Rim Country Suns Fans Lose Half A Season

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It was big news for Phoenix Suns fans in the Rim country when the team recently announced that all 41 home games would be televised this season on Fox Sports Net Arizona.

Imagine the disappointment of local fans like Mike Fisher, who settled in last Saturday evening to watch the Suns take on Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the team's first home game of the season. Instead of the game, what they got was the "Best Damn Sports Show Period" and other regular Fox Arizona programming.

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Suns' point guard Stephon Marbury drives to the basket during a recent home game. While local satellite customers can catch all the action, Cable Vision has opted not to carry Suns' home games.

Fisher, a retiree who moved to the Rim country two years ago after 20 years in the Valley, is a longtime Suns fan. He decided to pursue the matter.

When he called Fox Sports Net Arizona, he got a recording that says, in part:

"If you're calling because you're not receiving the Phoenix Suns - Los Angeles Lakers game on Fox Sports Net Arizona ... call your local cable company directly to request Phoenix Suns' games."

That's exactly what Fisher did, and he didn't like what he heard.

"I called Cable Vision's 800 number and they were totally useless," Fisher said. "So I just went down there (to the local office) and the manager happened to be there."

After some research the local manager, who declined to talk to the Roundup, called Fisher back with an explanation; it's all about money.

"He said he had talked to Fox and the deal is that to carry the games within 150 miles they charge 30 cents per subscriber per month year-round," Fisher said. "I did the math and with 5,000 subscribers that's $1,500 per month."

Jeff Muhn, a spokesperson for the Suns, elaborated.

"Fox has to charge a certain fee -- a surcharge if you will -- to cable companies to get the signal of the Suns games to them, similar to what they do for the Diamondbacks and Coyotes," Muhn said. "Some cable systems around the state have apparently opted not to take on the surcharge and your system in Payson is one of them."

According to Fox Public Relations Director Brett Hansen, Cable Vision is in a distinct minority not carrying the games.

"There are only a few around the state," Hansen said.

Fisher said he appreciates the dilemma of small cable companies like Cable Vision.

"There was a rate increase a few months ago based on programming, and I understand that programming costs are going up," he said. "I understand they're in a small market. I also understand Direct TV (and other satellite providers) have an unfair advantage because they're using the same satellite and are riding off of Phoenix."

But Fisher is an ex-business person who owned and operated several companies before his retirement, and he doesn't think Cable Vision should be trying to cut corners.

"They have to deal with those things," he said. "Their competitors have (the games), and they're going to lose customers. When I told them people are thinking about switching over this, that got their attention."

Fisher believes the solution is simple -- pass the additional cost on to subscribers.

"Who's going to squawk about a 30-cent increase, and they have a good excuse to do it," he said. "In fact, I would raise it more than that and come out ahead on the deal. People are going to accept it because it's somebody else's fault."

The alternative -- continuing to not carry the games -- is fraught with risk, he believes.

"If they lose 40 subscribers over this, that's more than the $1,500 monthly cost," Fisher said.

The local Cable Vision manager referred the Roundup to District Manager Wayne Beikmann, who is based in Flagstaff. He said that basketball in general and the Suns in particular are not all that popular among Rim country subscribers.

"It's a lot of money," Beikmann said. "If everybody liked the Suns and liked watching basketball, it would be something we'd probably do. But if you look at the number of people out there who would really watch the game or are really Phoenix Suns fans, that's really a very small percentage."

Beikmann said the issue goes beyond the Rim country.

"So many of these sports franchises are making cable companies pay extra," he said. "In New York, the Yankees are doing it. The Kansas City Royals tried it with some of their stuff this last year.

"They're basically holding us hostage by raising their rates so a few people can watch a basketball game. The sports networks' rates go up incredibly every year. We got a 20 percent increase from ESPN this year. Every year they go up like that. We always see the biggest rate increases from sports channels."

Pay-per-view is not an option, because it's not available from Fox.

"It's all or nothing," Beikmann said. For the time being, Cable Vision has chosen the latter.

"At this time, we're not reconsidering our decision," he said.

So Fisher is reconsidering his.

"I told them I don't want to make a big deal out of it," he said. "I can just switch to somebody else. People are going to leave and you won't get new customers, when you could cover the cost with a small rate increase. But do whatever you want. It's your business."

In recent years, Suns home games were carried by Cox Cable, the cable provider in the Valley and were not available in the Rim country. All 41 away games are available to Cable Vision subscribers, most on KUTP/UPN.

Hansen confirmed that the home games are available on satellite, and further indicated that the satellite companies pay for the service.

"They're available statewide on Direct TV and the Dish Network," he said.

Hansen also said Fox is willing to negotiate with Cable Vision.

"We would love to get the Suns in as many homes as possible around the state," he said. "It's a great product, and from some of the phone calls we've received, people really want to see the Suns."

While Cable Vision appears to have written off the season, Hansen still hopes the matter can be resolved.

"Just because the first Suns game wasn't on, hopefully that doesn't mean every other game from here on out won't be," he said.

The Suns next home game is tonight (Friday) against the Memphis Grizzlies.

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