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Shut-out fans caught in middle, pay the price in Dodgers-cable battle

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It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame, just not for viewing it on TV. It’s time to pay the piper, and no one seems too eager to play the game outside the game.

The Dodgers open the 2014 season at 1 a.m. PDT on Saturday in Australia against the Diamondbacks, and whatever fringe of its fandom base would actually stay up into the wee hours to watch the opener, precious few will actually be able to so.

The Times’ Joe Flint writes that approximately 70% of the Los Angeles market will be unable to watch the game, even if they had ambitions of some Dodgers’ all-nighter viewing party. This season, games not nationally televised will be broadcast by the Dodgers’ new channel, SportsNet LA.

Did you really think that record team payroll and improvements in Dodger Stadium were going to come without cost?

Time Warner Cable, which handles the distribution of the 24/7 Dodgers channel, currently is the only major provider where you can watch them play.

Gone are all free broadcasts on KCAL-TV Channel 9. Now if you don’t have cable, the Dodgers simply won’t be on TV unless that game is being broadcast nationally. And currently, that consists of five games.

But if you use DirecTV, Verizon, Dish, Cox, Charter or AT&T as your provider, forget it. The game Down Under might as well be the next universe over.

I have never been sold on the idea that the Dodgers’ fan base is hungering for a 24-hour team site. What kind of rah-rah, inside coverage are they really demanding? In this day of instant news access, is there much of a market wanting to watch a replay of the previous night’s game? Can’t think of a single person ever who once said, “Gee, why can’t they have a Dodgers-theme show hosted by Larry King?”

Yet that’s what Time Warner Cable is selling, and right now no one is buying. It gave the Dodgers an estimated $8.35 billion, 25-year deal to run the channel. Now Time Warner naturally wants to pass the bill along to the consumer, and that’s you, whether a Dodgers fan or not. A similar thing happened when the Lakers started Prime Ticket with Time Warner Cable.

Wrote Flint: “Prime Ticket currently charges distributors close to $3 per subscriber a month, according to SNL Kagan, an industry consulting firm. Time Warner Cable is seeking more than $4 per subscriber, according to people familiar with the matter, and those fees will escalate, distribution executives say.”

Pretty soon the cost to watch the Dodgers will approach what an original cable bill went for. Register columnist T.J. Simers likens it to the kind of tax money no one in Los Angeles is willing to pay to build an NFL stadium.

Wrote Simers: “Call it a cable bill if you like, but aren’t fees to watch the Dodgers and Lakers just another clever way of collecting public money for the welfare of our billionaire sports owners?”

All along, everyone has just sort of assumed the deals would get done on the eve of the season starting. Then it was when the Dodgers got back home.

“It is no surprise to me that deals are not concluded at this point,” said Time Warner Cable Executive Vice President Melinda Witner told Flint.

Hey, when will it qualify as a surprise? A week after the season starts, a month? What if this is some tipping point and the other providers don’t fall in line? What does Time Warner do then?

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the team’s fans go without. They pay the price, one way or another. And right now, the price is not being able to watch the Dodgers on television. Could be a boon to the radio coverage.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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