|Friday, March 28
YES Network, Cablevision break off talks
NEW YORK -- The YES Network and Cablevision walked away Friday from their agreement, leaving 3 million homes without the New York Yankees on television for the start of a second straight season.
Each side blamed the other, alleging last-minute maneuvers to change the terms of a one-year agreement announced March 12.
"We're still going to play, but it's unfortunate because I know I had family members and friends that were looking forward to that,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They were excited about it. I don't know all the workings, but evidently when they put it down on paper it wasn't the same thing that they were talking about.''
Pitcher Mike Mussina joked at the time of the tentative agreement that he would sell his satellite dish. Mussina said Friday he didn't sell it.
"There you have it -- the three-week deal,'' Mussina said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had helped negotiate the one-year deal, announced the cancellation Friday, three days before the Yankees' opener.
"Unfortunately, at the moment, Cablevision and the YES Network are unable to agree on the details of the previously announced agreement,'' the mayor said.
The March 12 deal was described at the time as an interim deal that would allow fans to see this year's games while the two sides negotiated a longer-term deal. A pricing dispute had kept Yankee games off Cablevision all of last year, the debut season of the YES Network.
Fans with Cablevision service, including residents around Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, had been signing up in recent days for the YES Network, which Cablevision was offering -- and advertising -- for as little as $1.95 a month. As late as Friday afternoon, the cable company was still taking orders for the service.
"It's the fans who lose out,'' YES chairman Leo Hindery said.
"We share the frustration of Yankees fans,'' Cablevision Systems Corp. president James Dolan said.
Both sides said they were willing to negotiate further, but expressed doubt that anything could happen in time for Opening Day. YES lawyer David Boies said the network's federal lawsuit against Cablevision will proceed.
Dolan said Cablevision was insisting on the terms that were agreed to the day of Bloomberg's announcement -- but YES submitted a different document two days later.
Dolan claimed Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had "reneged.'' A representative for Steinbrenner did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
"They want a whole lot more money and they really don't want to go to arbitration,'' Dolan said. "But if they do agree to go to arbitration, they don't want anybody to see how much money they are making.''
Hindery said Steinbrenner was not involved in the negotiations. Hindery said the March 14 document simply codified a handwritten one into legal language and had accommodated Cablevision's concerns.
"There is not a single change we were asked to make that we have not made,' he said. He said he had expected to sign a final agreement by Friday night and had "no clue'' why Cablevision refused.
While Cablevision is a cable distributor, it is also a programmer, with sports channels including Fox Sports New York and the MSG Network. In the interim agreement it had agreed to make YES available in the same manner as its sports channels.
Two mediators involved in the talks, Richard Aurelio and Gerald Levin, issued a statement saying: "We expect the parties to abide by the interim agreement reached on March 12 and announced to the public.'' Most of the issues in dispute involve long-term and arbitration-related issues, they said, for which there is "ample time to resolve.''
YES is controlled by YankeeNets, the sports media company that owns the Yankees, the New Jersey Nets and the New Jersey Devils. The network has exclusive rights to most Yankee games.
Last season's dispute cost the YES Network more than $60 million in subscriber fees, and tens of millions more in advertising. Cablevision lost 39,400 subscribers last year.
The YES Network went on the air last April. Cablevision owns Madison Square Garden, the MSG Network, and the New York Knicks and Rangers. The Yankees appeared on the MSG Network for 13 seasons before 2002.