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Charter agreement could leave Lions fans lacking

July 20, 2012
By Steve Brownlee , Marquette Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Winning 13 of 16 games in a season would seem like a dream come true for just about any Detroit Lions fan.

But seeing only 13 of their 16 games this upcoming season may not sound like such a winning campaign for long-suffering fans of the National Football League's Honolulu blue and silver.

That's the prospect that Charter Communications cable television subscribers face with the announcement Thursday by WLUC-TV6 and its associated Fox U.P. broadcast station that they have been designated as the official Green Bay Packers stations in the Upper Peninsula.

It will insure that all 16 Packers' regular-season games will be available to virtually every cable TV system in the area.

The Fox U.P. station, widely seen on Channel 11 on Charter systems around the U.P., has been a primary Lions carrier as a complement to Green Bay, Wis., station WLUK, the other Fox affiliate carried on Charter systems whose primary team is, of course, the Packers. WLUK is on Channel 24 on area Charter systems.

Thursday's announcement is just one in a series of moves this summer forcing cable systems like Charter to juggle their channel lineups to give subscribers the programming they want, according to Don Gladwell, Charter's U.P. coordinator for programming.

"Unless some other arrangement is reached, WLUK, the Fox station from Green Bay, won't be available to us anymore at the end of this month," he said.

Which would've meant Packers fans were facing a similar problem that Lions fans now face if TV6/Fox U.P. hadn't made its switch in primary coverage from the Lions to the archrival Packers.

In the TV6/Fox U.P. press release, station president and CEO Rob Jamros gave his reasoning for the change.

"We have been working with the FOX and NBC networks in assessing the Upper Michigan market and taking viewer comments into consideration as we decide which NFL team best represents this market," Jamros said. "Since it turned out the Packers are the most popular team in our viewing area, the decision was easy.

"Further we're excited that FOX UP and TV6 can bring primarily Packers games to fans in the region as well as a great lineup of Lions games too."

Gladwell said dropping non-U.P. stations like WLUK from the Charter lineup comes because of license fee disputes between cable systems and major national TV networks like Fox, which has been an off-again, on-again issue in this industry for several years.

He said it may make it difficult, if not impossible, for Charter systems in the U.P. to arrange to carry a Lower Peninsula Fox station like they did about a decade ago for the purpose of having access to every Lions contest.

In the past, last-minute agreements have often been reached to keep over-the-air stations on cable TV, but nothing ever seems to be guaranteed in what usually seems like a game of "chicken" between cable TV and national broadcasting heavyweights.

The Fox stations' situation is the most important for those who want to view the Packers or Lions, since Fox is the network that televises Sunday afternoon games for the 16 teams in the NFL's National Football Conference, which includes the NFC North Division's Lions, Packers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.

CBS has an identical arrangement for the league's 16 teams in the American Football Conference.

Sunday afternoons are the only times when Packers and Lions games are played simultaneously, meaning a single station like Fox U.P. would have to choose which team to broadcast.

But a number of factors limit how often this scenario occurs, one being the relative success of both teams, the Lions just in the past season and the Packers for nearly 20 years.

That success has made them popular for nationally televised games played on Sunday nights, Monday nights and occasionally even Thursdays and Saturdays.

For instance, the Lions play two Sunday night games - one of them against the Packers - another on a Monday night, one on a Saturday and its traditional Thanksgiving Thursday afternoon contest.

Green Bay has the same number of national games - five - with three of them coming on Sunday nights.

Thursday's announcement from WLUC/Fox U.P. said its NBC and Fox stations will, between them, carry 10 Lions games this season.

Gladwell thinks the number is actually only nine because one of the Sundays when the Packers play at 1 p.m. and the Lions at 4 p.m. hasn't been designated as a Fox "doubleheader" day.

But another four Lions games will be available to Charter viewers, two on ESPN on a Monday night and a Saturday night, and two more on CBS on Sunday afternoons when Detroit is hosting AFC teams.

These are the three Lions games "orphaned" from Charter cable systems, at least as of now:

Sunday, Nov. 4, when Detroit is at Jacksonville at 1 p.m., with Green Bay hosting Arizona at the same time;

Sunday, Dec. 16, when the Lions are at Arizona at 4 p.m., with the Packers playing at Chicago at 1 p.m. on a non-doubleheader Sunday for Fox;

Sunday, Dec. 30, the final game of the regular season, when Detroit hosts Chicago at 1 p.m. and Green Bay plays at Minnesota at the same time.

Giving Gladwell more headaches are Lions preseason games. For a number of years, the Packers and Lions' exhibitions played primarily in August have been televised on WJMN, a CBS station from Escanaba that usually repeats the signal of WFRV, Green Bay's CBS affiliate.

But Gladwell said he doesn't know whether WJMN will continue to show the Lions preseason games, since the station was sold recently and hasn't been specific with all of its plans.

TV6/Fox U.P. said in its Thursday announcement that TV6 will show three Packers exhibitions available to them on consecutive Thursdays beginning Aug. 16. It also said that the half-hour Packers feature programs "Inside Lambeau" and "The Mike McCarthy Show" will also be shown on one or both stations each weekend beginning Aug. 19.



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