The saga of the Los Angeles Dodgers TV rights has finally ended, and the grand champions (aside from the Dodgers, of course) are Time Warner, who Bloomberg is reporting have won the rights to air the team's games starting in 2014. While the exact terms of the deal are not yet known (Bill Shaikin of the LA Times reports that the deal will be between $7 and $8 BILLION DOLLARS), what we do know is that the Dodgers games will be on a brand new RSN as opposed to Time Warner SportsNet, which was created to air Lakers games. That's right: Time Warner is going the same route of Fox in Southern California and rolling out two RSNs.
Creating a new RSN built around the Dodgers is a risky proposition, especially after doing the same thing with the Lakers in 2011. TWC Sportsnet, the home of the Lakers, is built exclusively around the team. Look at the network's website. It's nothing but Lakers, aside from one headline about the LA Galaxy. What happens when the Lakers season ends in (probably) April? The Galaxy typically play one game a week starting in March. It's going to be difficult to fill an entire broadcast schedule throughout the summer with coverage of the Lakers offseason and one Galaxy game per week, especially when you consider the departure of David Beckham from the Galaxy at the end of the 2012 season.
By the same token, once 2014 rolls around and TWC launches "the Dodgers network" (or whatever it'll be called… TWC SportsNet2?), how are they going to fill programming slots once the Dodgers season ends in October? The schedules will probably end up looking something like SNY or YES in New York in a best case scenario. In a typical 24 hour timeslot in the offseason, SNY airs eight hours of SportsNite, six hours of infomercials, and ten hours of your typical RSN fare: old games, studio shows, and so on and so forth. But SNY at least has coverage of Big East college basketball, while YES also airs Nets games.
But with the Dodgers leaving Fox, what will become of Prime Ticket, the second Fox RSN in Southern California? Well, it's apparently not going anywhere, but will likely have to lower its fees starting in 2014. Fox still owns the rights to four teams in southern California: the Ducks, Kings, Clippers, and Angels. It's not a bad situation for Fox, except for in the summer when they only have Angels games to air. In the winter, Fox has a bounty with the Stanley Cup champion Kings and the exciting Clippers, along with the Ducks. With all of that potential content, there's a lot Fox can do with two networks, and things will only become a major issue from May or June until October.
Don't get me wrong, I understand why the Dodgers and Time Warner are doing this. With the Dodgers regaining relevance after a busy six months of spending money by the fistful, there's a lot of hype surrounding the team, and even with the Angels being more successful recently the Dodgers are still the prime baseball team in the city. There will be tons of pressure for carriers to pick up the second TWC station, and if they don't, the backlash towards both sides could be massive. For their part, the Dodgers will receive a cash windfall that will be the envy of most teams in professional sports.
There aren't many markets in the country that can handle as many as six RSNs, which is where the Los Angeles/Anaheim market will be with the creation of the TWC Dodgers network. Even New York City, as monstrous as it is, has just has three RSNs (MSG along with the aforementioned SNY and YES). Combine the two Fox networks, the three Time Warner networks (including the Spanish language version created along with SportsNet for the Lakers), and the regional Pac-12 Network, and it's more crowded than the LA freeways.
This Dodgers-specific network that will go along with the Lakers-specific network is a gamble, especially at such an enormous pricetag and will probably be the end of the RSN bubble as we know it. You can't really go higher than a channel built around one team, and that has now happened *twice* in one market with one provider. It'll be very interesting to see how things end up in Los Angeles with Time Warner, the Lakers, and the Dodgers, and just whether or not one market can survive with so many sports channels.