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The cable operator pulled its sponsorship of a Gophers football luncheon, the latest development in its stalement with the Big Ten Network to air games this fall.

U caught up in feud between Comcast, Big Ten Network

  • Article by: Chip Scoggins and Judd Zulgad
  • Star Tribune
  • August 27, 2007 - 9:33 PM

The showdown between the Big Ten Network and Comcast continues to escalate, and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce is caught in the middle with one of its events.

Comcast officials sent a letter to St. Paul Chamber and University of Minnesota officials last week requesting that the cable television company be removed as a corporate sponsor for Wednesday's Gophers football kickoff luncheon in St. Paul.

In the letter, which was obtained by the Star Tribune, Comcast's Twin Cities Region Vice President Bill Wright wrote that the decision was made "in light of reported plans by the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports to encourage Comcast customers to disconnect their service in favor of DirecTV, which is owned by the parent company of Fox."

Wright also wrote that because Minnesota is a member of the Big Ten Conference, "our financial support and sponsorship of upcoming University and Big Ten events is being withdrawn."

Mary Beth Schubert, vice president of corporate affairs for Comcast, said Monday the company's agreements with the university are "under review but no other decisions have been made."

This action was the latest line drawn in the sand between the Big Ten Network and Comcast, which have failed to reach a deal. The Gophers' season opener on Saturday is being televised by the BTN, and it's becoming clear that it won't be available to Comcast subscribers.

"We're obviously disappointed and feel bad that the St. Paul Chamber got dragged into this fight," Gophers senior associate athletics director Tom Wistrcill said. "We understand that business decisions are made for a variety of reasons."

Comcast was one of about 10 sponsors for the chamber of commerce event, which is expected to draw 400 people at Crowne Plaza. St. Paul Chamber spokesperson Wendy Burt said the decision was "not a major issue."We're sorry to lose Comcast as a sponsor for this event, but they are an important and active member of this chamber," she said.

Comcast and the university operate under a year-to-year contract that is worth about $60,000 annually and provides Comcast signage and some hospitality arrangements for football, basketball and hockey.

Gophers officials said they have not removed any Comcast signage from their athletic venues and said they are hopeful that their relationship will continue.

"To us, this is more about the long term," Wistrcill said.

In an e-mail statement, Schubert said Comcast has been "openly attacked with false, misleading and inflammatory statements by Big Ten Network officials; regrettably, these same comments have appeared on the University's official sports department website."

BTN executives are demanding that their channel be on expanded basic service of the cable operators in the eight-state Big Ten region. Comcast, which serves much of the Twin Cities, wants to put the network on a digital sports tier, meaning those who want it can pay an additional fee.

"We simply can not allow Fox Sports and the Big Ten to burden all of our customers -- the vast majority of whom have no interest in Big Ten sports -- with a $13 Big Ten tax," Wright wrote.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com Judd Zulgad • jzulgad@startribune.com

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