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MLB Commissioner Urges Distributors to End Dodgers SportsNet Impasse

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is urging Los Angeles-area pay TV distributors to end the two-year stalemate over the Los Angeles Dodgers’ SportsNet channel in time for the start of baseball season next month.

Manfred weighed in on the fight between Time Warner Cable, which distributes SportsNet Los Angeles, and the region’s other MVPDs, which have balked at the high price tag that TW Cable sought for the regional sports cabler.

Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable confirmed a report in the Los Angeles Times that TW Cable had trimmed the price for SportsNet by 30% in an effort to get the channel picked up. There’s extra urgency this year because legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully is set to retire at the end of the season after 67 years with the team.

“The distribution dispute involving DirecTV, AT&T, Cox and Verizon has gone on too long. The Dodgers’ massive fan base deserves to be able to watch Dodger games regardless of their choice of provider,” Manfred said in a statement. “The situation is particularly acute given that this is Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully’s final season. Time Warner has made a significant economic move that I hope will be accepted by the providers.”

Local Dodgers fans who are not subscribers of TW Cable or Charter have been out of luck regarding TV games for the team since SportsNet launched in 2014. The stalemate in the Dodgers’ hometown has become emblematic of the growing resistance among MVPDs to carrying high-priced regional sports networks — at a time when spiraling programming costs have been a generally become a hot-button issue for programmers and distributors.

“Because it’s such a historic season, we offered AT&T/DirecTV a price that’s 30 percent off our current rate,” TW Cable spokesman Andrew Fegyveresi said. “We’ve had discussions with several providers, but we don’t expect any other distributors to carry SNLA by Opening Day. Especially given that it’s Vin Scully’s last season, if fans want to see SportsNet LA and Dodgers games, they need to switch to Time Warner Cable, Charter or Bright House Networks.”

On the other coast, Fox’s Yes network is in the midst of a PR battle with Comcast over the latter’s decision to drop carriage of the Yankees’ hometown cabler. However, Comcast serves only about 900,000 homes in outlying areas of the New York City market.

The SportsNet battle has affected millions of Dodgers fans in Southern California. It’s been a black eye for TW Cable, which gambled by cutting an $8 billion long-term deal with the Dodgers for the TV rights on the heels of the team’s sale to a consortium led by private equity giant Guggenheim Partners. TW Cable is in the midst of a merger with Charter Communications that is expected to be finalized in the next few months.

Charter had been one of the local distributors to initially balk at SportsNet LA’s pricetag. But after it sealed its merger agreement with TW Cable Charter added the channel as a goodwill gesture to the city, which still needs to sign off the transfer of TW Cable’s franchise as part of the merger.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig also sought to move the sides to an agreement during the past two seasons, but not as forcefully as Manfred’s statement in support of TW Cable’s concessions.

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