are multiple RSN cities, and both the Marquee Sports Network and NESN are available on the Popular TV tier (for now, at least).

If Comcast wants to keep the NBC Sports RSNs on a lower tier, that’s (of course) their right. After all, it owns and operates those networks (along with many other cable networks). And getting them in front of as many eyeballs as possible is simply a smart business decision.

The shift to the higher-priced tier also applies to many other sports networks. All of the league-owned and operated networks (MLB Network, NBA TV, NFL Network, NHL Network) are only available on Xfinity’s Ultimate TV packages. College conference network distribution is based on region: West Coast subscribers receive Pac-12 Network access on the Popular TV tier while SEC Network is only available on Ultimate TV, and so on.

For Diamond, getting a deal done with Comcast was (and still is) critical to the Bally Sports RSNs’ future, no matter which tier they’re on. Diamond should have seen the writing on the wall based on the aforementioned Comcast deals with Root Sports Northwest and MASN and tried to get a deal done for placement on the Ultimate tier. And they should have done that no matter how much it may stink that the NBC RSNs are carrying on with placement on the Popular TV package.

This also should serve as a warning shot for other RSNs still living on the Popular TV tier, like Marquee in Chicago and NESN in Boston. Once it’s time for those carriage deals to be renegotiated, Comcast is likely going to try to move each of those RSNs up a tier. But if Comcast wants those negotiations to go smoother in the future, it should bump its RSNs up a tier as well to unify its approach towards all RSNs, regardless of ownership.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.