Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Comcast to Philly: Drop dead

Philly pols swoon over Comcast as a job creator. Why did the city's largest private company just move NBC Sports to Connecticut?

Comcast to Philly: Drop dead

NHL Live, airing on the NBC Sports Network, is now produced in the new Stamford complex. Here is the NHL Live team of Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones. The NBC Sports headquarters employees are expected to relocate there this summer.
NHL Live, airing on the NBC Sports Network, is now produced in the new Stamford complex. Here is the NHL Live team of Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones. The NBC Sports headquarters employees are expected to relocate there this summer.

This story got buried yesterday in the purple haze of excitement over Tom Corbett's one-of-a-kind insights on unemployment and drug tests: NBC Sports -- a major outfit that traces its current parentage to Philadelphia's Comcast -- is leaving its longtime headquarters at 30 Rock in Midtown Manhattan.

Yup, the prestigious TV unit is coming to P....er, uh, Connecticut???

STAMFORD, Conn. - Officials call Connecticut the sports-media headquarters of the world, with the 19-building complex that is ESPN in Bristol and offices for World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. and the Yankees' YES Network here.

Now they can add NBC Sports.

Lured by generous tax credits and modern TV studios, the Comcast Corp.-owned NBC Sports is bailing on 30 Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan - the most prestigious address in the TV business - after rehabbing and reconfiguring a Clairol hair-products factory for $100 million.

Since this is the Inquirer's take on the story, I'm a little surprised that the local angle got buried. Because of Comcast's tangled history with NBC, there were actually a goodly number of NBC Sports jobs here in Philadelphia, many of them linked to the NBC Sports Network Formerly Known As Versus Formerly Known As The Outdoor Life Network Founded A While Back By Comcast. Now most of those jobs -- 120 of them, to be exact -- are leaving Philly for the natural splendor of the Nutmeg State.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Now if you're like me and like most Philadelphians, you are probably a Comcast customer, and if you are a Comcast customer, there almost certainly have been days that you wanted to strangle Comcast.

That said, at least for me, it's kind of a love-hate relationship -- and here's why: Philadelphia needs jobs, and when it comes to creating jobs -- at least in that old-fashioned large-scale capitalist way, Comcast was our last best hope. I arrived here at the end of the 1980s, and since then I've seen most of the corporate entitles -- banks, departments stores -- either fold or merge with someone somewhere else. New York has Wall Street, L.A. has Hollywood, Detroit has cars (still, sort of) -- Philadelphia was "the Workshop of the World"...back in the time of Connie Mack and W.C. Fields.

In the day of ?uestlove and Chip Kelly, we have...Comcast. And they know it. So the cable/entertainment giant throws its massive weight around town, as it did recently in lobbying, successfully, to kill mandatory sick leave for Philadelphia workers. My friend Daniel Denvir of the City Paper recently spotlighted that and other aspects of Comcast's outsized influence in Philly, including the massive tax breaks for keeping its corporate headquarters here in the towering Comcast Center, and the unprecedented amount of love that Comcast also received here when it was seeking Washington's approval of the NBC-Universal merger. As Denvir's story notes:

Nowhere was merger support stronger than in Philadelphia, where then-Gov. Ed Rendell said it would bring “prestige” to the city and Mayor Michael Nutter gushed that “any announcement that shines a positive national spotlight on Philadelphia can only be good news for this city and for all Philadelphians.” 

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady led 15 of Pennsylvania’s 18 House members in signing a letter to the FCC, drafted by Comcast lobbyist (and former chief of staff to Sen. Arlen Specter) David Urban, promoting the deal. It would be, Brady’s chief of staff suggested to the Inquirer, “congressional malpractice to not help a major employer and taxpayer [in the state].” Rep. Allyson Schwartz signed, as did Rep. Chaka Fattah, who also joined a group of black and Hispanic lawmakers urging approval.

What chumps! This infuriated me at the time -- in a city that's supposedly known for its "brass-knuckle politics," why was no one (figuratively) pummeling Comcast in the head, telling local honcho (and former Rendell top aide) David L. Cohen that the local delegation would not support the merger unless Comcast promised to steer some of the tens of thousands of jobs that would now be at its disposal -- in movie and TV production, not to mention sports -- to Philadelphia, where jobs are so desperately needed?

Instead, Comcast has played our politicians like fools, taking well-paying jobs that would have meshed perfectly here in Philly and taken them north to Connecticut. It's even more tragic when you think how a spacious facility like the Navy Yard -- in the shadow of arguably America's most vibrant sports complex on South Broad Street -- could have given Comcast/NBC Sports everything it wanted in terms of space, prestige, easy train access to New York, et certera. It didn't happen - I'm guessing probably because some overpaid and overly self-satisfied NBC Sports executive just bought an overpriced house in Fairfield County.

So Comcast's message to the city that -- beyond all reason and understanding -- has loved it back, was quite simply, drop dead.

Which leaves one sport that Philadelphia excels in: Charlie-Brown-and-Lucy-football-kicking.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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