ICYMI: Star Tribune: Sen. Tina Smith goes to bat against Comcast for frustrated Twins fans

WASHINGTON, D.C. [7.7.24] – In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Tina Smith sent a letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts urging the cable provider to return to the negotiation table with Bally Sports North and get the Minnesota Twins back on the air for Comcast customers.

Star Tribune: Sen. Tina Smith takes aim at Comcast on behalf of ‘furious’ constituents

In a letter to Comcast’s CEO this week, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith chided the cable company for dropping Bally Sports channels nationwide — a move that has left thousands of Twins fans without access to games. 

By Michael Rand | June 6, 2024

If you’re a Twins fan and Comcast cable subscriber frustrated by the cable company’s decision more than a month ago to drop Bally Sports North in a pricing dispute, know this:

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith is frustrated, too.

The Minnesota senator sent a letter this week on her official U.S. Senate stationery to Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts urging the company to restart negotiations. “My constituents are furious,” she wrote.

In a follow-up interview with the Star Tribune that appears on Thursday’s “Daily Delivery” podcast, Sen. Smith expanded on her thoughts and feelings.

“I hear so much about this from my constituents and I come from a big baseball fan family myself. Springtime comes and you are excited to watch the Twins and you can’t go to the games all the time,” she said. “And so watching the Twins on television as a fine part of Minnesota’s summer tradition and then to just not be able to have access to that is a huge blow. And I’m frustrated.”

In the letter, Smith frames up the parameters of how Comcast dropped Bally Sports channels at the beginning of May. In negotiations with Diamond Sports, the parent company that operates Bally Sports channels, Comcast was attempting to put the Bally Sports channels on a different pricing tier. That was the main sticking point in talks.

Diamond Sports filed for bankruptcy more than a year ago and has been working through a reorganization process that is slated to culminate in late July, which creates both complications and urgency in the negotiations.

Bally Sports North (previously Fox Sports North) has been dropped from various other carriers in recent years, including streaming services such as Hulu and YouTube TV as well as Dish Network.

“It seems like every season there’s a new set of rules and a new kind of hoops that you have to figure out how to jump through just as a fan and as a viewer,” said Smith, adding that while she understands negotiations are complicated it shouldn’t come at the expense of fans.

In her letter, Smith writes that she is concerned about what seems to be an impasse between the two parties. But she hopes amplifying the conversation will help lead to a resolution.

“I don’t have a magic wand here. I can’t fix this problem by myself,” she said. “But I do have the power of the bully pulpit and I can talk about it with people and raise awareness of it and hope to put some public pressure on them so that they will get back to the negotiating table.”

Full text of Senator Smith’s letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts:

Dear Mr. Roberts,

I am writing to request that you promptly resolve the dispute that has led to Minnesota Twins games being unavailable to Comcast customers in Minnesota. My constituents are furious. Minnesotans look forward to watching the Twins all winter long. With no advance notice, households across Minnesota have been suddenly locked out of watching Twins games, affecting people in every corner of our state. I strongly encourage Comcast to return to negotiations and fix this.

I understand that Major League Baseball teams partner with regional sports networks to broadcast games and these networks then partner with companies like yours to distribute these broadcasts to consumers. It is also my understanding that on April 30, 2024, the previous agreement between Comcast and Diamond Sports, the owner of Bally Sports North, expired. Immediately after, Comcast customers across Minnesota couldn’t watch Twins games, and were given no clear timeline for when this problem would be resolved. This dispute is also blocking Minnesota Lynx games and could extend to Timberwolves and Wild games if not resolved before the next National Basketball Association and National Hockey League seasons. While Comcast has provided small credits toward the bills of affected customers, a long-term outage of these games is untenable. As more time passes, I am increasingly concerned that a real solution isn’t materializing.

I encourage you to return to the negotiation table and work in good faith to promptly reach an agreement that restores access to Minnesota professional sports and protects affordability for your customers. I am particularly concerned by media reports that indicate the impasse is the result of Comcast’s effort to move Bally Sports North into a more expensive subscription package. Fans are not bargaining chips and hardball tactics in the pursuit of greater profit shouldn’t prevent access watching baseball.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.