Fox ups fee for Dodgers cablecast

Dispute could leave Sports West 2 blacked out

Fox Sports execs are huddling with local cable operators this week in an effort to settle a contract dispute that has Fox threatening to black out Los Angeles Dodgers telecasts on its Fox Sports West 2 cabler as of next week.

At issue is Fox’s effort to charge cable operators additional subscriber fees for an expanded slate of Dodger games this season. Fox Sports West 2 will carry 80 Dodger games this season, compared with 40 games last year.

Fox acquired the Dodgers last year, but the dispute is unrelated to the ball club’s ownership, as a similar standoff is brewing over the expanded slate of California Angels’ telecasts on the sibling Fox Sports West cabler.

Some Southern California cable operators have agreed to the fee hike, but others are refusing to shell out for the increase on a system-wide basis. MediaOne, for one, has proposed offering the additional games on a pay-per-view basis or on a premium tier for those subs willing to pay for more Dodger action.

Fox Sports is understood to be asking for an increase in the range of 15¢ to 20¢ per subscriber. That would amount to nearly a six-figure hike for an operator like MediaOne, which serves about 480,000 subs in the greater L.A. area.

Cable ops Century Communications, AT&T, Cox and satcaster DirecTV have signed off on the fee increase, but others balking at the unexpected hike include Time Warner, Charter Communications and Comcast. Fox has set a Tuesday deadline for the blackout, in which the Dodger games in question would be replaced with other Fox Sports programming.

For the Angels, the Fox Sports West cable will expand to 50 games this season from 30 last year. The cutoff deadline for the Angels’ bonus panels is Aug. 3.

As the negotiations dragged on, MediaOne and other operators were angered last month when Fox Sports began running scattered promo spots telling subscribers to call their cable company if they didn’t want to miss out on Dodger and Angel games.

“We don’t have anything against carrying Dodger games, but our subscribers want to minimize rate increases,” says Gisselle Acevedo-Franco, spokeswoman for MediaOne. “We had hoped to settle this issue in a responsible way, and we were surprised to see those commercials.”

While true blue Dodger fans are sure to squawk if the games are cut off, other subscribers may not be so irate. The threat of the blackout comes as the Dodgers find themselves stuck in last place in the National League West division.

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