Finder: NFL, Ravens, TV folks get some Steelers fans mad

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They're stark-Ravens mad, and they aren't going to take it anymore.

So they're bringing their protest tomorrow morning to the streets of Manhattan and CBS's "The Early Show," not that it's Harry Smith's fault.

Then they're going to march in front of NFL headquarters, anywhere from a half-dozen to two dozen folks dressed in black-and-gold finery and armed with placards bearing such pithy slogans as "Nevermore" overtop a caricature of a dead raven.

Heck no, they won't go purple and Poe.

All they are saying is, give Steelers TV a chance.

"We're not going to shut up," said Rik Millhouse, the organizer and president of the Central Pennsylvania Steelers Association even though he lives in New York's Queens borough.

"We're not going to walk away from this issue if or when the Steelers start to lose. We're not going to be appeased by false promises."

See, our Commonwealth's capital and the surrounding demographic known as HiLLY -- Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties -- are designated by the Baltimore front office and the NFL as an all-Ravens-all-the-time television market.

No matter that, when the Harrisburg CBS affiliate airs the odd Steelers game (with Baltimore's at another time or on another network), it outdraws the Ravens on average by 4 to 1. No matter that the Central Pennsylvania Steelers club garnered 20,000 signatures on a protest petition last year, and this fall another 15,000 plus 1,200 more at the group's home.att.net/~wgt11/ site. No matter that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives got involved Oct. 19, passing by a 189-0 shutout a House Resolution 892 that asks the NFL "to re-evaluate its antiquated" broadcast policies. (OK, so it's an election year, but rare is such agreement.)

Matt Uhl, the general manager of the WHP-TV Channel 21 in question, desperately wants to air Steelers games to better meet viewer and advertiser needs. But he is unable to extract a change in policy from either NFL or Ravens officials, with whom he met earlier this season, only to learn they refuse to release their tenuous claw-hold on his market.

He has gone so far as to offer to broadcast Steelers games on Viacom-sister UPN 15, then donate all derived ad revenue to the league's favorite charity. NFL types brusquely refused, Uhl said, "and I couldn't believe it. They just don't care."

The suits, whom he declined to name, told him that Harrisburg was merely one of 17 similarly conflicted markets, much like Erie, which is designated a Buffalo Bills secondary market, even though its viewers exponentially prefer the Steelers and Cleveland Browns. Uhl responded the same way you or I would: "So what if there are 17 markets, why don't you do what's right for the fans?" He said the league suits gave a chilling reply: Let 'em get "NFL Ticket" on DirecTV.

For once, logic and the House of Representatives and a bunch of Steelers fans are on the same, right side.

You may never read a sentence like that again.

The NFL should change its antiquated broadcast restrictions, especially now that it re-upped this past week with CBS, Fox and DirecTV.

What better time for the league to toss off that blackout rule, meaning fans in such places as Miami, New Orleans and San Diego could see their teams on the tube, even if they don't want to pay high prices to attend on losing Sundays . What better time to allow those 17 conflicted markets an alternative: The affected CBS stations could pay a little extra to air a second team's games on UPN, same with Fox on Fox Sports Net, and they'd merely pass along those costs to advertisers and cable consumers -- read: fans.

What's that? Let 'em get DirecTV instead? And guess who owns that satellite company: Why, Fox and mogul Rupert Murdoch, of course.

"I'd swear we were still living in a democracy," Uhl said. "This is socialized football."

Millhouse, who continues to mail, e-mail, phone and hector officials across the league, believes an Oct. 7 letter he got from Steelers president Art Rooney II shows the club's behind-the-scenes support ("we have limited control over the arrangement," the letter read, but team officials would try to address it with the league). Millhouse proudly hung the missive on his wall. Still, the issue remains in the hands of the Ravens and NFL offices. Hence the black-and-gold protest in Gotham tomorrow.

"If, after five years, the Steelers are still not on TV in Central Pennsylvania, I'll still be here protesting," added Millhouse, Lancaster born, York raised, a Wall Street worker by day and by night an industrial-music DJ who dons on Sundays a No. 35 worn by a fellow HiLLY fullback, Dan Kreider (whose parents watch on DirecTV, by the way).

"Certainly, there's no reason to bring a team in from out of state. And they're our biggest rival; what an insult. If you want to watch a bunch of convicts in uniform, rent 'The Longest Yard.'

"Seriously, there has to be a better way to approach this. It just doesn't make any sense."

Just cents.



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