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Dish dispute leaves Kings fans in foul mood

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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A few tickets remain available for the Sacramento Kings-Miami Heat game Saturday night at Arco Arena, but don’t panic if your holiday budget is thin and LeBron James will not fit in a stocking. The game will be televised by Comcast SportsNet California to cable viewers and DirecTV subscribers. Dish Network customers will be left out, however, unless they dig deep and buy tickets. A dispute between Dish Network and Comcast Corp. led to the satellite television provider dropping Comcast SportsNet California on Nov. 24. As is often the case, the dispute involves money. Comcast Corp. charges Dish Network a fee to carry its 10 regional sports networks. Dish Network balked at the fee and asked a Federal Communications Commission arbitrator to intervene. The arbitrator ruled in favor of Comcast Corp. Dish Network responded by blacking out Comcast SportsNet California, leaving Kings fans who are Dish Network subscribers without telecasts. Dish Network spokeswoman Francie Bauer issued a statement that explainedthe company's stance. "Dish Network has agreed to pay Comcast its requested price per subscriber for CSN California because we want to make this channel available to the customers who value its programming. However, Comcast is demanding that all Dish Network customers in the market pay for the channel, even if they don’t want it." Comcast SportsNet California also carries San Jose Sharks games and will televise the state high school football championship games Dec. 17 and 18 at Home Depot Center in Carson. Folsom High fans who are Dish Network customers will be out of luck when the Bulldogs play in the Division II title game Dec. 18. That is unless the feud is resolved between now and then. Larry Eldridge certainly hopes that will happen. As the president and general manager of Comcast SportsNet California, he realizes Dish Network subscribers are paying the ultimate price. “It’s a real shame with what’s happened,” Eldridge said. “Customers are the ones getting slammed.” Comcast SportsNet California has launched a Web site, iwantcsn.com, and is asking Dish Network customers to sign a petition. Customers can receive a $150 American Express Card by dropping Dish Network and switching to another provider. Many customers have also used the site to vent their frustration. Eldridge has read many of the remarks and empathizes, but all he can do for now is beg for patience. “Dish has ignored the (arbitrator’s) ruling, and we don’t understand that,” Eldridge said. “We’re not withholding our signal. They can bring back the network whenever they want. It’s there.” Kings president Matina Kolokotronis is keeping her fingers crossed in hopes that “this issue is resolved swiftly.” With the team struggling this season, she does want fans to be turned off more than they already are. “We want what’s best for our fans,” she said, “and that’s to get Kings games back on the air as soon as possible.” Sports bars such as Coach’s Classic Bar & Grill in Rocklin and Bunz & Co. in Roseville have been spared. They have DirecTV because of its NFL Sunday Ticket package.