Friday, April 24, 2009

KBO blackout on cable TV? Baseball fans deserve better
April 24, 2009
A disconcerting number of my stories these days begin with the words “North Korea.”

And a disconcerting amount of my waking life is spent tracking down government officials who don’t want their names used in the newspaper and talking to spokesmen who don’t mind speaking on the record but, alas, have nothing interesting or newsworthy to say.

So when I come home from a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is turn on the nightly news.

Instead, I love snuggling up to the delayed coverage of sports games.

People say there’s no point in watching sports games if you already know the result. But, as a true sports fan, I enjoy examining how plays develop and how momentum shifts in the key moments of a game.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do that recently with local baseball.

Long story short, the broadcasting rights holder of Korea Baseball Organization games and the nation’s four sports cable stations remain at odds over rights fees this season. Unable to reach a compromise, the cable stations yanked KBO games last weekend.

Now we’re left with two options: watch KBO games on regional terrestrial networks or view them over the Internet (each team streams games live on it Web site). Neither is a great option.

Apparently, the cable stations didn’t actually have a deal in place before the season to carry KBO games. Instead, the stations said they were airing the games out of goodwill because the sport - fresh off Korea’s runner-up finish at the World Baseball Classic in March - arguably has never been more popular.

For baseball fans, this is deja vu all over again.

Before the World Baseball Classic, rights holders and broadcasters didn’t reach a deal until less than 24 hours before Korea’s first preliminary game against Taiwan.

This time around, the cable stations say they want to pay 1 billion won ($743,000) for the rights. The company that owns the rights, Eclat Entertainment, says it will go no lower than 1.4 billion won .

I could go on and on about who’s right and who’s wrong, though it’s hard to say if anyone’s right in this situation.

My current status as a full-time fan and part-time commentator on these pages gives me a slightly different perspective on this kind of issue. In other words, I can vent my frustration as a fan and not feel so guilty about it.

Sometimes, as the great ’80s rock band Cinderella once belted, you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone. I was used to watching the taped coverage of four different ball games on four different channels late at night.

Now I feel lost, mindlessly surfing past mixed martial arts, billiards and Italian football.

I want my baseball back, and quick.

I imagine broadcasters are struggling to fill up air time, too. Baseball games can easily eat up three hours at a time slot when there are no live local games to televise and when hardly anyone is up watching sports coverage.

Yes, money is an important issue. I understand both sides want to get the best deal possible for their own interests.

But this stalemate doesn’t have to be all that complicated. The two sides should only remember the fans. We shouldn’t have to struggle to watch games on computer monitors or on non-sports cable channels with primitive graphics.

We deserve much better.

By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter []

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