The Columbus Crew announced a new television partnership on Thursday, unveiling Time Warner Cable SportsChannel (TWCSC) as their local broadcast partner for 33 of the team's 34 games in 2014. The announcement comes two days before the team's first game, and concludes a search that stretches back to last July.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the official announcement notes that the deal is for multiple years. It includes provisions for TWCSC to produce "a wide array of Crew programming and original content" such as player profiles and "historical narratives."
Time Warner Cable SportsChannel becomes the tenth local channel to broadcast Crew games in team history, and the fourth to agree to broadcast an entire seasons' worth of games. Previous such partners were Columbus Sports Network (2008), Ohio News Network (2009-11) and Fox Sports Ohio (2012-13). The team has also had games televised by local cable channels such as SportsChannel Ohio (1996-97) and Sport!TV (2001-02), with over-the-air coverage provided by WB53 (1996), Fox28 (1997-2002), WSYX (1998-2003), and UPN (2004).
Ohio News Network (ONN) has shown the most Crew games in history, with 122 broadcasts. Fox Sports Ohio has shown 77 games, while TWCSC will leap into third place this season. No other local partner has shown more than 30 games, although the team has appeared on espn2 45 times.
The practice of broadcasting every league game stretches back to the 2007 season, when ONN and Columbus Sports Network combined to televise every game that wasn't shown on a national platform. Prior to that season local fans could watch between 7 and 18 games per year, leaving about a dozen games a year without any television platform.
Strong Social Reaction
Thursday's announcement was met with significant skepticism on social media. While this criticism is notable for its ferocity, previous partners were also subject to complaints. Fans frequently voiced their displeasure at the quality of video feeds produced by Ohio News Network, for example. Fox Sports Ohio came under scrutiny for its perceived lack of respect for the Crew when its games where moved to alternate channels when conflicts arose with other teams.
One interesting aspect of this reaction is the degree to which team officials have responded to the criticism. Crew General Manager Mark McCullers took to Twitter to defend the announcement, stating that he understands the impact this deal has on fans - both in its timing and being with a provider that is exclusively tied to only one cable provider among the many available in Ohio. Previous perceived missteps by the front office have not drawn this level of responsiveness. A mailing sent to season ticket holders last season that intended to highlight underutilized benefits was also poorly received, but the team's social response was less coordinated and slower to emerge.
The Crew's first game televised by TWCSC will come this Saturday when the team begins the 2014 league schedule on the road at DC United. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 PM, with a 30 minute post-game show immediately following.
Columbus Crew Televised Games By Year
1996: 8 games
1997: 18 games
1998: 16 games
1999: 18 games
2000: 13 games
2001: 17 games
2002: 10 games
2003: 7 games
2004: 17 games
2005: 21 games
2006: 14 games
2007: 30 games *
2008: 30 games
2009: 30 games
2010: 30 games
2011: 34 games
2012: 34 games
2013: 34 games
2014: 34 games
* 2007 was the first season in team history where every game was broadcast