Tens of thousands of Los Angeles Dodgers fans haven't heard legendary broadcaster Vin Scully call games. They've missed two Dodger no-hitters, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez's clutch home runs, outfielder Yasiel Puig's antics and pitching ace Clayton Kershaw clinching his 19th win of the season.
But next week, fans finally will be able to see a handful of Dodgers games on broadcast TV.
Time Warner Cable said Monday that it will simulcast Dodger games during the final week of the regular season on local broadcast station KDOC-TV Channel 56, which is widely available in Southern California. Most homes in the region have been shut out of the action because other major cable and satellite distributors have refused to pay big money to carry SportsNet LA channel, which is owned by the Dodgers and distributed by Time Warner Cable.
The late-season deal is described by Time Warner Cable as a show of goodwill to enable fans to watch the Dodgers battle the San Francisco Giants for the National League West Division title.
But some people wondered whether broadcasting five to six games would be enough to make up for what's been viewed as a public relations disaster.
"Everyone involved has to feel beyond terrible for the way this season has played out," said David M. Carter, executive director of the USC Marshall School of Business Sports Business Institute. "For some Dodger fans this move may be too little, too late, but these are important games, and a lot of people will be watching."
This season marked a sea change in Los Angeles broadcasting. For more than a decade, Dodgers fans could see their favorite team on a Fox sports channel and a broadcast station. But the team's new owners, Guggenheim Baseball Management, formed SportsNet LA, which Time Warner Cable agreed to distribute in a record-breaking 25-year, $8.35-billion deal, according to a valuation by the team and Major League Baseball.
Time Warner Cable's 1.5 million subscriber homes receive SportsNet LA. But nearly 70% of homes in the region receive television service from another provider.
"It's a little too late," said Johnny Rodriguez, an Azusa sales consultant, who subscribes to Verizon's FiOS television service. Rodriguez said he was disgusted that he didn't get to watch the Dodgers' 17-0 rout of the Giants on Saturday. "As a fan, you want to keep up. You don't want to see just the last six games."
Time Warner Cable had anticipated that other distributors would agree to carry SportsNet LA. But the other providers said the cost — about $4.50 per customer per month for the channel, according to consulting firm SNL Kagan — was too big of a burden at a time when consumers were protesting rising monthly bills.
The cable giant recently concluded that it probably wouldn't come to terms with other distributors this year. But political pressure was mounting as lawmakers urged Time Warner Cable to enter into binding arbitration with DirecTV, which refused to do so. The Federal Communications Commission urged a resolution.
"We hope that long-term agreements will be the next step and can be achieved quickly without depriving fans of any regular season games next year," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Monday.
Post-season baseball will be carried by other networks, including Fox Sports 1. Because of that, observers expect the flap to subside until the 2015 season.
Time Warner Cable began working on a backup plan in the last two weeks as the pennant races heated up. The company finalized its deal with KDOC over the last few days. The simulcast begins Monday, followed by four or five more games. The exact number depends on whether Fox Sports claims the rights to the Dodgers' Sept. 27 game against the Colorado Rockies.
The companies declined to provide financial terms, but Time Warner Cable agreed to cover some of KDOC's costs to broadcast the games, according to a person familiar with the arrangement who could not speak on the record.
KDOC, which is owned by Ellis Communications and is based in Santa Ana, fills its prime-time schedule with reruns of sitcoms and a local newscast produced by KABC-TV Channel 7. The station had to juggle to make room for the Dodgers games.
"It wasn't an easy thing, but for something this big we were able to disrupt our programming schedule," said John Manzi, general manager of the station. "It was a one-time scenario, and now we have the opportunity to provide the community with a great public service."
The deal also should give the station greater exposure.
The Dodgers organization was not involved in the arrangement with KDOC, knowledgeable people said.
"We think it is a great thing for our fans to see our games," said Lon Rosen, the Dodgers' chief marketing officer. "This is not a permanent solution."
James Williams, general manager of the Los Angeles office of public relations giant Edelman, called the move a good first step.
"However, for both Time Warner Cable and the Dodgers' ownership to win back fan trust, it will be necessary to also provide indications that the cable negotiations are progressing and that the existing fan blackout won't continue next season," Williams said.
It might be up to a new pay-TV provider, Comcast Corp., to mend fences. Comcast is in the process of acquiring Time Warner Cable in a $45-billion deal that is expected to be approved by the FCC early next year. Comcast might agree to lower the price for the channel to win support as it enters the Los Angeles market.
Steven Saber, a Hermosa Beach chiropractor who grew up in Los Angeles but has seen only three Dodger games on TV this season, said he probably would find KDOC on his channel lineup to watch the games.
"As much as I have been disheartened by this whole season, I'm still a Dodger fan," Saber said. "This is a nice gesture, but I probably will still side with DirecTV."