As expected, New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has joined the Houston Rockets.
And no New Yorkers are more devastated to see him leave than Time Warner Cable.
You may recall that, effective New Year’s Day, an impasse over carriage rates between Time Warner and MSG Networks, which airs Knicks games as well as Rangers hockey games, had started with what seemed like virtually no end in sight.
To put it in perspective: Eleven days into the impasse, the Rangers had the best record in the NHL, and the Knicks were playing decent basketball.
But it was eleven days before the two sides came to an agreement that Lin became a starter on the Knicks. And Time Warner, under intense pressure – or shall I say, Lin-tense pressure – reached a deal with MSG.
Think about it: Without Lin’s emergence, MSG’s networks would have been blacked out on Time Warner Cable’s systems in New York City as well as upstate New York for two months or more. The Rangers got pretty far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but since NBC’s family of networks would have been airing the latter rounds, it’s a moot point as far as pressuring Time Warner to resolve their dispute with MSG amid the playoffs is concerned. (In fact, Time Warner would have probably went with an ad blitz telling Ranger fans that they can see the games on NBC or NBCSN.)
So when you consider how MSG played hardball with Time Warner Cable for seven weeks over how much of an increase they would see for carrying their networks, then watched as they virtually let the player responsible for the MSG/TWC deal walk in three days, if you’re Time Warner Cable, you’re probably feeling pretty pissed right now.
Based on total households last year, YES Network, which carries Yankees baseball as well as Jersey-cum-Brooklyn Nets basketball, averaged 30,000 homes in the New York City area, which is twice as much as that of Mets baseball (and partly Mets-owned) regional sports network SNY (14,000). But consider that even SNY’s figure trumps that of both MSG (8,000) and MSG Plus (3,000) combined. So based on how these networks performed in 2011, of course, Time Warner Cable didn’t think MSG’s networks were worth a dime higher to continue carrying.
Enter Jeremy Lin and a winning streak, and Time Warner makes nice with MSG. And naturally, the winning streak came to an end on the exact day the new carriage deal was signed (yes, that was the infamous “chink in the armor” game).
Could it be that Jeremy Lin was but a divine pawn in MSG’s quest to get cleared on Time Warner Cable households again? When a half-dozen weeks of talking between the two parties went nowhere, was the Knicks’ plan to start Lin (remember that MSG owns both the team and the networks) executed with an optimistic “let’s throw it at the hoop and see if it falls” attitude? A financial analyst told Bloomberg that the new deal between MSG and TWC was a “benefit of Linsanity… providing the team with an annuity in the future… The Knicks have already received that benefit.”
And had Lin not been the story that he has been, imagine what might have happened: MSG’s networks may still have been blacked out on Time Warner Cable households, there would be no incessant “Lin” puns, and the Knicks would be overpaying for talent – oh, wait, that’s still happening? Nevermind that one…
If you’re wondering if history is going to repeat itself in Houston in the form of a cable blackout when Lin’s three-year deal expires, that won’t be the case. But that doesn’t mean Lin won’t be able to work his cable magic once again.
The Rockets, in fact, are actually going to help launch (pardon the non-Lin pun) a brand new Comcast SportsNet regional sports network in Houston this October – and Comcast just happens to be the largest cable provider in Houston. (Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re a monopoly – there is already a website urging non-Comcast subscribers to beg their cable company to carry the new network.) When you consider the Rockets own nearly a third of the total stake in this new network (with the Astros possessing 45%), the team really needed a player that they could market for this channel. Looking at their roster pre-Lin, none of the players necessarily jump out at you and scream “superstar”.
Jeremy Lin’s drawing power during his tenure in New York speaks for itself: Casual fans were drawn to witness him play at Madison Square Garden and most of the other arenas when the Knicks played on the road.
And of course, there was an influx of sports fans huddled in watering holes hooked up with either satellite television or a cable provider not named Time Warner, that were determined to witness Linsanity for themselves, MSG blackout be damned.
And while Linsanity might lose some of its luster as it travels from the top market to one in the latter half of the top ten, it’ll be just the thing to boost a brand new sports network, which just happens to be the brand new television home of the Rockets.
Which just happens to be the brand new basketball home of Jeremy Lin.
Much to Time Warner Cable’s chagrin.