Huskies fans caught in the middle of TV battle over network change
Saturday's Washington football opener on the new Pac-12 Network won't be available on DirecTV or Dish, and some customers are frustrated and angry.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Usually, the first game of Washington's football season means a full house and a big payday for Shultzy's bar and grill on University Way.
This year, it just means a whole lot of frustration for owner Don Schulze and potential confusion for patrons who pull up a chair Saturday night assuming they'll be able to watch the Husky football opener on television.
The Washington-San Diego State game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field will indeed be on TV, carried live on the new Pac-12 Networks. But barring a sudden change, it won't be shown at Shultzy's, which subscribes to DirecTV.
Dish and DirecTV, two leading satellite distributors, are among the companies yet to reach an agreement to carry the Pac-12 Networks. So far, Comcast and eight other companies that service the state of Washington have deals with the Pac-12 to carry the conference's networks.
Schulze is looking at a Saturday without a Husky game for the first time in years. Last year, most Husky and Cougar games were carried by ROOT Sports.
"I mean, we're the home of the SARKburger, which was invented by (UW coach Steve Sarkisian), and I can't get UW on my TV?" Schulze said Thursday. "That is very frustrating."
The Pac-12, in an aggressive negotiating tactic, sent what it called an "open letter" to fans Wednesday night, advising them to switch carriers from DirecTV to one that has a deal with the conference.
"If you're one of the fans who won't be satisfied without Pac-12 football, or our more than 135 men's basketball games and hundreds of other live events, we recommend finding Pac-12 Networks with another television provider," the letter read.
Schulze, though, says that's not an option for him. His restaurant is located on a side of University Way that is not wired for cable.
"I'm not in a position where I can do anything," he said. "If I threaten to pull DirecTV, then I have nothing."
The San Diego State game is the only Husky football contest scheduled to be on the Pac-12 Networks.However, there is a chance other UW games could be added later. Only a few games now have specific TV designations, and 35 football games will be on the Pac-12 Networks this season.
Other networks in play
Washington games not on the Pac-12 Networks will be televised elsewhere, notably the various ESPN/ABC and Fox networks. That includes UW's games the following three weeks — against LSU, which is on ESPN; Portland State, on FX; and Stanford, on ESPN.
There's been confusion even among Comcast subscribers about where to find Washington's opener Saturday night. The game will be on Channels 430 and 628 in the Seattle area.
A money game
The dispute between DirecTV and the Pac-12 revolves around — what else? — money.
When the Pac-12 Conference created its networks — which consist of one national network and six regional networks, one for each of the conference's six geographical areas, including Pac-12 Washington — it did so with four founding partners already in the fold, including Comcast.
The Pac-12 Networks were a key piece of the conference's new 12-year TV deal, worth an estimated $3 billion, struck in May 2011. The conference owns and runs the networks itself and knew it might have to play some hardball to get the distribution it desired.
So when it made deals with some of its other TV partners, it kept some of the most desirable programming for itself — namely 35 live football games, including some marquee matchups, such as the USC-California game Sept. 22. All football and men's basketball games will be broadcast on the national network.
Gary Stevenson, the head of Pac-12 Enterprises, has said the conference believed the content of its networks would ultimately sway distributors to pick them up.
But while the conference has deals with more than 30 distributors, the absence of DirecTV leaves a big hole.
In a statement this week, DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said negotiations would continue, but added: "The vast majority of Pac-12 football games featuring the most popular teams with national-title implications remain available to all DirecTV customers" on various other networks, such as ESPN/ABC and Fox.
Such disputes between content providers and distributors are common. The schools themselves are helpless bystanders in the Pac-12/DirecTV dispute, hoping agreements get worked out for their fans, but also understanding the conference's desire to get the best deal (universities share equally in TV revenue).
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward, in a note sent to season-ticket holders Thursday, said Husky athletics has heard from many DirecTV customers concerned about not seeing the opener.
"DirecTV currently carries the Big Ten Network, which raises the question: Is the Big Ten better than the Pac-12?" Woodward's statement asked. "We think not."
"I urge you to let DirecTV know how you feel, and consider switching to a provider who does carry the Pac-12 Network," he added.
As for Schulze's plans Saturday?
"I guess I'll show Auburn and Clemson and Nebraska," he said. "And hopefully they will make some sort of deal soon."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.