MSG Hockey MIA In HD

Howard BurnsCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2009

The folks at Cablevision sure have a penchant for pissing off the very fans they want to support their sports teams and TV networks—and we're not even talking about the Isiah Thomas years with the New York Knicks.

It wasn't that long ago that its Madison Square Garden subsidiary was one of the last of the high-def holdouts when it came to making its HD telecasts available to the satellite services. Cablevision is, after all, a cable operator. Why give a damn about satellite customers?

While the birds' subs are thankful that time has passed, the owner of the MSG-branded TV networks is now embroiled in a battle royal with the NHL and, by extension, fans of New York-area hockey teams who reside outside the local market.

Effective Jan. 22, a contractual dispute resulted in all HD telecasts emanating from MSG networks being pulled from the league's NHL Center Ice digital subscription package on satellite and cable. The action affects telecasts of the New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, and last but definitely not least, the Cablevision-owned New York Rangers.

The latest skirmish comes amid an already heated relationship between the NHL and Cablevision over control of the Rangers' Web site.

The NHL took charge of each of its teams' sites in 2007. MSG objected and sued the league, alleging it was acting as "an illegal cartel." In response, the NHL filed a disciplinary letter with the Manhattan court saying MSG violated the league constitution by filing the suit, thereby threatening its ownership of the team.

We're not sure if the recent bad blood over the site has anything to do with the HD hullabaloo, but that hasn't stopped irate hockey fans from making the connection in chat rooms across the Web. In the meantime, the NHL is apologetic and hopeful the matter can be resolved soon. MSG is silent.

This squabble needs to be settled yesterday. Not only is HD still a luxury commodity for most, but MSG cutting off the games in the middle of the season is just plain rude. Yet again, it's the fans who are sent to the penalty box. Very nice.