My colleagues Bill Plaschke, Bill Shaikin and Meg James are reporting that for the second year in a row, Los Angeles Dodger games may be blacked out for TV viewers in Southern California, except for subscribers to Time Warner Cable.
Why? Because TWC, which owns the team's broadcast rights, still hasn't been able to make a deal with DirecTV or other pay-TV operators to show the games. Why not? Because TWC is demanding too much money.
I feel the Dodger fans' pain. But it's also very healthy for sports fans in every city to be reminded periodically of the truth about the teams they follow with such passion. Their love for those teams--to which they offer lifelong devotion, whose victories and defeats they share with heartfelt emotion, the teams that can ruin their day with a muffed fly ball or dispel a dark mood with a timely bunt, the teams whose coffers they enrich by spending hard-earned dollars on caps, jerseys, pennants and tickets--is unrequited.
The fans need to remember that when the long green is at stake, the teams are businesses that don't give a Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance's damn about them. That crucial awareness acts as a vaccine against the virus of gimme that pro sports teams spread in their local communities. The owners and their leagues demand tax abatements, public stadium funding, and all sorts of other handouts because, you know, they truly belong to the people.
Unfortunately, the vaccine is not 100% effective. Pro teams exploit their fans' love and short memories with the ruthlessness of Apple marketing iPhones to its faithful hordes. Even the remote prospect of association with a big-name sports franchise is enough to drive local politicians and civic boosters into a frenzy. For the latest example one needs to go no farther than Inglewood, a nondescript city just over the fenceline from LAX, which is clearing every obstacle in the path of a proposed NFL stadium--for a team that doesn't exist and may never come. Meanwhile, St. Louis and Missouri, which fear losing the NFL Rams to Inglewood, are preparing to spend more than a half-billion dollars of public funds for a new stadium to keep them. If you're a team owner, this is nirvana.
Pro sports executives don't even pretend to be sincere about their home towns anymore. The single most hypocritical statement made in sports last year was uttered in September by TWC Chief Operating Officer Dinni Jain, announcing TWC's decision to end the blackout for the last six games of the 2014 season so fans could witness the final days of Dodgers' pennant race on local TV.
"Time Warner Cable is part of this community and we’re Dodger fans too," Jain said. "Angelenos love their Dodgers, and we’re happy to give them a way to watch their beloved team during this pennant chase."
Bunk. It's all marketing. (The Dodgers' marketing slogan this year: "We Love LA.") Over the last year, the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable have been as crass, calculating and condescending about their fans as any organization associated with Major League Baseball. They've counted on Dodger fans to be sheep, and they've been right. The Dodgers led the majors in 2014 home attendance with 3.8 million fans at aging Dodger Stadium, handily outdistancing the runner-up St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. (Which both have new stadiums.)
The Dodger owners, Guggenheim Baseball Management, showed their appreciation by doubling the stadium parking fee to $20 this season. How cynical was that? When Guggenheim acquired the team in 2012, one of its first acts to put distance between itself and its predecessors, the detested McCourts, was to lower the parking fee from the McCourts' $15 to $10 for 2013. A year later it jacked the fee back up to $15. Now it will see the McCourts and raise them another $5.
(The Dodgers claim they're not really raising the parking fee, because you can buy parking in advance for $10. But to do so you must have online access, open a Dodgers.com account, give the Dodgers your credit card information including your billing address, and possibly subject yourself to Dodgers marketing junk emails. If you can't or won't meet those conditions, your price is $20.)
Of course the real insult to fans involves local broadcast rights. As I wrote last May, the fiasco is rooted in the Dodgers' sale of those rights to Time Warner Cable for $8.35 billion over 25 years. That's a rich price, which the cable firm plainly expected to get back by reselling the rights to the other pay-TV outlets in the region.
But to cover its nut, TWC demanded such a high price that the other TV companies told it to take a hike. So home Dodger games were unavailable all season long on Cox, Charter Communications, the fiber services Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse, and the satellite companies DirecTV and Dish. Since Time Warner Cable serves only 30% of the pay-TV households in the region, that meant Dodger games were blacked out for the other 70%.
So far, the same thing seems to be happening this year. Plaschke reports: "There is no resolution expected until at least the middle of the summer."
This is greed on the march. The Dodgers were greedy in the deal with Time Warner Cable, and TWC was greedy in its demands of the other pay-TV firms. Both figured they knew what the market would bear, and both have been wrong. If they were worried about the team's long-term fan base, they would drop the price to a level that would put the games on the air. But no, because of 3.8 million fans at the turnstile last year. Who's worrying?
So, yes, TWC and Guggenheim, black out the Dodgers, please. The notion that they're "L.A.'s team," members of the community, the nearest thing to a philanthropic organization rather than a cold, calculating business needs an inoculation of reality. And you're just the doctors to provide it.