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Confusion as to why fans are shut out

Mahanoy City, Penn. is the city where John Walson Sr. built the first cable TV system in 1948.
Mahanoy City, Penn. is the city where John Walson Sr. built the first cable TV system in 1948.
Doug Kerr, as originally posted to Flickr as "Pennsylvania State Route 54."

Are you as confused as me?

I am asking that question, because of all the dramatic financial changes in both Collegiate and Professional Athletics. Actually, before I get down to the nitty-gritty of my column, I have to admit that my young Examiner Colleague, Evan Wiener who writes and lectures about the “ Business of Sport”, is much more qualified than me.

So, instead of reaching any conclusions, I am just going to give you the facts as I know them and let you make your own conclusions. Here goes!

The culprit, although not meaning to be is TV… in particular TV. Years ago, around 1960, I met a man named John Walson. He was lecturing at one of the early CATV (Cable Television) Conventions. You see, Mr. Walson was the visionary who in 1948 created the first Cable Television system in his home town of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.

He wanted to sell TV sets from his appliance store, but his customers were having trouble getting the signal. Mahanoy City was ideally suited for CATV services, since broadcast television could easily be received via mountaintop antennas.

So, Walson extended a lead cable and retransmitted the signal to the Valley below where Mahanoy City was located and until then broadcast reception was extremely poor.

The citizens could only get the transmission if they bought a TV Set from his store and paid a $100 hookup fee plus $2 per month. In essence, it was a public utility born out of necessity.

Have the time really changed? Not at all! Only the numbers have.

It’s still the same story, if you want to get the product, in these games of your favorite teams etc.; you have to pay a price. The problem is that various sports leagues are protected by governmental amendments.

This allows owners to garner huge dollars, but it deprives the loyal fans with limited funds, the inability to partake in both the glories and the heartaches of their favorite team.

I was in on the beginning of Pay Cable for sports teams as a member of the Boards of both Prism, (now Comcast), in Philadelphia and the Houston Sports & Entertainment Cable System. It was exciting times and the cost of getting both movie and sports for the fans was reasonable.

Obviously, I believe in the American Spirit and our Entrepreneurship. What I do not believe in is “Greed”. This seems to be today’s motivating force.

I believe that Pro Sports Leagues, which have various governmental waivers that give them tax protection and exemptions, which as I understand it most other businesses must pay, should be serving the good of their fan base. Or they should not enjoy these exemptions.

Did you know that the NFL is listed as a “Non-Profit” Organization?

I indignantly resigned from my Executive position with the Lakers and the Kings when Jack Kent Cooke, the owner, had raised the prices on the floor seats to $100 per person with the cheapest seat being $25. I argued that the base fan that worked daily to take his family of four to an occasional Lakers game would be locked out.

Of course, this was 1971,Mr. Cooke argued that I was wrong and that someday those floor seats would be as much as $500 apiece. Well he was wrong! They go for multiples today greater than $500.

That’s at the live level. As for TV Rights, they are so astronomical, or unavailable to the fan base, those who built the alliance through years of demonstrated/dedicated loyalty are now often shut out. They are shut out when one mammoth cable system pays for the right to broadcast exclusively and they do not make it available to everyone.

Often times, it is because they have overplayed for the rights and competing systems will not in turn, pay them their exorbitant fees for the rights to re-broadcast.

Do you have an answer, I don’t!