John, I fully expect the same situation to exist in Boston next season. The contract with the over-the-air station in Boston (a Fox affiliate) expires after this season. The cable outlet, NESN, is majority-owned by the Red Sox.
The third largest share in the new ownership group is the New York Times, which owns the Boston Globe. The Fox affiliate is wholly owned by Fox, who also owns the Boston Herald. The rivalry between the two papers is intense. To this day, the publisher of the Herald has decreed that the Times/Globe ownership stake will not be mentioned in his paper.
The last couple of times the contract has come up for renewal, it's been difficult for the Red Sox to find competing bidders. WSBK (Channel 38), once one-third owner of NESN, lost interest when it became a UPN affiliate. For a couple of years before the Fox contract, the over-the-air rights were held by a small station owned by Boston University. With so few truly independent stations left, it's harder and harder for baseball teams to find outlets that want to commit to so much programming when they're already paying for network fare.
A couple of years ago, the Boston Celtics pulled all their games from over-the-air, and they're exclusively on Fox Sports New England. There's been very little uproar since FSNE became part of basic cable with the move instead of a premium channel. NESN moved from the premium tier to basic last year, in a move that netted a cool $30 million per year to the Red Sox over what they earned as a premium channel.
Over-the-air baseball has become an endangered species.
Baseball's premier attraction is still unavailable to the 3 million Cablevision customers being held hostage in their fight with YES. It looks pretty clear that they will not see the Yankees on cable all year.
I'm one of thousands (Cablevision reports only 5,700 so far, but the exodus is just starting) who have switched to DirecTV because of the YES network. The extras that also come with satellite (namely Ultimate TV) were the clincher.
My equipment will be delivered on Wednesday. Yankees vs. Tampa Bay, 7:05pm!
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