The 2016 National Football League season is officially underway, and once again, Green Bay Packer fans in the Ashland area won’t be able to watch the Green and Gold in their initial league gridiron battle of the season.
The problem is a familiar one for Bay Area Packer Backers. The Packers game against the Jacksonville Jaguars begins at noon. this Sunday. So, unfortunately, does the Minnesota Vikings game against the Tennessee Titans.
The games are slated to be carried on the Fox Network, and with the local Fox affiliate, KQDS-Fox, located in Duluth, Minn., only the Vikings game will be carried. That means regardless of whether a Packer fan gets his KQDS signal over the air, on cable TV or on satellite TV, in the Bay Area, all they will be able to watch is the Vikings if the two games have a conflict in scheduling times.
This is a situation that will happen twice this year, including the opening game against Jacksonville on Sunday. Last year was even worse, with a total of six games being blanked out in the area.
The only alternatives for Packers fans has been to watch the games at a bar that subscribes to DIRECTV and has the NFL Sunday Ticket package, drive to a community that has the game or subscribe to the Sunday Ticket package themselves, at a cost of $239.93 a year.
The reason for this is a complex of National Football League and Federal Communications Commission rules.
FCC rules set 210 Designated Marketing Areas (DMA) for all television stations in the United States. The NFL rules state that importing out of market NFL games on the same network as the in-market game is not allowed by NFL rules, said Charter Communications Senior Communications Manager Kimberly Noetzel in a letter to the editor that appeared in The Daily Press on June 27, 2014.
“Charter — and all other providers for that matter — are obligated to abide by NFL’s rules and transmit the local TV station in the area, which in this case is KQDS-Fox,” she said.
The net result is that the northern tier of counties in Wisconsin are defined as “orphan counties,” left out of state news and sports.
However, a new provision in federal law could mean a breakthrough that just might mean that Packer football games could be coming back to the Bay Area.
That breakthrough lies in a provision authored by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson that would create a process that would allow satellite carriers to broadcast the games.
“Football season began last night and the Green Bay Packers face their first matchup of the year this Sunday,” Johnson said in the statement. “Unfortunately, they will play at the same time as the Vikings, and northern Wisconsin residents will be forced to watch the Vikings game.
“Last Congress, I successfully pushed for a provision in a video authorization bill creating a process to petition the FCC to modify this reality and allow satellite providers to carry in-state signals. In addition, during a Senate commerce committee hearing this past March, in response to my question FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler committed to expeditiously moving on any filed petition. This week, after much behind-the-scenes work, the FCC received its first petition from a Wisconsin station – WSAW-TV. Action on this by Chairman Wheeler cannot come soon enough for Packers fans.”
WSAW-TV is a CBS affiliate located in Wausau, which also operates WZAD-LD, a low-power television station that is a Fox affiliate, whose programming is carried on a digital subchannel of WSAW-TV.
In the petition, Robert Folliard III, assistant secretary of Gray Television Licensee, LLC, owners of WSAW, said having the Wausau broadcaster would also enable the Bay Area to receive Wisconsin state news as well as Packer games. The petition asked the FCC to reject technical and economic infeasibility claims made by both DISH Network and DIRECTV
“The arguments raised by both satellite providers fail to meet the Commission’s requirement that DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite) carriers offer detailed explanations for the basis of such infeasibility. Moreover, the claims of infeasibility appear to be self-serving and would limit Gray’s ability to provide local news, sports and weather information to viewers in Ashland and Iron Counties,” the petition said.
Johnson’s aide, Brooke Ericson, said the petition asked the Federal Communications Commission to change the DMA to designate Ashland and Iron Counties to be included in Wausau’s DMA, which would in turn allow WSAW’s television signal to be carried by satellite providers.
Ericson said if granted, the change would not affect broadcasters or cable television providers, who already had the authority to petition for DMA changes. She also said Bayfield and Douglas Counties were not included in WSAW’s petition because of technical reasons.
Ericson said that the change is not the full answer and has been slow in coming.
“Everything in government is slow, but we do think we are very close to a real solution that will give Wisconsinites real change,” she said. “Just this petition going to the FCC I think is a further step in the right direction. It’s more than any other senator or congressman for that matter has been able to achieve.”
Ericson said the goal to have games available in the area had been the start of the football season.
“I don’t think it’s going to be by this Sunday, but the FCC has committed to act expeditiously,” she said. “We are very optimistic that it can be solved in the next couple of months,” she said.
Ericson said opposition from the existing DMA holder could result in a slowdown of the process, however.
“I envision a situation where consumers could select which broadcast station they would carry. The consumer would say, ‘I want to be in the Duluth market,’ or ‘I want to be in the Wausau market,’” she said.
One person who is encouraged by the news is Jeff Kupczyk, an Ashland resident who has been working for five years to have Packer games available in the local area.
“I’m hoping it is the real deal,” said Kupczyk. “It’s absolutely progress.”
He noted that the proposal only included Ashland and Iron Counties.
“It doesn’t say anything about Bayfield and Douglas Counties,” he said. “But it is a start.”