As the year-long SportsNet LA saga continues in southern California, it’s becoming more and more clear that the network won’t have a deal done with DirecTV and other holdout providers before Opening Day. However, many of the issues getting a deal done have little to do with the network or the Dodgers – it’s all about the pending mergers of DirecTV/AT&T and Comcast/Time Warner, according to Bill Shaikin of the LA Times.
Both of the mergers are expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2015, and the FCC has until March 30th to approve both mergers. However, they’ve delayed talks about the merger twice and can easily do it again, kicking the can even further down the road for Dodgers fans in LA currently shut out of seeing the team.
Dodgers Chairman Mark Walter is “concerned” about the lack of carriage, and has also said the team isn’t interested in renegotiating its deal with Time Warner to receive less money. Walter and Dodgers President Stan Kasten have also proposed the idea of providers adding the channel to their lineups before Opening Day and working out the financial details at a later date, but that seems like a longshot that would potentially break government rules about merging companies getting involved in each other’s business before the merger has been officially approved.
Time Warner has also shown a willingness to head to binding arbitration in order to get a deal done with DirecTV, but the satellite provider has rejected that course of action.
There’s another option for Comcast and Time Warner after the merger to gain widespread coverage, and I’m just going to go ahead and quote the LA Times article on this, because I’m not much for financial tricks.
Industry observers have speculated that, after Comcast secures government approval for its acquisition of TWC, the company would figure out a way to bring other distributors, including DirecTV, AT&T, Verizon and Cox Communications, on board. Under one scenario, Comcast could write down the value of the contract for SportsNet LA, taking a huge loss, and then lower the price of the channel for the other carriers. Comcast declined to comment.
Disputes like this aren’t exactly a rarity, but SportsNet LA’s struggles are unique given the size of the LA market, the Dodgers actually being a good team and the only offering on the network, and the fact that Time Warner has a second RSN in the market that hasn’t had anywhere near the public difficulties as SportsNet LA has.
I feel bad for Dodgers fans in LA, who will now be heading into year two with an excellent team that they can’t watch locally unless they change their cable provider. It’s a really crappy situation, and at the end of the day, the fans are the real losers of this situation.