Is there anything worse than a local baseball franchise that hasn't been competitive in four seasons, telegraphs its plans to stay non-competitive by carrying almost no payroll, and is widely expected to occupy the basement of its new league when they switch over this spring? Yes. A local baseball team that is all those things, and also makes it impossible to watch the young, exciting local basketball team. Meet the Houston Astros.
The Astros own a controlling share of Comcast SportsNet Houston (46% to the Rockets' 30% and NBC's 22%), which has exclusive rights to Astros and Rockets games. At the moment, CSN Houston is only available to about 40% of Houston-area subscribers. That's because the ownership of the Astros decided to use this Rockets' season as leverage against DirectTV instead of its own; rather than negotiating a deal that would allow DirectTV to carry CSN Houston for the duration of the Rockets season (or at least until baseball started in late March/early April), Astros brass allegedly made the decision to cut off DirectTV's access to CSN Houston before the Rockets started playing. (Not all 60% of households that can't watch Rockets games have DirectTV, but " it is believed that such a deal, had it been completed with DirecTV, would have almost certainly led to similar deals with U-verse and Dish Network.")
If true, it's a deflating and cynical admission from the Astros ownership: The likelihood is that not enough people would care (or even notice!) that they were missing Astros games to put any pressure on DirectTV to start carrying CSN Houston, but Rockets games make pretty good hostages. From the Houston Press, whose sources say that the Astros scuttled the deal:
Astros team president George Postolos [above, left], who held the same position with the Rockets until 2006, was one of the first to trumpet the idea of a joint network between the Rockets and the Astros in the late 1990s when he was still with the Rockets. Now, as the head of the Astros, he could be the person preventing his former team and employer from airing their games to the majority of Houstonians, which has been an embarrassment to the Rockets, particularly with the All Star game being played in Houston this year.
Still, while Houstonians may be frustrated that they can't see James Harden, Jeremey Lin and the upstart Rockets, that anger will likely subside when June rolls around and the leverage from the Rockets embargo provides to the opportunity to watch...Philip Humber and...Carlos Pena? Yikes.