Cable giant and TV provider conflict keeps games from campus viewers

Students living on campus lost access to coverage of several major sports leagues Monday because of a negotiations impasse between the owner of sports network Versus and its provider on campus.

Versus, a cable sports network owned by cable giant Comcast, specializes in providing coverage of college football, and niche sports like the National Hockey League and World Extreme Cagefighting.

According to an article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Versus is scheduled to air four TCU football games this season, more than any other team in the Mountain West Conference.

Robert Mercer, director of public relations for DirecTV, the university’s current television provider, said Comcast’s demands and push for above-market-value rates for the Versus channel are to blame for the negotiations failure as DirecTV will no longer carry Versus.

“We understand that there are sporting events that are of great interest to some fans, but this is a very, very low-rated channel on our platform,” Mercer said of the network.

In the August 2009 snapshot of DirecTV conducted by The Nielsen Company, Versus averaged 7,000 viewers, a rock-bottom figure, Mercer said.

Fans of sports offered by Versus, especially college football fans, are regrettably caught in the middle of the ongoing network negotiations, Mercer said. However, DirecTV viewers on the university campus will not be completely deprived of football coverage this season.

“There are a ton of other channels that carry sports on DirecTV – the same sports that are offered on Versus,” Mercer said.

DirecTV plans to continue to fight Comcast in an effort to negotiate a fairer price for customers, he said.

Comcast retaliated with a statement on the Versus Web site, calling Versus “one of the fastest growing sports networks in the country.”

“Versus offered DirecTV the ability to carry the network at a comparable level of distribution as it does today at the market rate that other operators are paying,” the statement read. “Rather than accept any of Versus’ fair and reasonable offers, DirecTV chose to remove Versus from its programming lineup.”

Travis Cook, director of business services at the university, said that while DirecTV and Comcast continue negotiations, subscribers like the university are left to wait until an agreement can be reached and the network reinstated.

“We are pretty much at their mercy,” Cook said of the halt in availability of Versus on campus. “There’s not a whole lot we can do about it.”

Christine Greve, a senior film-TV-digital media major, said students who enjoy watching and bonding over afternoons of college football might be upset by the hole in coverage left by Versus’ removal. Not having football games available could hinder the sense of community fostered by the sport, especially for the first-year students, she said.

Even though Greve no longer lives on campus, she said not having Versus around may be a reason for the university to reconsider its choice of provider.

“In a way, it would be roadblocking community,” Greve said.