CSN Houston and Jim Crane's Long, Strange Trip to Nowhere
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 long, strange trip.
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.