Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Sports

February 17, 2012

Lin helps end blackout

Move will return Sabres games to local cable subscribers.

First, he lifted the Knicks back into the playoff hunt. Now Jeremy Lin has put them — and the Buffalo Sabres — back on TV.

The Madison Square Garden Co. said Friday it had reached a tentative deal to put Knicks games back on television for some 2 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in the New York area. New York state officials and the NBA had pressured the companies to settle.

A dispute over fees had left subscribers unable to watch the Knicks since Jan. 1, meaning they couldn’t tune in to watch the undrafted point guard from Harvard come off the bench to lead the team to seven straight wins and a 15-15 record. Fans complained and called for a quick resolution.

The multi-year agreement between MSG and Time Warner Cable was reached Friday afternoon, ending a 48-day blackout dispute just in time for local sports fans to watch the Sabres take on the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night.

One state official close to the negotiations said Lin’s phenomenal run forced the deal, along with the recent play of the Rangers, whose hockey games are also carried on the MSG network.

NBA Commissioner David Stern stepped in over the last two days, telling the sides how important it was to get Lin back on TV for both parties, for the league and for basketball itself, said one person close to the talks who requested anonymity.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called each company’s top executives in the last two days, according to another state official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations were private. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he had been working for a month to shepherd the companies toward agreement.

“I thank them for being responsive to the needs of New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“Hallelujah,” said Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer who wrote to the companies Friday to complain. “We can all watch and experience this evolving story.”

The deal came just as the Knicks prepared to host the New Orleans Hornets Friday night.

A hurricane of “Linsanity” has swirled around the breakthrough 23-year-old, who was born in Palo Alto, Calif., to Taiwanese parents.

His play has helped lift the stock of The Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the Knicks and the MSG network that carries their games. On Friday, shares closed up 98 cents, or 3.1 percent, at $32.85.

The company’s stock is up more than 11 percent since Lin stepped off the bench Feb. 4 and posted his first professional 25-point game.

An explosion of interest from fans around the world has resulted in a big ratings boost wherever Knicks games have been shown, including on Sina.com, the NBA’s official website partner in China. The NBA has only one other Asian player, Hamed Haddadi, an Iranian who plays limited minutes for the Memphis Grizzlies.

ESPN had its biggest regular-season Friday night audience so far this season — 34 percent above the average with 3 million viewers — when Lin outscored Kobe Bryant with 38 points to beat the Lakers on Feb. 10.

MSG network has seen ratings more than triple since his breakout Feb. 4 game, according to Nielsen, even with the games blacked out to Time Warner Cable subscribers who account for about a fifth of more than 10 million people who get MSG.

Lin jerseys have been the top-selling jerseys at NBAStore.com for the last couple weeks, and they’ve now been shipped to 23 countries. Most buyers are in the U.S. and Canada; Taiwan, China and Australia round out the top five destinations. Fathead posters of Lin and trading cards are also flying out the door.

The new TV deal means higher advertising revenue and higher fees per subscriber for Madison Square Garden. The companies had been at loggerheads over what Time Warner Cable said was a demand for a 53 percent fee hike. MSG has said that claim was “simply incorrect.”

While New Yorkers are especially possessive of their new star, his performances have helped fill sports bars and win fans around the world.

“The last time I was a Knicks fan was when Patrick Ewing was playing,” said Tim Chen, a 25-year-old accountant who showed up at the Barney’s Beanery sports bar near the UCLA campus in Los Angeles to catch the Knicks game Wednesday night. “It’s been all Lin all week. People just overlooked him.”

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