Yankees network targets Comcast in ads

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The Yankees page on the website for the YES Network, which Comcast dropped from its offerings in November, saying viewership was weak.

Tracy Dolgin, CEO of the YES Network, which carries the New York Yankees games, lashed out at Comcast Corp. as anti-consumer and warned that YES was launching on Wednesday a multimillion-dollar ad campaign telling Xfinity TV customers they should switch TV providers.

The ads will appear on mass transit terminals, billboards, television and social media, and in newspapers throughout the New York TV market - including central New Jersey.

Full-page color newspaper ads with Yankees reliever Dellin Betances say "Comcast Xfinity Strikes Out" and add "Drop Comcast Today."

In November, Comcast dumped the Fox Sports-controlled YES - one of the nation's most popular regional sports networks - during contract talks over the network's distribution to 900,000 Xfinity customers, saying that YES's fees were too high and that internal cable-box data showed that only a fraction of TV subscribers watched it.

Comcast also says that Fox has tried to leverage YES to gain broader distribution on Comcast Cable for other Fox-owned cable channels.

YES, meanwhile, says that Comcast has been seeking to "tilt the playing field in its favor" with provisions in a new distribution contract.

Simmering for months, the dispute between the two TV sports giants now has boiled over with the Yankees' home opener against the Houston Astros only weeks away, scheduled for April 4, and YES seeking to hurt Comcast where it hurts most: telling people to leave it.

Dolgin said there have been no serious talks with Comcast and "no facts to indicate that a deal will be done" by April 4.

In blunt language, Dolgin said that dumping YES seems to be another case of Comcast treating its subscribers poorly, and that the Philadelphia company has used "voodoo data" to justify its claims on YES television viewership.

Last season, YES was the No. 1 cable network in New York on the nights the Yankees played, based on Nielsen ratings, Dolgin and other YES officials say.

"On its face, it's one of the most absurd things anybody has heard," Dolgin said of Comcast's statements on YES viewership, Market research, he added, shows that about 40 percent of the New York-area residents call themselves Yankees fans.

Comcast has cloaked its public stance on YES as "consumer-friendly," Dolgin said. But after it pulled YES network off its cable system, Comcast raised cable rates and boosted a regional sports network fee to $3 a month from $1. "They are making their customers pay more for less," he said.

According to the SNL Kagan research firm, YES charged Comcast and other TV distributors monthly subscriber fees of $5.93 in 2015, the highest of any regional sports network.

Spokesman John Demming said Tuesday that Comcast's programming costs have soared faster than customers' bills and that Comcast's view of YES hasn't changed since last fall.

At the time, Comcast said that YES carried 130 baseball games in 2015, but 90 percent of Comcast's 900,000 subscribers "didn't watch the equivalent of even one quarter of those games during the season, even while the Yankees were in the hunt for a playoff berth."

With spring training underway, Demming said, there has been "low customer interest" in the YES Network. He added that Comcast hasn't experienced a flood of calls from subscribers asking for it.

bfernandez@phillynews.com

215-854-5897 @bobfernandez1

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