Sports
5:46 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

Sabres spokesman on Time Warner/MSG impasse: "We're frustrated."

Thousands of Buffalo Sabres fans who would normally enjoy their favorite hockey team at home on TV were forced to make other plans, watch the game elsewhere, or miss it entirely.

These are the thousands of Time Warner Cable subscribers whose access to MSG Network is blacked out as the cable provider and netwotk that carries Sabres games (along with several metro New York pro sports teams) remained at odds over a new deal.

Time Warner officials claim MSG wants a 53-percent increase for a new deal, a rate the cable company calls unacceptable.  In the meantime, Sabres fans who normally watch games on Time Warner Cable must find a television with an alternative subscription plan. 

At the First Niagara Center, Sabres spokesman Michael Gilbert says the team is frustrated to be caught in the middle, as they remain under a long-term deal with MSG Network.  

"It is frustrating.  We have a long-term deal with MSG and they pay us a lot of money to broadcast our games, which in turn helps the viability of the franchise," said Gilbert.  "We're stuck in the middle and we're not happy about it.  Hopefully this gets done in a timely manner."

Years ago, under previous ownership, the Sabres broadcast their games on their own television network, the Empire Sports Network.  That company collapsed when the Sabres filed for bankruptcy following the Rigas family's financial scandal.  Between the existing long-term deal with MSG and a situation under which the Sabres receive money rather than pay it to run their own broadcasts, Gilbert says no plans are in place any time soon for a return to the Sabres' self-produced hockey telecasts.

Coincidentally, Gilbert is among the thousands of customers affected by this impasse.

"I'm a Time Warner subscriber.  My wife and kids at home know they can't watch the game.  They do that all the time.  I'm going to be here at the game so I'll see it live.  But for a lot of people who can't get out or can't get to the game, it's real disappointing.  We're not happy about it and we encourage both sides to get an agreement done as quickly as they can."

During the dispute, Time Warner has replaced MSG with the NBA network, while replacing a secondary channel, MSG Plus, with the NHL Network.  Ironically, the NHL Network was previously available only to those Time Warner customers willing to pay additional money for that channel.  Now the 24/7 hockey channel is being made available to basic level customers in place of Sabres games.