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WNBA needs to end blackouts in order to increase its fan base

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published October 02. 2012 4:00AM

Two things they'll need to teach from this day forward at sportswriters' school: 1.) Try watching the game instead of tweeting. Then you won't have to ask the guy next to you what just happened; and 2.) Take as many business and economics courses as you can. You never know when you'll need to be lyrical about dollar signs and their tentacles.

It was during my violation of the former that I discovered insufficient knowledge of the latter is a giant pain in the ascot.

Several fans of the Connecticut Sun tweeted yours truly Saturday night as irate as you can get in 140 characters during the Sun-Liberty playoff game in Newark. They tweeted because they had to follow the game via twitter or online score updates because they were unable to watch it. It was blacked out on NBA TV in parts of Connecticut.

Hence, the last day or so has been quite an education, immersed in esoteric television blackout rules. Let me just say this: Maybe McMahon and Murphy can put their exercises in competitive indignation to better use and fix this morass of bilge water.

The blackout affected fans in the western part of the state. Here is what I discovered: Because the game was also broadcast on Madison Square Garden Plus, the game was blacked out on NBA TV within a certain radius of New York City, thus affecting western Connecticut.

Essentially, blackout restrictions are designed to protect the television rights holders in competing teams' respective home markets. The purpose behind blackouts is to make rights holders more money by forcing fans to watch the game on a certain channel.

In theory, a cable television or satellite television subscriber in western Connecticut would have been forced to watch the game on MSG Plus, not NBA TV. A number of fans, through subsequent communications, have said they are subscribed to NBA TV, not MSG Plus and were therefore subject to an unfair rule. You can't watch a game on a channel you don't have.

The blackout rule still applied to them because of inconsistencies within various cable and satellite systems and blackout rules that are applied generally, not specifically. Translation: MSG Plus may be part of the basic or pay package of certain cable or satellite systems. It may not be offered at all. NBA TV may be part of the same package. Or not offered at all.

But blackout rules do not accommodate the vagaries of various systems: black it out on NBA TV within a certain radius. Period. Extenuating circumstances are irrelevant.

It's time they became relevant.

Amid all this techno-babble comes the bottom line: It hurt the Sun. It hurt the WNBA. Here's why: There is no better way to increase a fan base than capitalizing on a playoff run. The best way for the Sun to turn their faithful 7,000 every night at Mohegan Sun into 8,500 is to capture more of Connecticut's fancy. Witnessing a 14-0 run to end a knockout game would have been a great way to begin.

Instead, a segment of the state the franchise needs to expand the brand was in the dark.

The WNBA needs to address this at the ownership level.

Because while the league should be commended for corporate deals that have attracted Bing, Farmers Insurance and Boost Mobile in recent years, the aforementioned businesses still need eyes on their brands to succeed. Blacking out games for convoluted reasons - or because nobody spends enough time challenging the wisdom of "protecting the television rights holders in competing teams' respective home markets" is counter-productive.

Think about it. This is the WNBA. A limited fan base. How much "protecting" does the Liberty need in Connecticut? How many Liberty fans honestly exist in Connecticut?

This is why the WNBA should be exempt from this. At least until the league begins to establish legitimate markets across state lines.

I understand why the Knicks, for example, would be blacked out in eastern Connecticut: Celtics territory. Same reason the Celts are blacked out in Fairfield County. That's a far better example of "protecting the television rights holders in competing teams' respective home markets."

But this? This is the WNBA. It needs to establish fan bases. Blacking out games that irritate fans is absurd. If the league is serious, its brass needs to walk across the hall to the NBA and have a serious discussion. The same rules shouldn't apply.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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