This weekend, the Los Angeles Dodgers open their regular season in Australia, but unless your cable provider is A) affiliated with Time Warner Cable i.e., Bright House or B) Time Warner itself, you can’t watch the games. And there is no chance for fans to do an end-around by watching MLB.TV or MLB Extra Innings unless they live outside the market.
The Dodgers and Time Warner made an $8.35 billion, 25-year deal in which the team would own SportsNet LA and the cable provider would manage the channel plus make deals with Southern California TV companies to carry the regional sports network. A funny thing happened, however, none of the area’s providers have agreed to take SportsNet LA. As it stands now, almost 70% of Los Angeles cannot watch the Dodgers.
Companies like AT&T U-Verse, Charter, Cox Communications, DirecTV, Dish and Verizon are holding steadfast in their refusal to pay Time Warner’s asking price for SportsNet LA. A smaller provider, Champion Broadband agreed to carry SportsNet LA on Friday. But the major holdouts are still refusing to pay Time Warner’s asking price.
Until last season, fans could still watch some games on broadcast TV as the Dodgers split their rights between Fox Sports Prime Ticket and KCAL. Fans who did not have cable could still watch 50 games on free TV. But under new ownership, the team decided to go all-cable, owning a regional sports network plus reaping a guaranteed revenue stream from the cable providers. Even if Time Warner can’t get the region’s cable providers to pony up, it’s still on the hook to the Dodgers to pay what the companies would have shelled to TWC.
It’s a deal that provides the Dodgers a lot of money over the long erm, but in the short term shuts out their fans. Except for a few games that will be aired nationally on ESPN or Fox, a majority of Dodgers fans won’t be able to see their team until the providers compromise with Time Warner Cable and will have to rely on the radio. And as the Dodgers take a hit from the local media for the rights deal, Major League Baseball remains confident that the rest of Los Angeles will eventually see the team.
But at what cost? Once the cable and perhaps satellite providers agree to carry SportsNet LA, they’ll eventually pass the Time Warner fee to their subscribers thus increasing their bills. Thus far, there haven’t been enough cord cutters to make a dent in the providers’ bottom line. However, there may be a breaking point.
One wonders if SportsNet LA and its Dodgers-centric programming will lead a consumer pushback on increased cable costs.