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Fans might have to wait weeks before Dodgers games come to their TVs

Los Angeles DodgersSportsTelevisionTelevision IndustryEntertainmentMedia IndustryDirecTV Group Inc.

The Dodgers launched their new television channel two weeks ago. They open the season in less than two weeks, an event that figures to be invisible to everyone in the Los Angeles area without Time Warner Cable.

You might need your Dodgers. You might demand your Dodgers. However, if history is any guide, you might not get your Dodgers on SportsNet LA for another three to five weeks. And, yes, the regular season would be well underway by then.

There is nothing unusual about the wait to get SportsNet LA into the homes of Dodgers fans. Lakers fans endured a similar wait two years ago, when that team moved its broadcasts to the Time Warner Cable SportsNet channel.

No matter how much the Dodgers or SportsNet LA might ask you to do so, this has little to do with whether fans appeal to cable or satellite providers. This has much more to do with getting the best deal at the deadline, in much the same way baseball teams often wait to make moves until the July 31 trade deadline, even if their needs are established well before then.

In this case, according to veteran sports broadcasting consultant Ed Desser, SportsNet LA wants to sell its product for the greatest possible price, and cable and satellite operators want to buy the product for the lowest possible price.

"Deadlines — real or imagined — are a cause of action," Desser said. "I think there's a perception that, if you're buying, you get the best possible deal at 11:59. If you're selling, you feel the pressure to deliver before the clock strikes 12."

The audience for spring training games — most of which are played on weekday afternoons — is very small. And, although the Dodgers open the season in Australia, it is unlikely television providers would feel overly pressured to carry a game that starts at 1 a.m. in Los Angeles.

The deadline in this case, then, is March 30, when the Dodgers face the Padres in San Diego. That game, incidentally, will be carried on ESPN and billed as baseball's opening night.

The Lakers opened the 2012-13 season on Oct. 30, 2012.

Charter Cable first made TWC SportsNet available to its customers four days before the opener. Verizon FiOS did so one day before the opener, and AT&T U-verse added the channel on the day of the opener.

Cox Cable added TWC SportsNet eight days after the Lakers' opener. DirecTV did so 16 days after the opener. Dish Network still does not carry the channel.

Jeff Cohen, a Dodgers fan from Tarzana, said he was amazed that the Dodgers would agree to an $8.35-billion deal without ensuring their fans could see the new channel.

"To me, it's crazy for that much money to be spent but not let it be seen by the customer base," he said.

Cohen said he expects DirecTV to carry SportsNet LA eventually and would not switch to Time Warner Cable, even if he misses a few games at the start of the season.

Steve Miller, a Dodgers fan from Studio City, said he called DirecTV on Tuesday and warned he might switch to TWC if SportsNet LA is not available when the season starts. However, he said he would be "very upset" if he were one of the many fans living in an area not served by Time Warner Cable.

"Am I going to go to a bar all the time?" Miller said. "Am I going to go to a friend's house all the time?"

Desser, the television industry consultant, suggested the pain of launching SportsNet LA might be forgotten over the 25-year length of the contract.

"These are really long deals," he said. "You're talking about a team that is well-established in the marketplace. A day here, a day there, even a few weeks — that's a very small window of time in the lives of these contracts."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles DodgersSportsTelevisionTelevision IndustryEntertainmentMedia IndustryDirecTV Group Inc.
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