Comcast is still not a hometown hero in Philly

Jim BartholdEvery city has hometown heroes. Philadelphia's heroes include the Eagles, who have never won a Super Bowl and who presently pay millions of dollars to a convicted dog killer; the Phillies, because they brought a championship to the city after more than a quarter century; the Flyers, who skate on the ever-thin ice of decades-old accomplishments; the 76ers--at least for some small number of people; and the Big 5, a tight consortium of some of the best college basketball rivalries in the nation.

Philadelphians, contrary to their national reputation, are a pretty tolerant lot. They even, for a time, adopted Floyd Landis, the disgraced Tour de France cyclist who hailed from the nearby Pennsylvania Dutch country.

An outsider might be surprised to learn that Philadelphians do not consider Comcast a hometown hero. The cable giant has built a beautiful, environmentally sound headquarters in the city and put Philadelphia on the national map by audaciously pursuing NBC Universal, but it still is a pariah among in its hometown. By almost any measure Comcast should be a hometown saint. The MSO performs multiple acts of charity; it has a big presence in the local news where it's likely keeping the Philadelphia Inquirer afloat and it's huge and tenaciously loyal employee base keeps the region's unemployment rate below critical levels.

But if you ask around the golf course or the supermarket or the PTA meeting, Comcast will likely come up on the short side of popular. Some will note the ever-increasing price for cable and Internet service and the occasional breakdown of civility when dealing with customer service, but when you peel back the onion there's one reason why Comcast wears the black hat in Philadelphia: it has for years held local sports teams hostage. If you want to watch the Phillies chase the World Series, you're disadvantaged without a coaxial cable link. If you still hold some interest in the Sixers or Flyers you might as well read about them in the newspapers or listen on the radio if you don't get Comcast SportsNet. It's been a terrific year for Temple and Villanova in the Big 5 but you might not know that if you have a satellite dish on your roof.

Comcast is clued in so well in so many community areas it makes it all the more remarkable when it again and again demonstrates that it's clueless about local sports. When the FCC told cable operators to open their programming to satellite providers, the area rejoiced and Comcast immediately fought. When Comcast recently lost that fight people rejoiced again. Bullheaded Comcast said it was "disappointed."

The answer Comcast most often offers for its tenacious defense of local sports is that DirecTV has locked in the NFL. Seriously. That's how clueless Comcast can be. Not many people in Philadelphia care to watch Oakland beat Kansas City on any given Sunday but they rhapsodize over the thought of sitting back with a beer and watching the Phillies dust off the Mets on a balmy summer evening. To do so, though, they need Comcast or Verizon FiOS which, as we all know, is only available in certain areas.

DirecTV and DISH have been around for years but Philadelphia has one of the lightest satellite penetrations in the nation thanks to Comcast and sports. In the end, is it really worth it to keep those subscribers who might decide to put a satellite on their roofs if it could pick up the Phillies's games? Does Comcast have that low an opinion of itself and its service to believe many people would leave in droves for DirecTV or DISH if local sports were available there? It's quite likely that, being Philadelphians, the complainers wouldn't move at all; they'd just like the opportunity to do so.

In Philadelphia, Comcast is not a good sport. And that makes the MSO less of a hometown hero than Floyd Landis, a man who allegedly cheated his way to a Tour de France championship, was caught and disgraced. -Jim