Time Warner Cable Risks Alienating Fans With Hardball Dodgers Negotiations

Sports Networks' Crazy Math: Even More

Single-sports RSNs like the SportsNet LA are pricing themselves out of the game

Brass-knuckled negotiations are nothing new in the TV business. But there has traditionally been an understanding that getting the best deal shouldn’t mean crippling the other side — not out of benevolence, but simply to leave the well viable for the day when you have to return to it.

Sports television has seemingly lost heed of this logic, putting greed ahead of practicality, and feelings of invulnerability ahead of common sense.

The protracted negotiations between the Los Angeles Dodgers’ SportsNet LA and DirecTV — which at press time has continued to balk (heh heh) at acquiescing to team partner Time Warner Cable’s asking price for the baseball-dedicated network — comes on the heels of an explosion of regional, narrowly skewed channels, sprouting up in the belief that live sports is a commodity no distributor dares be caught dead without.

That might be true, but the fact Angelenos love the Dodgers shouldn’t obscure the danger in piling one new channel upon another, in many cases when the primary draw — live games — is essentially dormant for half the year.

A cautionary tale is the Lakers, perhaps the only thing in Los Angeles that could consistently unite the far-flung, diverse community. Owner of 16 championships, the Lakers have hit unusually hard times, putting up the worst record in franchise history and sitting out the playoffs — along with two other marquee teams, the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics — for only the third time since 1976.

Time Warner Cable Sportsnet, the venture committed to the Lakers, surely thought the team was as formidable leverage-wise as anything in L.A. could ever be. Yet sports fans also love a winner, and ratings have cratered, while those accustomed to following their heroes well into May or June have little to look forward to until “Wait till next year begins” in November.

There, ultimately, lies the insanity in the current system: Spread across a single channel, the Lakers and Dodgers would complement each other, creating a year-round flow of high-profile programming. In the way ESPN is more than just one sport, regional networks have shared teams to provide year-round value. YES, for example, telecasts Yankees and Brooklyn Nets games; NESN airs Red Sox and Bruins contests.

Doing that, though, risks leaving a few bucks on the table. Operating individually, owners have the chance to pocket more money in fees, but they do so by forcing services to ante up for a product filled much of the year with dead air.

The same can be said of regional channel the Pac-12 Network, which includes coverage of UCLA, USC, Oregon and Stanford games. It’s no slight to state that interest in college athletics beyond the major revenue-generating sports — football and men’s basketball — is limited, but these networks don’t rebate license fees during the spring or summer.

Admittedly, multichannel video program distributors don’t engender much sympathy, and networks can always argue that those companies can shoulder some of the expense out of their profits. Yet it’s not being Chicken Little to acknowledge looming cord-cutting pressures if bills continue to skyrocket, as they inevitably will if sports rights don’t achieve a level of sobriety relatively soon.

Notably, Comcast will find itself presiding over these Time Warner Cable channels should the companies’ merger be approved, and officials have conceded they’re not thrilled about inheriting some of that baggage. Still, if the company wants to be seen as a true industry leader — beyond the generally empty “Please approve our deal” public-service pledges — it could burnish those credentials and truly benefit consumers by using its formidable clout to help rein in a sports landscape gone mad.

Because right now, the sporting world’s business sluggers are acting like they’re pretty near invincible — seemingly oblivious to odds that say by swinging wildly for the fences, eventually, you increase your chances of striking out.

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  1. Ron LaGro says:

    The way I see it is that the big guys are saying, “they’re fans. They’ll do what ever we tell them to get their team.” Maybe. But this is one fan who has followed the Dodgers since they came to LA and I am not going to be led by brute force. I figure they disrespect me by their demands. I can live without them and I will. Maybe the Dodgers will find out what a curse is. Time Warner is not worth talking about. But the Dodgers? Shame on you.

  2. marc montenegro says:

    Thank you Time Warner I had forgotten the best way to “watch” a Dodger game was by listening to Vin Scully on the radio with my fists clinched. Who needs to pay when the radio is free.

  3. Fading Blue says:

    The Dodgers have severely miscalculated in this attempted cram down on the fans. I’ve been a Dodger fan since the 50s and plan to switch my allegiance to the Cardinals, which treat their fans well and are the ultimate in a professional baseball team and culture, unless the Dodgers modify their stance soon. It’s a tragedy that it’s been decades since the Dodgers have had responsible owners: Guggenheim, McCourt, Fox, etc. have treated the franchise and its fans disgracefully. I submit that it’s time for the Commssioner to intervene in the “best interests of the game”.

  4. Fave Dave says:

    After Time Warner’s negotiating fiasco with CBS last year – where the Dodgers disappeared from the screen again – I cut the cable.
    No cable and no dish. The Dodgers are missed but it feels soooo good not sending money to those greedy turds.
    Oh, did I say greedy? I meant to say stupid and greedy. Dodger fans are NOT running to Time Warner – no matter what Time Warner’s PR department might say.
    That will be the new normal. Hatred for Time Warner while Time Warner chokes on an incredibly stupid business decision.
    I mean, who’s the buffoon at Time Warner that signed off on this idiotic idea? That’s a profile I’d really like to see.

  5. Let’s just call this what it is — TWC’s mouth writing a check its butt couldn’t cash. Who promises $8.35 billion without locking down at least part of its revenue streams? Just because the carriers gave in and paid for the Lakers’ channel doesn’t mean they’ll do it again. Plus, because TWC owes the Dodgers $210 million in year one, they have no wiggle room in negotiations. They HAVE to ask $4 per subscriber per month for SportsNet LA. Otherwise, they end up having to write off what they lose on the channel, which cuts into their shrinking TV profits and their stock price.

    Which is why SportsNet LA will end up like CSN Houston — bankrupt, with fans left in the lurch. Then again, what does TWC care? Their execs are all getting golden parachutes from this Comcast merger. They won’t have to sort out this mess in the end, right?

  6. Best article yet #Dodgers #TWCSUCKS

  7. Lee Balkin says:

    Just an average fan. Just a pawn for the wealthy greedy corporate execs. That includes the TWC brass as well as the Dodgers who may have been ignorant to what they were doing when they grabbed the cash. But ultimately they sold us out too. Just an average fan who just wants to hear Vin’s voice and watch a game. Instead an average fan feeling bitter, and this average fan is more fortunate than the upwards of one million homes who previously counted on watching the Dodgers on local TV without cable or satellite, however at this juncture we’re all getting nothing? Why can’t the games be found streaming on line for free? That could possibly force TWC to back down or even into bankruptcy.
    Maybe Vin can start the next game by saying “for the few those who can see me it’s dodger baseball” In the mean time, just an average pawn losing touch with his team and ready to route for something else.

  8. David Tanny says:

    Just create all-one-sports team pay channels (one for Lakers, one for Dodgers, etc.) and let the fans pay to receive what they want. Those who don’t want to pay an extra $5 for a channel they’re not interested in simply won’t receive it. For the dead-air dormant periods, show movies and boxing matches, anything. Problem solved.

    • Jim says:

      Directv and others have offered to do just that. The Dodgers and TWC have said no

    • Brian Lowry says:

      Actually, that wouldn’t come close to solving the problem in the Dodgers’ case. They would have to charge a lot more than $5 a month if they only sold the channels to opt-in subscribers. And who’s going to want to pay $10 or more for movies/etc. the six months out of the year when the team isn’t playing? Thanks for the response.

  9. Rob says:

    I’ve always watched my dodger games on TV since I was a kid. This is just wrong. Its sad. At this point I sincerely hope the deal never gets done so TWC realizes in $$$ the huge financial and public relations mistake they have made. Congratulations Gentlemen!

  10. Reggie says:

    Thanks to those responsible for not bringing a resolution to this issue. I hope the TWC eats every bit of the billion dollar contract it paid for the exclusive media rights. Dodgers Fans hate you (TWC) for holding us hostage while try and collect all the money that’s left on the table. I hope Karma is extremely unkind to you as you’ve been to Dodgers Fans.

    • Dan says:

      So let me get this straight, you are blaming TWC for this mess all the while they ponied up billions of dollars over 25 years to have exclusive local rights for the Dodgers ? If you are a fan of the boys in blue you should be happy that Time Warner is going to allow them to have financial stability to spend the money to give us the team this city deserves. How quickly some fans forget the dark years of Fox and The McCourts. You should be blaming Directv for screwing us fans or whomever your provider is that is balking at TWC. As a Dodger fan I cancelled Directv and moved to TWC because I feel they committed to my team, the least I can do is thank them with my support.

      • Nad says:

        You are a total shill. TWC is the great white knight here to give financial stability? There ain’t no stability in paying $8b without any reasonable plan to recoup it. But you keep thinking that and hope that your job at Time Warner stays safe!

      • Jim says:

        Why is Directv at fault? 80% of their customers in Los Angeles don’t care about the Dodgers, so why should they have to add another $4 or $5 a month to their bill? If you have something you want to sell, you better make sure there are buyers. Looks like Charter, Comcast, Dish, Verizon, Uverse, Directv and others aren’t buying. What does that tell you?

  11. steve says:

    As a Dodger fan and not a Time Warner Prescriber, because they are the worst cable provider on the planet, I am floored on the realization that they, Dodgers, care less about the general fan base than paying for sub-par superstars with sub-par cable providers. I am going to burn all my Dodgers gear and buy all San Francisco gear . A better team with a better stadium. I am appalled at the penny pinchers in charge with this franchise and I know I am not alone. True baseball fans unite and boycott Magic and his greedy basterd partners and bring back Vin to public T V. Grudgingly Tru Bloo Steve.

  12. Paul c. Bowers says:

    Today I found out that Time Warner does not offer services in my area of Whittier (90605). Thanks to The Dodger owners and management for shutting us out completely.

  13. Steven says:

    The dodger blackout will hopefully add credence that all cable and Sat providers are too big now and start voters thinking about how they are being squeezed when elections come. Ditto cities paying big bucks for sports teams and not being able to watch them

  14. David Partlow says:

    Comcast won’t help the situation. The problem is on the direct tv side. Comcast has the Rockets and Blazers nba tv package but dish and direct tv won’t pay a fair price to carry the games, banking on “we have nfl tv package, out subscribers won’t leave us.” But the other cable operators in the state have accepted comcast terms (or compromises). Comcast May look like the bad guy, but with the dodgers package not being a comcast deal, and the SATs still not coming to an agreement, I blame the SATs here.

    • Jim says:

      You are blaming the SATs because they aren’t willing to spend for a channel that most of their customers don’t want? What about Uverse? What about FiOS? They aren’t SATs, yet they came to the same conclusion.

  15. vp19 says:

    You bring up a sensible approach. Here in Washington, MASN has a similar problem as the Dodgers’ or Lakers’ channel: its prime attraction is baseball (Nationals and Orioles, with two channels in case of overlap), but it has no real programming linchpin in the baseball off-season. Capitals, Wizards, University of Maryland sports? Comcast Sportsnet DC for all of them (although MASN might now be able to land some Terrapin action through the Big Ten Network). All MASN runs October through March, aside from Hot Stove League talk and Nats/O’s replays, is college sports action from smaller local colleges (George Mason, Georgetown) or distant conferences such as the Big 12.

    • Jack says:

      I am going to switch – but not to greedy Time Warner – I will be watching Angels games until they come to their senses and bring our Dodgers back to the fans who brought them to where they are!!!!

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