CSN Houston and Jim Crane's Long, Strange Trip to Nowhere

csn houston.jpg
The long, strange trip.
No sports fan in Houston really cares why the Rockets and Astros still aren't on TV. They don't care about the money behind the deals, the accusations of fraud, the back-room negotiations, per-subscriber rates, the posturing and the lawsuits. The only thing that they want is for their teams to be on television, and not just on a single provider. With only 40 percent of the city subscribed to Comcast, the only cable provider carrying CSN Houston fans want someone to blame.

The truth is that all the parties involved in this mess share some of the blame, but, if you want to break it into percentages, no one has had more undue influence over CSN's lack of coverage than Astros owner Jim Crane. It could be argued that he and he alone is responsible for preventing deals that would put the Rockets and Astros on the air. He believes the network should be worth more than it is based on what other cities are doing with their regional sports networks. But, fans could care less whether or not owners who are worth millions (some, billions) and their franchises are more profitable. In fact, they are less likely to support a team that they can't see. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

Nevertheless, Crane has blocked deals that would have put his team and the Rockets on providers other than Comcast. As a result, he's embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings and lawsuits, and it has all gone down in dramatic fashion.

As fans, we may be pissed, but I do think it is important to understand why things are the way they are and just exactly how we got here. A little history...

Crane bought the Astros with a group of investors.

Unlike Rockets owner Leslie Alexander or Texans boss man Bob McNair, Crane isn't hyper rich. He needed the help to buy the team in the form of investors and bank loans. Why is this important when discussing CSN? It's important because despite being the boss, he must be responsive to other people. The buck ultimately stops with him, but it's more complicated than the Rockets or the Texans.

This is also relevant because Crane's recent claim that he was duped by former Astro owner Drayton McLane when he purchased the team with regards to the CSN deal, which suggests enough due diligence wasn't done prior to that transaction. If there was truly fraud on the part of McLane and CSN, the fact that it was missed by whatever exploratory committee Crane put together before buying the team must put him in a difficult position with investors. More importantly, it makes him look bad and that cannot sit well with Crane, a man noted for his tenacious competitiveness. That same competitive drive has the potential to make him a great owner, but it keep him from negotiating a deal that is even slightly less profitable. He has less room for error than Alexander and he doesn't want to be caught looking like he was ill prepared to own an MLB franchise.


He refused to negotiate on per-subscriber fees (reportedly $3.40 per subscriber), blocking any deals from being made with carriers like Dish Network, U-Verse and DirecTV.

This is an undisputed fact. Four people must be unanimous in their decision to negotiate on these agreements, Crane, Alexander and two representatives of CSN. In the initial bankruptcy filing, Comcast intimated that it was Crane who created the impasse and kept them from negotiating any deals. The Astros owner is convinced his team and the Rockets deserve more and told Hair Balls as much in early November. There areother parts of the country -- notably Dallas -- where TV deals are worth substantially more than the $80 million Crane and the Astros are getting annually (or not getting for the time being). There are also deals being discussed in places like Philadelphia that could be more lucrative than the CSN deal in Houston.

In that same story, he said, ""If you look at what just came out on the Phillies [who are negotiating a new TV deal] and the numbers that they're talking about, you go to yourself, then how come this is not worth as much? This is a big city, this is a sophisticated city with high-paid people and a good employment rate. Everything's clicking here. It's a great town. Why is ours worth so much less than theirs? When you do the math, even though they may have more subscribers in a tighter area, the math doesn't work."

That kind of future casting might work if the carriers agreed to actually make those deals, but Philadelphia still has no deal in place, though one could be announced this month. And some of the carriers have openly stated they feel regional sports networks are swallowing up so much money that they are unwilling to make market value for new ones fearing it will drive up prices for their subscribers.

Logic would dictate SOME deal is better than NO deal, but Crane isn't budging and neither are carriers like U-Verse, DirecTV and Dish Network.

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10 comments
davesmall
davesmall

Jim Crane is the new Bud Adams

jorge.pedraza
jorge.pedraza

The doubters are all irrellivent, jealous, and simply ignorant of facts. Go Astros, Go Jim! 

Sancho
Sancho

I guess Crane was also duped into agreeing with the switch to the American League?  You hit the bullseye when you said Crane was in over his head, but hey, he got to play golf with Obama as a result of being the Astros owner.  He got in with visions of dollar signs dancing in his eyes and has run the team in a manner designed to squeeze every single nickel out of it.  He claims he has winning as his primary goal and he had to tear down to build up, but until I see hiim spend some money somewhere I won't believe he did anything more than sell off all of the talent and make a glorified AAA team with MLB profit levels to fill his pockets with ill-gotten riches.  I hope Directv and Dish pound him into submission and he is forced to sell the team.

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

Comcast should be ran out of town. Time Warner was way better when they were here.

Puller58
Puller58

Crane isn't only not hyper-rich, he's also not hyper smart.  (Hiring Reid Ryan was damage control.  He's been gaffe prone and clearly in over his head.)  The finale hopefully will have someone buy him out so he can take his tone deafness elsewhere.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Greed, pure and simple all parties related to CSN Houston share in it. They tried to strong arm the good people of Houston/SE Texas and failed. 

psedillo
psedillo

I harken back to 2005 when all was right with the Astros (a four game WS shutout not withstanding). Let's hope this get's worked out so that we the fans can see our teams on TV. 

jeffbalke
jeffbalke topcommenter

@Jimi Austin I won't disagree, but this isn't on them. In this case, it would appear CSN and the Rockets wanted carriage deals with other providers and Crane blocked them.

jeffbalke
jeffbalke topcommenter

@gossamersixteen I'm not sure they tried to strong arm the people of Houston into anything. There hasn't been anything we could really do short of the entire city threatening to switch to Comcast and even the folks at CSN never thought that would happen. This is more of a pissing match between rich folks. We just happen to be the ones caught in the middle.

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