As Angry Nats Fans Organize, Anti-Cable Agenda Suspected
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Buses packed with baseball fans are scheduled to roll shortly after noon today from seven popular Washington area sports bars to the Nationals game at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
Each fan will receive a free ticket and a white T-shirt with a slogan -- "Hey Comcast! Hey Angelos! You can. You won't. We lose!" At the game, they'll be instructed to wave posters and bumper stickers advertising a Web site -- http:/
If all goes as planned, 500 fans will turn out to demand that Comcast cable start carrying the baseball games, organizers said.
Comcast and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who also owns the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, are fighting in court over who controls the region's cable TV rights for Nationals games. Until the dispute is settled, most Nationals games can be seen only on DirecTV, a satellite company, and the Washington UPN affiliate, WDCA (Channel 20).
The fans are fighting back, said Linda Farmer, general manager of Ramparts Restaurant and Sportsbar in Alexandria, which organized the effort. What began as a bar conversation, she said, blossomed into a campaign that has raised $35,000 to buy tickets, create a Web site and buy ads in newspapers. Some patrons, she said, contributed several thousand dollars apiece.
But cable industry observers say the campaign gives off more than a whiff of professionalism.
"This ad campaign appears more targeted at smearing Comcast and the cable industry than at getting Nationals games on television," said David Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president.
"We have found it curious that there is an alleged coalition of bar owners, most of whom have DirecTV in their bars, who allegedly are serving as the grass-roots voice."
Some cable officials wonder whether the campaign is being engineered by someone with another motive, a tactic known in advertising circles as "astroturfing."
"This is somebody trying to create false grass roots," said Steve Effros, president of Effros Communications, a consultant and analyst in the cable industry.
"Certainly, the telephone companies have been known to do that in the past."
Although the names of 43 establishments are posted as sponsors on the campaign's Web site, the cable industry has raised questions about the amount of money contributed, the nature of the rhetoric and the involvement of Jeff Mazzella.