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TV dispute drives fans to bars

Seahawks fans using Dish Network out of luck again

Spokane football fans desperate to see Seattle Seahawks playoff games that aren’t available to them on their home TV sets are filling up chairs at local watering holes.

Last weekend, the Park Inn on Spokane’s South Hill saw twice the usual Sunday crowd during the broadcast of the wild-card playoff between the Washington Redskins and the Seahawks.

“We were crazy packed last week. We had about 150 people when we normally have about 70 or so,” said Tami Van Sweringer, day manager at the Park Inn.

From the comments she heard Sunday, many were angry they weren’t watching the game at home.

Since late November, Spokane’s Fox affiliate, KAYU, has been blacked out for regional subscribers to the Dish Network.

Both sides continue pointing fingers at the other, saying the dispute would have been settled if the other side would only agree. The battle has to do with the amount of money Dish will pay KAYU’s parent, Northwest Broadcasting Inc., as a “retransmission fee” based on the number of regional subscribers it has.

Van Sweringer said this Sunday’s game won’t draw a like-size crowd because it starts at 10 a.m. and the business doesn’t open until noon. “We just don’t have the staff to take on the extra hours,” she said.

Such retransmission fee disputes have increased in recent years as affiliate broadcasters like Northwest Broadcasting look for additional revenue streams and believe they deserve increases above what they’ve received from distributors like Dish or DirecTV.

In 2010 there were 10 blackouts over fees. In 2011 it grew to 51, and in 2012 it soared to 93 disputes – the highest ever – according to the American Television Alliance. The Northwest Broadcasting blackout affects four stations, as the company operates stations in Spokane, Medford, Yakima-Tri-Cities and Binghamton, N.Y.

Another busy hangout last Sunday was the Swinging Doors Bar and Grill, 1018 W. Francis Ave. in north Spokane.

“We get busy any Sunday when there’s playoffs,” said manager John Schoeffler. “This past week it was even busier because people were desperate to watch the game.”

The Swinging Doors opens at 7 a.m., and Schoeffler said “I have been getting at least one call a day asking if we will have the Seahawks.”

They will, because the business has both DirecTV and Comcast.

One option for fans is to hook up a TV to an over-the-air antenna to get the game. But that won’t help people like Lucy Kirby, who lives in the Lewiston-Clarkston valley. The hills in her area prevent her from getting over-the-air signals.

She and her husband, Ken, didn’t watch last week’s game and hoped the dispute would have ended by now. At this point, they’re both resigned to another weekend of missing the ’Hawks.

“We’ll cross our fingers,” she said. “We’re not bar people and we don’t know anyone with something other than Dish.”

She added, “Maybe we should start choosing our friends based on who their provider is.”