Rockets Worth Attention Even if TV Makes Them Hard to Watch

The 2012-13 version of the Houston Rockets aren’t likely going to win an NBA championship.  Still, the club has been worth following even if one can’t see them play.  (I discount the fact that anyone CAN see them play if they can afford to pay for a ticket.  I am more relating to the sad television situation that did not have to be this way.)

There is nothing that says any team has to make its games available to the general public at no charge.  It used to be that radio and television was feared by sports teams for the reason it might cut into ticket sales.  The reverse proved true.  More fans with accessibility to more games meant more exposure and ultimately more revenue.   As the late Casey Stengel used to say, “You could look it up.”

However, having the games available then pulling them away which is what has happened with the switch from Fox Sports Houston AND local Ch 20 or Ch51 to ComcastSportsNet Houston has made the Rockets “out of sight–out of mind” for many Houstonians.

It is too bad.  This team is exciting (from all I read and have heard on radio).  It has been over .500 all year and is closing in on a playoff spot.  An NBA contender it is not, but it is a darn sight more competitive in its sport that the Houston Astros are likely to be in theirs.

But while only about 40% of the Houston market can see the Rockets on television with the exception of their rare appearances on ESPN (which still requires a cable or satellite connection) the team is drawing fans to Toyota Center.  Those true Rocket fans know the club is fun to watch.  Too bad more people don’t know that.

The Astros will be a young club but not very talented.  Their plight on coverage may not be a bad thing.  The less exposure for a bad product the longer it takes for everyone to know what is being sold.  It will be very rough for the “die-hard” fans–especially those outside Houston who have been Astro fans  all their lives.  Combined with a weak-signaled radio flagship and low cable/satellite coverage they will be hard to follow.  That 40% coverage of the Houston market drops considerably if one calls it the “Astros market.”  That market extends to Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin, New Orleans and Baton Rouge to name some of the most prominent.  Will ANY fans be able to see the Astros there in 2013?  Not if the club demands ComcastSportsNet continue to offer the games at a fee well above market value.  That is why the Rockets have not been seen at all and why the Astros are in danger of the same fate.

This is Texas not New York, Chicago or Boston.  One cannot expect to charge similar rates and succeed.  Cable and satellite operators do not want to have to pass on higher rates to all their subscribers…most of whom don’t care at all about sports.

Teams want to have their cake and eat it too.  But the real best option is and always has been “tiered” programming.  Those that want the Rockets and Astros  or any other teams in any other markets…pay the premium.  It won’t generate as much revenue even if set at a higher level than for general distribution, but it would be fair to all.  This concept would include even such established networks as ESPN and FoxSportsNet…and certainly the new startups by CBS, NBC and FOX.  Some would not survive. But do they really have to?

Local teams would make less money than projected and maybe even allow some games to return to “over-the-air” television where everyone would have a chance to follow them.  It is a step back for the teams who have been granted over-valued deals by the networks, but it seems inevitable down the line anyway.  Everything cannot continue to rise in price if the value is much less.

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About gregclucas

Author, "Baseball-Its More Than a Game" available through Amazon.com, BN.com or by order. Veteran sportscaster with extensive play by play experience in MLB, NBA and college sports.
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