PAWTUCKET — Citing a strategic decision rooted more in viewer feedback rather than budgetary constraints, Cox Communications has opted to dramatically scale back its television coverage of the Pawtucket Red Sox.
To date no PawSox games have been televised on Cox Sports Channel 3. While spokesmen from the cable outlet have not ruled out the possibility of working out a deal in time for summer, nothing is etched in stone at this point. Last season marked the 13th consecutive year Cox produced and televised at least 12 live PawSox games. Cox also featured Talkin’ PawSox, a 30-minute magazine-type format airing once a month during the season.
“We’re still working with the PawSox in trying to get their games on the air, but the dynamics have changed in that regard, ” explained John Parris, director of creative services for Cox. “What we’ve heard from our customers is that they like the local hometown athletes that we cover. In the past couple of years we’ve ramped up our coverage of high school sports and the content around Providence College and URI basketball. We’re focusing our inside production efforts on the teams that have those hometown athletes, the people that are tied to the college and university.
“For example, when we do a high school game, we don’t think that a Cranston East game is being necessarily watched state-wide, but do know there’s a dedicated audience of friends and family within those cities and towns,” Parris continued. “We’re trying to go deeper where we feel our customers want the content. When we do PC or URI games, we get a lot of feedback. I wish that we could do everything for everybody, but we can’t.”
The reason why Cox still harbors hope that televising PawSox games can resume has to do with the in-house, Internet-only production setup at McCoy Stadium, currently in its first year of operation.
“They had just gotten their equipment at the start of the season, and the transmissions that come out now are different than the TV transmissions. That’s something we’re trying to work out,” said Parris. “It’s been difficult for us to do some transmissions tests [from McCoy] because the PawSox have been on the road a lot early in the season.”
Knowing that games would not be aired on Cox – at least at the season’s onset – helped ease the launch of the McCoy-based production, believes Pawtucket president Mike Tamburro. Right now the PawSox are scheduled to appear on TV four times, three on NESN (June 13, July 14, July 21) and once on MLB Network (June 6).
“We kind of saw this coming and that’s what made us go out and build this in-house system,” said Tamburro. “You can now go online and view PawSox games at your fingertips.”
Asked if shying away from the PawSox was based on declining TV viewership, Parris responded, “We started doing ratings on the channel in January, so we don’t have any ratings from the past.”
Legally Cox is prohibited from airing PawSox games up against Red Sox coverage. That in turn places the outlet in a bind as it relates to how many dates can be set aside for PawSox coverage.
“We hope to have to have a decision sometime soon,” said Parris. “We may end up with more games on TV than we did in the past.”
If some sort of agreement cannot be ironed out, the PawSox are prepared to seek out other means to get their games broadcast.
“There are other outlets out there that have approached us, so we might have to pursue those opportunities,” Tamburro said, wishing to keep the outlets that have reached out anonymous for the time being.
Regardless if the PawSox brand is on Cox TV or not, neither entity feels it’s completely necessary to dissolve what has been a prosperous partnership.
“We still have a long-standing and great relationship with the PawSox and we consider them valuable business partners,” said John Wolfe, Cox’s vice president of public and government affairs. “That remains the case whether the games are on [TV] or not. We sponsor the Cox Fan Center, which is located inside McCoy Stadium. We’ve got a great partnership, so that will continue.”