Hargray flap catches USC football fans off guard

Rlurye@islandpacket.comOctober 6, 2013 

Like dozens of University of South Carolina fans, Bridget Coulman sat down with her family Saturday night to watch the Gamecocks play Kentucky -- but she wasn't expecting a blackout.

"We turned on the TV , and it wasn't on. We couldn't find it," the Hilton Head Island resident said.

She called her cable company, Hargray Communications, and heard a recording that stated the game would not be availble, another result of a continuing dispute between the cable provider and Fox Sports Net Carolinas, which carried USC's 35-28 victory. Since Hargray cut the channel from its lineup in January 2012, it has been unable to agree on a price that would make it available again as part of a standard package. FSN refuses to offer the channel as a premium option.

The 7:30 p.m. game was not actually a blackout, which occurs when a team does not sell enough tickets and the broadcast is not carried in the school's geographical area. Kickoff aired for those using cable provider Time Warner, which offers the channel.

"Fox is blacking it out for our customers," said Andrew Rein, vice president of sales and marketing for Hargray. "It doesn't have anything to do with the game selling out."

The situation sent many viewers on the road Saturday, packing local bars and restaurants. Nick Bergett, owner of Charbar Co. on Hilton Head Island, said his business has never seen such a high concentration of Gamecock fans.

"Yeah, we have a house full of USC fans here," Bergett said Saturday night.

Saturday's USC game was the first this season to have been carried on Fox Sports Net Carolians.

Rein said there are no plans to bring back the channel. The sports content it provides does not compare to the quality of content offered by other networks, he said.

Until -- or unless -- the conflict is resolved, Coulman will have to find a different way to watch when the Gamecocks' games are carried on Fox Sports Net Carolinas.

"We were all disappointed, but it was worse for my daughter -- she had a crush on (USC quarterback) Connor Shaw," Coulman said.

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