DirecTV + NHL Center Ice + ComcastSportsNet = No Hockey Games For You To Watch

Reader Steve is displeased with the blackout restrictions that are affecting his ability to watch the Philadelphia Flyers:

My name is Steven [redacted]. This isn’t your typical rant about lousy customer service but I think it qualifies anyway.

I live in the Harrisburg, PA area – “Comcast Country” so I shouldn’t have to explain my decision to subscribe to DirecTV. As part of my DirecTV service I also subscribe to the NHL Center Ice package so I can watch the Philadelphia Flyers games. I was happy with my service and my TV provider choices until about a week ago…

The NHL in its infinite wisdom (does a sports league qualify for your Worst Company in America contest? If so, I nominate the NHL for next year.) decided to start its own network. They also decided to broadcast 2 of the last 3 Flyers games before the playoffs on that network while also letting the local regional sports channels broadcast them. Therefore, due to the NHL blackout rules and Comcast’s policies (more on that later) I couldn’t watch the games even after shelling out the extra money. Seems that when a game is on a national network and a local channel, the national network gets blacked out in the local market. Besides the inanity of starting a TV station that fans of the game can’t watch, the NHL is also screwing anyone with DirecTV in a Comcast market.

Why? you ask. Because Comcast won’t allow DirecTV to show ComcastSportsNet on their service. I guess it’s not bad enough that Comcast drives customers away (like they did with me) with their corporate greed and stupidity but now they have to screw me again by not allowing a competing service carry their channels.

I have emailed DirecTV, the NHL (through their website) and the Flyers with responses from the first two. DirecTV actually responded over a weekend. Their response was to tell me to lodge a complaint to the FCC about Comcast not allowing them access to their channels. I have yet to do that. I was actually somewhat satisfied with their response as it seemed slightly more personal than I really expected (perhaps the threat to turn to FiOS had something to do with that, I don’t know.).

The NHL actually responded as well, with the previously mentioned blackout rules. The fact that I actually got a response was so shocking that I guess I shouldn’t have expected any better answer than what I got.

My question is this, do I really have any recourse in this matter or do I just have to suck it up and accept this? I knew when I signed up for the CenterIce package that I wouldn’t be getting the Flyers telecasts which I have learned to live with. I didn’t read and fully understand the blackout rules when the games were on national TV because, up to this point, I could always watch the national channels showing the games.

By the way, they’re doing the same thing to me with the first round of the playoffs by showing the games on Versus and ComcastSportsNet.

Thank you for your time.

Steve

Well, Steve, as someone who spends a mindbendingly large amount of money each year for the privilege of watching Rex Grossman misplace footballs like they were his car keys, you have my complete sympathy.

I really do hate to tell you this, but there’s essentially nothing you can do. When these sorts of conflicts come up it usually takes intervention or the threat of intervention by a fancy Senator before anything gets done. (Arlen Specter (R-PA), for example, likes to gripe about the Eagles and the NFL, and John Kerry (D-MA) gets embarrassingly emotional over the Boston Red Sox.)

We can’t think of any fancy government officials who have a taste for hockey, but if you know of any, we’d suggest starting a letter writing campaign right away. Since you’re from Pennsylvania, we’d at least try writing Senator Specter. Who knows, maybe he likes the Flyers? (We suspect it’s actually Comcast he likes, but maybe we’re just cynical?) If enough like-minded fans join you, perhaps he’ll take notice. After all, these are playoff games, are they not?

As much as it pains me to admit this, DirecTV was 100% correct when they suggested you complain to the FCC. Between complaining to them and complaining to your elected officials, it’s really all you can do.