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In battle between BTN and Comcast, no one’s a winner

The ones who lose out the most from this dispute are the consumers.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, after some sleuthing by Hammer and Rails and The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn, it came to light that Comcast will no longer be carrying the Big Ten Network on its cable lineup, if you live in an “out-of-market” Big Ten state.

This statement, of course, came after many other Comcast reps first said that the cable giant was getting rid of BTN in every market. At the end of the day, however, it sounds like you’ll still get BTN if you live in a state with a B1G school. (Comcast isn’t big in either Iowa or Nebraska, so the Corn Belt gets spared here.)

But, if you’ve moved out of the Big Ten market, like I have, you’re kind of screwed if you have Comcast. Until last year, Comcast was the only provider in my market here in Boston. My apartment has now switched to Fios, but for many, Comcast is still the only option. And depending on where you live or who you rent from, Comcast may have a monopoly on your area or your apartment complex.

For the many Big Ten school fans that relocate away from the area, Comcast’s unilateral move is terrible news. And Comcast may be underestimating the number of Big Ten fans in their out-of-network markets. Denver, for example, has a large IU alumni base, and as the map from this SB Nation article shows, Comcast has a strong footprint near the city.

Or maybe Comcast knows exactly what’s up, and is posturing here. Cable companies are watching customers cut the cord, especially as streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon or Hulu become more popular. Millennials aren’t getting cable as much anymore. And if they are? It’s for sports. In addition, Comcast owns NBC, and BTN is partially owned by Fox, so it’s not hard to believe that ulterior motives of competition are at play here. But whatever the case, Comcast has decided that it’s not worth paying BTN the average of 39 cents per cable subscriber anymore.

But don’t feel bad for BTN or the Big Ten Conference either.

Immediately after news broke, BTN tried to turn themselves into a victim of a poor business decision.

But is BTN worth standing up for here? Not really.

One great thing about being an alum of a Big Ten school is the large community the school fosters, even after graduation. I help to run IUAA game watches here in Boston and have met several other passionate IU alums, despite being a long way from campus. And what brings these alums together is sports. For other B1G schools, it’s football – I’ve seen Iowa football watches here in Boston get rowdy – but for Indiana, it’s usually basketball.

Thus, there will be demand to watch Big Ten athletics, no matter where you are. Comcast cutting the cord won’t get customers to stop watching Big Ten games even if they’re on BTN. If there’s a will, there’s a way, and while a lot of jokes have been made about not watching some 11 a.m. central time start between Illinois and Rutger, many people, especially alums, still want to watch their teams, regardless of where they are located or how badly the team is doing. You might end up switching, or paying for YouTube TV or paying for Playstation Vue as some on Twitter suggested. But at the end of the day, Jim Delany and company will get your money no matter what. It may be a short-term hit, but BTN will be just fine even if Comcast follows through.

And even in areas where Comcast carries BTN, you’ll still have to pay extra to see some games on BTN+, which drives in even more revenue for the network and the conference. If people are willing to pay for BTN+ to watch IU’s 21-point loss to Indiana State, then they’ll definitely pay when the team gets better results as well.

In the end, the losers will be the consumers, whether it’s (likely) paying extra for another service, or not getting BTN anymore through Comcast. Neither side looks good here, and ultimately, a petty argument between a giant cable provider and a giant athletics conference will just raise prices and cause more confusion in an industry that is rapidly changing.