There were portable radios to retrieve, Internet piracy laws to test, acquaintances to beg for a dinner invitation — provided they subscribed to another cable provider. And then there were those who begrudgingly shelled out money for a seat.
“It’s such a short season,” said Kyle Thomas, 42, a Time Warner Cable subscriber from the Upper East Side, explaining his decision to attend Saturday’s game between the Knicks and the Denver Nuggets. “Don’t force me to watch daytime television, recorded.”
Since New Year’s Day, the MSG channels, which carry games for the Knicks, the Rangers, the Devils and the Islanders, have been unavailable to the 1.7 million Time Warner Cable customers in the metropolitan region and parts of upstate New York. Fans in Buffalo have also seen their beloved Sabres blacked out.
The Giants will play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, but generally the winter can be a lean time for a New York sports fan.
The Rangers last won the Stanley Cup in the 20th century, and the Knicks’ last championship came during the Nixon administration. The Yankees and the Mets are still weeks away from spring training, and any hopes for the Jets will have a long wait until next season.
There are college basketball games, sure, but little sign of citywide unity behind a single team. St. John’s University has struggled this year. And the Violets of New York University, ranked 23rd in Division III, have failed to capture the hearts and minds of ESPN scheduling executives.
The blackout has even left some fans to consider the ultimate indignity: turning to the lowly Nets, cable’s only local game in town on some evenings.
“They’re pushing me in that direction,” said Clarence Patterson, 43, a Knicks fan from Brooklyn who has taken to carrying a small radio in recent weeks. Mr. Patterson lives a short walk from the Brooklyn arena that the Nets are scheduled to open next season, he said. Yet the chief obstacle to a defection, he added, was the team itself.
Perhaps the only New Yorkers to benefit from the blackout are the scalpers of Seventh Avenue, scanning the area for targets before each Knicks home game at the Garden.
“It’s a strong market,” one of them said, smiling beneath his wool hat before Saturday night’s game. “People who want to see the game have to come outside.”
Scalpers say that only one force could derail their momentum: the disastrous start to the Knicks’ season. With the double-overtime defeat Saturday, in which Carmelo Anthony, the former Nuggets star, took to the court against his former teammates, the Knicks had lost six straight games, falling to 6-10.
Shawn DeGrechie, 40, from Rockaway Park in Queens, who attended the game with Mr. Thomas, said the blackout of the Rangers, who hold first place in their division, was particularly painful. “People have very few things to look forward to in life,” he said.
He paused at the Garden entryway, staring at the ground. “There’s family,” he said, shrugging.
The dispute has focused on what Time Warner Cable will pay MSG to carry its regional sports channels in a new contract. While some higher-profile games are available to Time Warner Cable customers if they are broadcast on national television, the feuding parties have accelerated their public relations efforts in recent weeks.
The cable company’s employees have worn Knicks jerseys at Time Warner Cable retail centers in the city. The company has also organized a sweepstakes to send 10 fans, and one guest each, to the Knicks’ road game on Tuesday at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.
MSG has hosted a series of viewing parties at bars across the city — most of which have — offering free soda and appetizers, raffles for signed memorabilia, and appearances from former Knicks and Rangers players and team dancers.
But for many fans, driven from their couches, paying for a ticket has proved more palatable.
Jared Kleinstein, 24, a Denver native who now lives in New York, said he attended the game on Saturday in part because the blackout had interfered with his schadenfreude. “We don’t have the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’ to the TV every time Carmelo throws up a brick,” he said.
For his sister, Shane, the blackout has created romantic complications. Her boyfriend recently suggested that they exchange apartment keys. She asked him why. So he could watch the Knicks play, he told her.
“It was only for the cable,” she said, sighing. “But sports brings people together.”