Spectrum cable customers are facing a potential carriage dispute crisis with the college football season dawning soon.

Spectrum (the cable brand owned and operated by Charter Communications) and Disney are in a dispute that looks to extend into the 2023 college football season. The two sides are quarreling over money, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal, specifically the carriage fees fees that Spectrum pays to the Mouse.

The dispute is expected to affect all of Disney’s cable stations and could go into effect on Thursday night. So Spectrum customers would be without ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, as well as the ACC Network, the Longhorn Network, and the SEC Network. The bulk of Disney’s cable channel fees to distributors is ESPN, the most expensive traditional bundle channel which costs cable subscribers nearly $10 a month regardless if they watch the channel or not. Disney has been hiking that number up for decades to pay for increasing live rights costs paid to leagues and conferences. Cable and satelitte providers have generally bent to Disney and other media companies who hold sports rights, but that’s changed over the last decade as millions of households have opted to cut the cord and go without cable.  Less subscribers has put added pressure on ESPN/Disney and other media companies as well as cable and satellite companies to be more aggressive in these renegotitions which now more routinely can lead to losing access to channels for short or even permanent periods of time.

Disney came to an agreement with Charter almost three years ago. That deal seems to have expired or be on the verge of expiring. And with football season starting in earnest in a few hours, this could be a major headache for sports fans excited for the start of the college football and NFL seasons.

Beyond the cable dispute local ABC affiliates that Disney owns could also go dark. That would include ABC7 Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, ABC11 Raleigh-Durham, ABC13 Houston, and ABC30 Fresno. As always with any carriage dispute, both sides are pointing the finger. Charter has setup the website Disneyfairdeal.com which has the following messaging, which is pretty standard.

“The Walt Disney Company has threatened to remove their programming from Spectrum which creates hardship for our customers.

We offered Disney a fair deal, yet they are demanding an excessive increase.

They also want to limit our ability to provide greater customer choice in programming packages forcing you to take and pay for channels you may not want.

Spectrum is on your side and fighting to keep costs down while protecting and maximizing customer choice.

The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable TV prices, and we are fighting hard to hold the line on programming rates imposed on us by companies like Disney.

We ask for your patience as we continue to work out a deal that is fair for everyone.”

Per Cord Cutter News Disney has put out the following statement.

“We’re working hard to make sure some of America’s most watched networks such as the ESPN networks, including the ACC Network and SEC Network, the Disney-branded channels, Freeform, the FX networks and the National Geographic channels stay available to Spectrum TV customers. If we don’t reach a new agreement with Spectrum soon, some of your favorite shows may be gone from your lineup including SportsCenter and exclusive live sports such as Monday Night Football and college football plus Mickey Mouse Funhouse, 31 Nights of Halloween, American Horror Story, Welcome to Wrexham, Life Below Zero and much more.”

Spectrum also put out this more recent statement from Spectrum.

We remain in negotiations with Disney and hope to reach an agreement soon without any disruption to our customers, who remain our top priority.”

We’ve yet to really see any extended absence of ESPN and Disney channels from major providers and especially during football season. These negotiations play out in public when it’s down to the wire. It’s likely a new deal will be reached at some point, but it’s fair game to ask if customers will indeed have to go any short period of time without the channels in the near future before an extension is reached.

Update: This dispute did indeed kick off Thursday night, impacting Spectrum customers looking to watch the Florida-Utah game on ESPN and more.

[Akron Beacon Journal]

About Chris Novak

Chris Novak has been talking and writing about sports ever since he can remember. Previously, Novak wrote for and managed sites in the SB Nation network for nearly a decade from 2013-2022