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Sports Broadcasting Technology

Pain and Gain for Dodgers Fans - This Season and Next?

September 25, 2014


Usually, when a major league baseball team clinches a playoff berth, everyone rejoices and the focus is on celebrating October baseball, hopefully on the way to the World Series.

But this season could not have been much more atypical for fans of the L.A. Dodgers, who unless they subscribed to Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable or a few small-ish TV providers, couldn’t see the vast majority of their team’s regular season games. That was due to an epic content distribution battle with DirecTV (News - Alert) and others that likely will drag on well beyond the crowning of the World Champions next month.

But for now, the happiest population is the estimated 70 percent of Dodgers fans locally that could not watch the bulk of the regular season on TV, without visiting a sports bar or a friend who has TWC cable TV. This is all assuming that absence truly does make the heart grow stronger.

While this huge group of Dodger blue fans will be able to watch their favorite team in the playoffs, because the games will be carried on widely available Fox channels and perhaps on ESPN, even winning big in the postseason won’t necessarily ensure they’ll be able to watch the 2015 regular season.

Recapping the Content Conflict

That’s because TWC spent over $8 billion for the 25-year distribution rights to local coverage of Dodgers games this past season via regional sports network SportsNet LA, which is now co-owned by the team. In a standoff for the TV history books, TWC couldn’t get DirecTV – or other big name TV providers (AT&T, Cox (News - Alert), Verizon, Charter, Comcast and DISH) – to pay to show the games.

As the season wore on and the situation worsened,  outside parties entered the picture and tried to end the fan-unfriendly content conundrum including the mayor of Los Angeles pleading the case before a cable industry trade show, lawmakers, and the FCC (News - Alert), all to no avail.

DirecTV maintained the price TWC was asking was too high, among its contentions that paying it would result in higher rates for its subscribers. TWC wanted the programming carried with other premium channels, not offered a la carte. The satellite TV service provider best known for its wide array of sports programming packages hasn’t budged and has no reason to any time soon.

A Rerun Unlikely

All this raises the $8 billion question even as the Dodgers prep for the post season: will the situation be resolved in time for non-TWC outlets to carry the team’s 2015 season locally?

Whether it’s a matter of principle, price or both, it’s a longshot to expect TWC and potential distribution partners such as DirecTV, to change their stance. That would be a “sportskill” of epic proportion regardless of the Dodgers’ postseason performance.

I’ve suggested that this predicament had brought carriage pricing to the content cliff, part of an ongoing trend of skyward soaring costs, especially for live sports content, that has almost every stakeholder unhappy, fans foremost.

Will we look back at this situation with the Dodgers as a historic development in which the line was held against soaring sports content costs by a “coalition of the fed up,” that led to a change in thinking and pricing for this most coveted content? It’s likely – and nobody can argue this isn’t a landmark development - but the future is uncertain.

Wait till Next Year!!!

Usually the rallying cry of those teams that don’t even make the playoffs at any level of organized sports, it sums up the TWC-Dodger’s situation and more given that outside forces could completely reset the playing field whether or not two proposed mergers gain sought after approvals.

Media conglomerate and top cable TV provider Comcast is in the process of advancing its planned acquisition of TWC, while AT&T (News - Alert) is doing the same with its bid to buy DirecTV. (Interestingly, neither AT&T nor Comcast carry the Dodgers games through their cable TV systems in the L.A. market).

Worthy of note is AT&T’s stated intention to deliver DirecTV’s coveted NFL Sunday Ticket to its roughly 100 million wireless subscribers – and out to rural areas – if its acquisition goes through.

The timeline for the two proposed mega-deals is at best TBD, but the chances are the pay TV landscape will look more than a little different before spring training starts early next year.

And if both deals don’t go through, the plight of the Dodgers’ fan might be the very same as it has been throughout all but the final few games of the 2014 regular season. But when is a plight not a plight? For some Dodger blue fans, not having to pay higher rates to watch their team is a different kind of victory.

My Advice

I couldn’t feel worse for Dodgers’ fans for what mot had to endure during the regular season and think it’s fitting that the talented team made the playoff. This enables fans to watch the postseason on Fox channels and perhaps more in their quest for an October reign.

While it’s not the same situation, I spent much of my early adult years spending Sunday afternoons in sports bars with satellite dishes as my NFL team’s home games were frequently blacked out in the local market. Gatherings are fun but they only take you so far, especially with a pro sport where the regular season spans 6 months and 162 games.

And remember your situation is not restricted in impact to the greater L.A. market. Most everyone in the TV industry (as well as politicians, regulators and sports fans nationwide) is watching this milestone impasse while you are watching Dodgers playoff baseball and after the season concludes.

So, enjoy the playoff proceedings Dodgers fans and prepare to embrace change for the 2015 season as change is a constant in the TV world. Here’s to success on the field now and in the living room next season.

Stay tuned.

By Bob Wallace, Founder, Fast Forward Thinking LLC

Edited by Stefania Viscusi