- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Die-hard baseball fans rose yesterday morning with grand plans to watch the season opener between the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s live from Tokyo. But many of them saw a blank screen and an apology.

Satellite provider DirecTV couldn’t broadcast the game on ESPN2 or the New England Sports Network (NESN) because of technical difficulties, leaving Red Sox and A’s fans confused and irate most of the morning.

“NO NEED TO CALL US,” read the message on the screen this morning. “We are aware this TV station is temporarily unavailable. We will have this channel back as soon as possible. SORRY FOR THE INTERRUPTION.”

Talk about bad timing.

“I fire up the TV, flip through all the 800 other ESPNs and get to ESPN2 … where there is no reception,” author Seth Mnookin, who attempted to watch the game from his in-laws’ house in North Carolina, wrote on his blog. “Not snow, not a blurry screen, not a fuzzy picture … nothing.”

DirecTV’s blamed the miscue on a faulty transponder. The outage only affected those attempting to watch the game in standard definition; ESPN2HD and NESNHD were fine.

“We experienced temporary technical difficulties early this morning [that] resulted in some channels not being available to customers [the majority of our channels were not affected],” DirecTV wrote in a press release. “We have since corrected the problem. … We deeply apologize, particularly to Red Sox fans, for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Of course, the restoring of service came several hours after the Red Sox won 6-5 in 10 innings. Manny Ramirez’s two-run hit in the top of the 10th was, according to privileged cable subscribers, quite the dramatic moment.

“I got up this morning after a long cold winter of the Mitchell Report, of constant trade talks … months of speculation of what’s going to happen,” ESPN’s Buster Olney said on a video blog post yesterday. “I got up at 4 o’clock, had my coffee, was ready to sit down and watch Joe Blanton throw the first pitch of the season … and the satellite signal was out. This is a body blow, knowing that game’s going on and I can’t watch it.”

If a cable or satellite operator and has technical difficulties with a channel, there is only one channel more disastrous to lose than ESPN2, and that’s ESPN. And normally, an outage at 6 a.m. on a weekday won’t get people too riled up. But this is the season opener with sleep-deprived Red Sox fans.

There is a bit of irony here, however. For the longest time, DirecTV has been the favored service for sports fans because it has the widest selection of sports channels and packages. The NFL Sunday Ticket? Only on DirecTV? NASCAR Hot Pass? Again, DirecTV only. And the satellite provider rarely finds itself in disputes over carriage of channels ranging from MASN to the NFL Network. Here, for perhaps the first time, DirecTV has drawn the ire of a big — and influential — body of sports fans.

The good news: There’s another Red Sox-A’s game this morning.

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