It’s not looking good. Fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking at a third straight season without home games on TV, and it’s beginning to get old. Famed broadcaster Vin Scully has now retired, and when the West Coast’s boys in blue take the field in just a few weeks, you won’t see any of it on DIRECTV… not even if you have the MLB Extra Innings package.
The story of Spectrum Sportsnet LA (formerly known as TWC Sportsnet LA, before Time Warner Cable was completely consumed by Charter) pretty much covers every possible thing that could be wrong with sports on television today. It’s a sad tale of greed, governmental indifference, and of one company standing tall even as they risk losing market share in one of their own hometowns.
Once upon a time, baseball was televised on free TV. There were blackout rules — that hasn’t changed — but at least it was possible for local baseball fans to occasionally see a home game. In the 1980s, those games started going to new regional sports networks, but at least these channels were inexpensive enough that pretty much every cable provider could carry them and pass them on to their customers.
In the late 2000s, teams started getting greedy. Instead of one regional sports network per area, you started seeing one per team. New York got YES and MSG, Boston got NESN and Comcast Sports Network. All over the country, you started seeing multiple regional sports networks pop up, and of course each channel had even less content than the last and yet somehow cost more.
The canary in the coal mine was the original TWC SportsNet, otherwise known as “The Lakers Channel.” This regional network carries almost nothing but Lakers games, meaning that for about half the year there’s no reason to watch. Yet, DIRECTV and other providers were more or less blackmailed into carrying it.
Things got worse in 2013 when Time Warner Cable announced an $8 billion, 25-year deal to carry Los Angeles Dodgers games. The Dodgers take a lot of tax breaks from the city of Los Angeles, and for that they’re being asked to pay through the nose to watch baseball. The LA City Council sided with Time Warner Cable, despite the fact that DIRECTV has a multibilliondollar facility near the LAX airport.
TWC needs to keep paying the Dodgers organization, and to do that they’re asking that each cable and satellite provider pay $8 per month per subscriber to carry the channel. (That’s more than ESPN costs.) It’s estimated that there could be six million subscribers in the Dodgers’ home area which reaches from the southern tips of Los Angeles, halfway up the coast and all the way out to Las Vegas. That’s about half a billion dollars out of DIRECTV’s pockets, since they’d have to pay for every subscriber whether or not they like the Dodgers.
So, given that math, DIRECTV did what you’d expect — they said no.
Unfortunately, even though everyone agrees this whole SportsNet experiment was a huge mistake, things have only gotten worse. There are lawsuits going both ways and charges of unfair collusion. It’s a mess.
Los Angelenos have very little chance of watching Dodgers baseball unless they switch to the universally-despised service formerly known as Time Warner Cable. The new parent company has rebranded its service as “Spectrum” and wants you to believe that things have improved since the days when TWC was named one of the most hated companies in America. Customers seem to disagree and even in Southern California, they’re still fleeing in droves.
It’s time for the deal between Spectrum and the Dodgers to get renegotiated and for the people of Los Angeles to get their baseball back. No one can ever make up for the loss of the final days of Vin Scully’s dulcet tones, but at least everyone can move forward, with pay-TV companies paying a fair price and customers getting a fair shake.