In LA, Watching Home Team's Ball Games Just Got More Complicated | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

In LA, Watching Home Team's Ball Games Just Got More Complicated

Play associated audio

On Saturday, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers kicked off the baseball season with two games in Sydney, Australia. Fans in most of the country watched the games on the official Major League Baseball Network. But in Los Angeles, home of the Dodgers, fans could only watch on a brand new all-Dodgers channel.

Right now the only cable company carrying SportsNet LA in Los Angeles is Time Warner. That means what used to be a free service through local television is now a subscription-only channel. It is a huge shock to the system. Just last season, fans could watch about 50 Dodgers games for free on TV. This season, there will be zero.

The new network is a product of the team's sale to new owners. The Dodgers went through a painful bankruptcy a few years ago and were eventually sold to new owners who paid a whopping $2 billion for the team. One of the reasons they paid so much is that the team's television rights were up for negotiation.

"One of the big pieces of the sale was that they were going to be able to extract a lot of money from local cable television," says David Carter of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute.

The two channels that aired Dodgers games last season — including KCAL, the local CBS affiliate -- paid just $50 million for those rights. So the owners turned instead to the region's largest cable provider, Time Warner, and made a deal that's very good for the team's owners.

"The Dodgers would collect a little over $8 billion over 25 years," says Carter. "Time Warner Cable would be responsible for gaining subscribers."

So far, gaining subscribers hasn't been easy: No other major TV provider has yet purchased the Dodgers channel. In part, it's a price issue. Because Time Warner is paying so much money to the team, they're passing on that cost to the consumer. Time Warner has not commented on current negotiations, but it's reportedly asking for between $4 and $5 per subscriber per month from providers.

Dan York, the chief content officer of the company DirecTV says that price is unreasonable. "Time Warner's proposed price for the Dodgers is over double what the average regional sports network costs in the United States. And virtually every one of those other networks has more than one team," he says.

All three of the next most popular TV providers in Los Angeles — DirecTV, Cox and Verizon — say they are negotiating with Time Warner, hoping they'll either lower the price or allow the providers to unbundle the channel from their basic packages. Until they reach a deal, there will be no Dodgers games for their subscribers.

Andy Albert, a senior vice president for Cox, says it is not just the Dodgers fans they have to consider in their negotiations. He says that Los Angeles-area subscribers are already paying "pretty close to $20" per month for the sports channels Cox carries there. "And a lot of those [subscribers] aren't sports fans," he points out.

As more teams and leagues move to their own special networks, providers are beginning to fear that there might be a breaking point. Cable bills are growing four times faster than inflation, and they already average about $100 a month.

Eventually, people who don't care about sports may decide it just does not make sense to keep paying so much for games they don't watch.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Weekend Musher Finds Dogs Keep Her Hanging On

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent, Maine, works as a reporter at the Bangor Daily News. Her passion outside of work is dog sledding. It's the latest installment in our hobby series "Alter Egos."
NPR

A Peace Corps Stint In Madagascar Gave Him A Vision of Vanilla

The top source of vanilla beans sends its fragrant crop abroad for processing into extract. Now a former Peace Corps volunteer aims to boost Madagascar's economy by building a bean-to-bottle business.
NPR

Rep. Ryan Calls For 'Culture Of Inclusion' To Tackle Poverty

Congressman and former Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan discusses his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea.
NPR

New Amazon Series Pilots Fall Short Of A TV Revolution

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans ranks Amazon's new batch of five series pilots, asking why none of them seem break the rules of TV quite enough to draw attention.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.