COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the club is celebrating a new television deal inked just days before the regular-season opener, at least one Columbus Crew executive is well aware there’s work to be done to appease fans feeling left in the dark.
The Crew announced Thursday that they have reached a new multi-year agreement with Time Warner Cable SportsChannel to air the team’s games this season and beyond, but the regional channel is available to only those in the Columbus area with Time Warner Cable.
Some fans immediately expressed their disappointed with the deal, as those who subscribe to another cable provider or any satellite company will not be able to view Crew games due to a blackout radius of 75 miles around Columbus that also factored into the deal.
Crew senior vice president of sales and marketing Mike Malo said it was “not ideal” that many fans would miss Crew matches, but that the TWSC package was much better than last year's deal with Fox Sports Ohio, which sometimes prioritized the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets or MLB's Cincinnati Reds over Crew coverage.
“Time Warner Cable really came to the table with a lot of compelling reasons to partner with them,” Malo said. “We started seeing more conflicts the second year [of the FSO deal], and a significant amount of conflict in Cincinnati with the Reds. So we really needed to try to reduce our number of conflicts to be consistent. Our ratings really hurt when we ran into these conflict situations and we had to be relegated to an alternate channel.”
Those who don't subscribe to Time Warner Cable within 75 miles of Columbus will also not be able to watch home or away matches on MLS Live or DirecTV's Direct Kick. Malo said the team tried to negotiate that part of the deal.
“We did try to negotiate some of those things, but we were not successful,” he said. “Obviously with [Time Warner Sports Channel] being our exclusive home, they wanted to have the exclusive home territory.”
Malo said that about 70 percent of the Columbus area subscribes to Time Warner Cable, and 90 percent have access to it. While it might be possible for satellite companies like DirecTV or Dish Network to pick up the channel in the future, Malo said that there is no reason to believe that option could happen in the near future.
The TWSC deal will include pregame and postgame shows, as well as high-definition and added Crew content on non-game days.
For those in Columbus not able to watch the Crew from home, Malo says that the team will be partnering with local bars and pubs for viewing parties.
“We are going to be working to create a network of pub partners that are going to be carrying our games,” Malo said. “We've already started that process and already have some of those in place. So there is going to be a pub network where fans can go and watch games with other Crew fans.
“But as far as in their homes, I guess their other option would be to follow along with social media or our website to get the game updates.”