By Mike Steffanos
How about at least a chance to watch our team?
The last few days of spring training are trickling away, and still many Mets fans like myself are frozen out of watching our team play. If you happen to live in a town that has a cable system that doesn't give a damn about Mets fans, what are your alternatives? Well, it's looking more and more like Fred Wilpon and the rest of SportsNet New York's management feels that it's acceptable to ask you to flirt with alcoholism by hanging out in a sports bar all summer. On the other hand, you can move to a different town that has a more accommodating cable system -- especially if that system happens to own part of Fred's shiny new network. What? You don't want to move? Hey, that's not Fred's problem. He'll be watching Mets games this summer.
Okay, I admit it. That was a silly cheap shot at Fred Wilpon, who by all accounts is a decent man. He seems to care about his team's fans more than most of the money-grubbing carpetbaggers who typically own sports franchises these days. Fred has taken a lot of shots from Mets fans over the years, some deserved, some not. To me, the only thing he has been guilty of as an owner is lacking decisiveness and consistency of purpose in operating the Mets. Until now.
By choosing to start his own regional sports network, Mr. Wilpon was willing to jump on the latest bandwagon in sports -- where the loyal fans of a team are cynically played against cable system operators in a tug-o-war of greed. Want to watch the Mets games? Get on the phone with your cable company. What if your cable company refuses to add the network? Blame them -- don't blame Mr. Wilpon and company.
Except for the fact that is was quite predictable, indeed inevitable, that many Mets fans would be frozen out in this manner. In the same way that in war there is an "acceptable" level of casualties in every battle, I'm sure that Fred and his partners look at people like me as "acceptable" casualties in their battle to cash in on Mets fans' loyalty to our team. Admittedly, in a free market capitalist system, Mr. Wilpon is certainly not breaking any laws here.
You know what, though -- if nothing else, Fred Wilpon owes us at least the chance of watching our team. For those of us that are pawns in the game between cable monopolies and Mr. Wilpon's new network, he needs to make a deal with DirecTV so that we have a viable alternative over sports bars and moving. On one hand, we hear a deal with the satellite company is "inevitable", then on the other we hear nasty rumors that SNY is playing hardball with DirecTV so that the cable companies that are partners with Fred can fatten up on impatient Mets fans switching to cable.
I go back to the day when ball games were on over-the-air television, when sitting through Rheingold commercials was the price you paid to follow your team. I know those days are gone forever. Fred Wilpon didn't invent the regional sports network, but he's shown that he's willing to exploit that golden goose to turn a little more profit. Fine -- knock yourself out, sir. Just give those of us standing out in the cold a chance. Come to an agreement with DirecTV, and then I'll get off your back.