If you’re a fan of a lot of MLB teams — including the Twins — and you use either Dish Network or Sling TV as your provider, you haven’t been able to watch any of the 21 Fox regional sports networks (including FSN) since July 26.
On the morning of that date, the channels were blacked out on Dish and Sling as part of a contractual impasse in which — surprise! — both sides seem to blame one another while consumers suffer.
These dust-ups have happened in the past, but what makes this one particularly frustrating and damaging is that there doesn’t appear to be any compromise in sight.
I reached out to Fox Sports North for an update and was referred to a statement from a spokesperson representing all the Fox regional networks: “As of 9:00 am Pacific Time, Friday, July 26, DISH and Sling no longer carry any of the 21 FOX Sports Regional Networks. The FOX RSNs offered to extend DISH and Sling under the current terms of our existing agreement, but DISH and Sling rejected our offer. We know fans are looking forward to the broadcasts of their hometown teams during the stretch run of the baseball season, and we hope DISH and Sling act to return this programming to their customers.”
Meanwhile, this is the message Sling customers are getting when they reach out via Twitter to ask if FSN might be returning to the carrier anytime soon (I know from experience; I’m a sling customer. More on that in a minute): “Hi there! We are working nonstop to get these channels back, but we do not have any information whether they’ll be returning. We appreciate your patience as these negotiations with the programmer continue.”
Dish customers can’t be feeling very optimistic. Charlie Ergen, the chairman of Dish — the “nation’s fourth-largest subscription TV service,” per Ad Age — said recently: “It doesn’t look good that the regional sports will ever be on Dish again.”
Maybe that’s just posturing, but …
The article from which Ergen is quoted gets to the heart of the impasse and the expense of the regional sports networks.
But that does nothing for sports fans who bought a subscription thinking they were going to get a certain set of channels — in many cases, myself included, specifically because Sling was a less expensive way than larger carriers with more channels ($30 a month, including 50 hours of DVR) to still have access to FSN.
I dare say FSN is the channel I watch more than all the rest combined, and I don’t think I’m alone in that among local sports fans given that they also carry the vast majority of United, Timberwolves and Wild games in addition to some Lynx games.
Dish customers are especially boxed in because that service often includes a lengthy contract and expensive termination fee.
Sling is month to month with no long-term commitment or cancellation fee. And there are other streaming options out there like YouTube TV and Hulu Plus that offer similar experiences.
I was out of town for a lot of the early blackout, but now I’m signed up for a free 7-day trial of Hulu Plus, primarily as a bridge over the next week in order to watch the Twins and Cleveland play. If Sling doesn’t re-add FSN by the middle of next week, I’ll dump it and pay a little extra ($44.95 a month including 50 hours of DVR) for Hulu Plus, which includes more sports channels (ESPN is now back in my life, at least for now) and access to the full Hulu library (my wife is excited to watch The Handmaid’s Tale finally, so there’s that).
It’s not a bad deal, and if it comes to that I won’t shed a tear.
But I can’t help but wonder, based on that Ad Age story, if more trouble and disruption is brewing on the regional sports network front with other carriers. We’ll have to see.
For now, if you are stuck with Dish, I recommend a free trial of another product if you have streaming capability. If not … I feel for you. The Twins are finally relevant again, and not being able to watch them — while not the end of the world — is frustrating to be sure.