TV makes big investment in baseball

Back in the day, settling into the old recliner with a bowl of nachos and a frosty beverage to enjoy a Dodgers telecast was an uncommon pleasure.

These days, a Dodger fan really never has to get out of that chair.

The TV landscape, as it relates to the club, is richer and more fertile than ever. How times have changed.

“I remember when I first started writing a sports television column in 1973 for the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner,” says Larry Stewart of the Los Angeles Times, the local dean of sports media scribes, “there (were) no local cable television sports outlets. We only got Giant games from San Francisco and maybe a Reds series from Cincinnati every once in a while on local television. That was it.”

The current situation? Now every Dodger game is available on television, whether on local KCAL Channel 9, the cable network Fox Prime Ticket or an occasional network game on ESPN or Fox.

Out-of-town fans can even tune in via Major League Baseball’s Extra Innings cable and satellite packages as well as by online subscription through MLB.TV (though certain blackout restrictions apply).

Clearly, television and the Dodgers go as well together as a Dodger Dog and a beer. And the local deals serve as a solid foundation.

“Both (KCAL and Fox Prime) represent very, very important revenue sources for us,” Dodgers chief operating officer Dennis Mannion says. “The widespread distribution of both entities has been important in growing our market share.”

For a while, the Dodgers and Fox represented a bad marriage. Following Fox parent News Corp.’s 1998 purchase of the team from its longtime owners, the O’Malley family, the Dodgers underperformed on the field and on the balance sheet (though the acquisition did serve the long-term purpose of helping Fox build its regional sports network).

Frank and Jamie McCourt bought the team in January 2004 for a highly leveraged $430 million. At that time, the McCourts also announced a 10-year deal with the local Fox cable network, which at that time was known as Fox Sports West 2.

Before the McCourts’ purchase, the Dodgers reportedly had been losing close to $50 million a year. Forbes magazine says the club made a $20 million profit last year.

The television deals have, according to Mannion, allowed the club to expand the brand.

“The best thing to say is that the (TV deals) are in excess of 10% of the ballclub’s total revenues,” Mannion reveals. “We also have delivered money through Major League Baseball as well — a bunch of media money, licensing money — which comes in the form of a central disbursement.”

Mannion adds that the TV partners provide the opportunity to get content out to the customers, which helps expand the revenue base.

“Within the context of each broadcast, for example, we have a present amount of inventory we can use for Dodgers commercials that are used to drive ticket sales,” he says. “We also work with both entities to provide insider access to players, coaches, even management, so people feel like they’re closer to the Dodgers than just watching the game.”

The Dodgers also have a fledgling partnership with Time Warner video-on-demand, yet another outlet with dedicated programming to bring fans closer to the game and distribute the brand even further.

As far as content is concerned, Steve Simpson, senior VP for FSN West and Prime Ticket, says his side of the equation is constantly working to provide programming that will attract fans and widen the audience.

Fox does focus groups to gauge fan interest and reaction, while it produces pregame and postgame shows as well as specials like “Before the Bigs” and “In My Own Words.”

“At the core, we’re about doing a lot more than just the game itself,” says Simpson, who relaunched Fox Sports West 2 as Fox Prime Ticket in 2006 after getting feedback from fans. “Our brand is the teams.”

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