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Dodgers are out of sight, could become out of mind

Los Angeles DodgersSportsColumnTelevisionTelevision IndustryBaseballYasiel Puig
Majority of people in L.A. lack access to Dodgers games on TV
Plenty of villains to blame for Dodgers' TV fiasco

The Dodgers were destined to do amazing things this season, but only six weeks into the season, it seems they've already done the impossible.

One of baseball's most glamorous teams, playing in the second-biggest media market, has somehow completely disappeared.

There is no buzz surrounding them. There is scant conversation concerning them. There is only occasional Dodgers cheering being heard from bars. There is virtually no sound of Vin Scully anywhere.

I recently emerged from a monthlong mission covering the Clippers to realize that, much to my horror, I have no idea what the Dodgers even look like anymore.

I hear Yasiel Puig is off to a great start, but I haven't seen it. The word is that Josh Beckett is having great success by throwing more off-speed pitches, but I have no idea how that appears.

Clayton Kershaw? Haven't seen him pitch. Dee Gordon? Haven't seen him run. Kenley Jansen? Haven't seen him finish.

Like 70% of Angelenos, I cannot watch the Dodgers games on TV. So, like most Angelenos who have not attended a home game in the last month, I found myself slowly forgetting who they are, and caring just a little bit less about what they might become.

This is the biggest casualty of the Time Warner Cable TV debacle. It's slowly killing the attention paid to the Dodgers, which is slowly killing the interest in them. The biggest problem isn't that people are going to miss them, but that they are going to stop missing them, and it's happening already.

Somebody said Zack Greinke is having a potential Cy Young Award season. Nobody around here is talking about it. Is there a controversy over which three outfielders are playing? That's a potentially juicy discussion that I've not heard once, because few people have actually seen enough games to have an opinion.

The Dodger Stadium attendance leads the league, but that's a fraction of the number of fans who follow the team. This newspaper and its website provide terrific insight into the daily team activities, but that only enhances a connection that, in today's world, is initially forged on television. When it comes to sports, out of sight is often out of mind.

Quick, where are the Dodgers in the standings? What has been Puig's most breathtaking moment? Somebody said Orel Hershiser is back with the organization in some capacity, is that true? Is anybody out there even still paying attention?

"Sports and entertainment is want, not a need, and, yeah, I'm concerned," said Peter Guber, Dodgers co-owner, in an interview three weeks ago. "If this is a pervasive thing that lasts the season, it's going to be a problem."

The issue has been well-documented and there is clearly enough blame for everyone, greed by some, gluttony by others, villains everywhere.

The Dodgers are the biggest bad guys because, by taking $8.35 billion from Time Warner Cable and insisting on starting their own channel — SportsNet LA — they made it nearly impossible for that channel to find distribution at a price that Time Warner Cable could accept. The Dodgers could have signed a new deal with Prime Ticket for slightly less money but with a much higher probability that pay-TV operators would have continued carrying the existing channel. They would not have had their own channel, but at least that channel would have been seen.

The next villain is Time Warner Cable, which seriously overpaid, perhaps because it seriously misjudged the Los Angeles fan culture and thought this transition would be similar to the quick implementation of the Lakers channel a couple of years ago. Wrong. The Dodgers are not as big as the Lakers, and the Dodgers fans are not the Lakers fans, who lost their minds and used their wallets and essentially forced the pay-TV operators to carry the channel after only a few missed games. There is no such mass fleeing from the likes of DirecTV. The onus is now on Time Warner Cable to sell what is essentially an overpriced product.

"We sold the rights to a gigantic corporation, it's their job to market the rights and get the distribution," Guber said in the recent interview. "We are not happy that they haven't been able to get the full distribution in our own market that they promised. That's their job. They made the bet."

The final villains are the pay-TV operators who have shunned the Dodgers, if only because they are still charging consumers the same prices as last season when they carried the Dodgers. The contracts are surely murky and complicated but, bottom line, I no longer receive the Dodgers on my television yet my pay-TV operator has yet to give me a refund.

"It's unfortunate most providers have not yet decided to give it to our fans even though they're still charging them for last year's Dodgers coverage," said Stan Kasten, Dodgers president, in an interview Saturday.

It's all unfortunate, such that during the last month I heard several respected local sports authorities wonder whether the Clippers had actually become bigger than the Dodgers. It sounds crazy. It will never happen. But right now, which team has more buzz? There was also fallout felt when Magic Johnson surfaced as a possible new owner of the Clippers. A year ago, the support for his Guggenheim group would have been unquestioned. Now, not so much, with people wondering if that would mean the Clippers would also soon disappear.

If you own a sports team in Southern California, you can refurbish a lineup and a stadium and championship hopes, but none of that matters if that team is not on television. Period.

"We continue to be in behind-the-scenes discussions every single day to work this out," Kasten said. "Everything this ownership group is about is making the best possible fan experience for our fans, and we continue to be dedicated to that goal."

The debate needs to be turned off, and the Dodgers need to be back on. The more these billionaires talk, the less Dodgers fans are listening.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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