The Dodgers TV shutout is about to end for thousands of L.A. baseball fans.
Hoping to build goodwill for its cable TV operations, Charter Communications said it will begin televising Dodgers games to the nearly 300,000 households it serves in the region within the next few weeks. The action comes as Charter moves to acquire Time Warner Cable, which would make Charter the largest pay-TV provider in Southern California.
"We are going to get the Dodgers on," said Tom Rutledge, Charter's chief executive. "We want the Dodgers to be on every outlet in Los Angeles and … we are committed to making that happen."
Like most other pay-TV providers in the region, Charter had balked at paying as much as $4.90 a month per subscriber for carrying Dodgers games. That changed with its proposal Tuesday to buy Time Warner Cable, the sole major operator that carries the Dodgers channel in the region.
There are no immediate plans to charge for the telecasts. Charter executives declined to say whether cable bills might be raised eventually to cover costs of providing the Dodgers channel, SportsNet LA, which is owned by the Dodgers. Rutledge said his company needs to take a closer look.
For now at least, adding Dodgers games to its cable lineup will cost Charter less than $17 million this year — a small price to pay for a company that is seeking to win over new customers and regulators who will scrutinize the proposed $57-billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable.
"This is a bridge strategy that gets the Dodgers back on the air, and gives Charter time to figure out how they will approach the deal so they can get other pay-TV providers on board before spring training starts next year," said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the USC Marshall School of Business.
Carter called the decision a modest financial risk that could deliver a major public relations coup for Charter. "This will give them good PR throughout the entire season," he said.
Dodgers games still will not be available to customers of DirecTV, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-Verse, Dish Network and Cox Cable, which provide service to more than half of Southland pay-TV households. It was not immediately clear whether any of the other providers would be forced back to the bargaining table by Charter's decision.
Time Warner Cable landed the distribution rights to SportsNet LA by agreeing to a 25-year, $8.35-billion deal with Guggenheim Baseball Management, which owns the Dodgers. Time Warner Cable had been asking other pay-TV providers to pay as much as $4.90 a month per subscriber home to carry the channel, according to industry consulting firm SNL Kagan.
But no other provider would pony up. That left Time Warner Cable as the only major provider in the region to offer SportsNet LA.
DirecTV, the second-largest pay TV provider in the region, is currently in the thick of its own takeover. Telecommunications giant AT&T is in the process of buying the El Segundo-based satellite provider, and expects federal approval for that $49-billion deal within the next few weeks.
For DirecTV, the stakes are significantly higher because it has four times as many subscribers as Charter. That means the costs to carry the Dodgers channel would be four times more than what Charter is likely to agree to pay.
SNL Kagan has said SportsNet LA is among the most expensive sports channels in the nation. That has been a sore point for other operators because unlike other pricey channels, SportsNet LA broadcasts only the Dodgers. That leaves the channel devoid of live game action for nearly six months of the year.
"We continue to hope TWC and the Dodger front office will compromise with the rest of Southern California's providers so all Dodger fans can watch their games without burdening everyone else with significantly higher fees," DirecTV said in a statement.
Cox Communications, which serves the Palos Verdes Peninsula and parts of Orange County, said Charter's move doesn't change its position.
"We're open to carrying the channel at reasonable and flexible terms that don't overburden our customer base," a Cox spokesman said.
Rutledge did not rule out the prospect that Charter's decision could prompt other providers to reconsider their resistance.
"Could it cause the rest of the players in Los Angeles to take the channel? I don't know that for sure, but at minimum, that would be a great outcome," Rutledge said.
For now, expect Dodgers games to be back just in time for summer in Charter's service area, which includes Glendale, Burbank, Malibu, Long Beach, West Covina, Riverside and parts of the San Gabriel Valley.
"Christmas is coming early," said a jubilant Jackie Manjarrez, 23, of Whittier, who describes herself as a lifelong Dodgers fan. "There's going to [be] Dodger parties at my house all the time now."
For the last year, the only way for Manjarrez to watch games was to pack up the family for a trip to Dodger Stadium. Her attempts to watch games online were futile, and radio has its limits, she said. Manjarrez's family switched to Charter from DirecTV about five months ago, and until now, they were unsure whether they had made the right call.
"I'm just excited to be able to watch from home," Manjarrez said.
Jason Curry of Rancho Cucamonga said he wasn't a Charter customer — but that soon might change.
"We've been waiting for this opportunity," Curry said. "I go where the Dodgers go, and I think most fans will do the same thing."
Curry, 34, said his DirecTV contract ended in January, after he spent the last year tuning in to Dodger games in a "bootleg" style, either online or on the radio.
"I want to be able to sit down and watch the game on the TV," Curry said, adding that he had just gotten off the phone with a Charter representative to inquire about a new subscription package. "I'm a Laker fan and a Dodgers fan … so if I can watch those teams, I'm a happy camper."