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SportsChannel L.A. Quits on Dec. 31

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 3 1/2 years of struggling, SportsChannel Los Angeles announced Thursday that it will discontinue service on Dec. 31.

Several factors led to the pay-cable network’s demise, but No. 1 was the unwillingness of Los Angeles viewers to subscribe.

The network had about 120,000 subscribers shortly after converting Z Channel, a movie service, to all-sports SportsChannel in the summer of 1989. It now has 67,000.

“The main problem was, the consumers let us know they didn’t want us,” said James L. Dolan, the CEO of Rainbow Programming, a division of Cablevision Industries and 50% owner of SportsChannel Los Angeles. NBC owns the other half.

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“It got to the point where we couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dolan said.

SportsChannel Los Angeles has 19 full-time employees, plus its announcers and outside producers, directors and technical people.

“I met with the employees this morning and told them to hold their heads high,” Dolan said. “Everybody did a wonderful job.”

SportsChannel Los Angeles has contracts with the Dodgers, Angels, Clippers, the Big West Conference and Santa Anita. But those will be voided after Dec. 31.

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Andy Roeser, the Clippers’ executive vice president in change of business operations, said: “We’re evaluating our options. With the growing interest in the team, we think we’ll have very interesting opportunities to pursue.”

Brent Shyer, the Dodgers’ director of broadcasting, said: “It’s really too soon to comment. We will study our options. The main thing is, we’re sorry about SportsChannel. They were great people to work with and did quality work. It was a first-class operation.”

Tom Seeberg, the Angels’ vice president for civic affairs and broadcasting: “I think everybody in the industry had heard rumors to that effect. Just like any other rumor, when it finally happens it’s surprising. They were having financial problems. They were a very good outfit.”

The Big West’s contract with SportsChannel Los Angeles called for three football telecasts and 17 basketball telecasts.

Said Commissioner Dennis Farrell: “We’re obviously saddened, and concerned about our package with SportsChannel. But we’re hopeful we can come to some arrangements with them to continue in some capacity through SportsChannel Pacific in the Bay Area and possibly have some games carried on SportsChannel America.”

Farrell said the contract called for $150,000 for this year, and the conference has already received $30,000.

Prime Ticket spokesman Bob Gold said: “First of all, we are surprised, and we feel terrible. People are going to be out of work, and this is a bad time to be unemployed.

“This only confirms our belief that pay television is the wrong way to deliver sports to cable subscribers in this market.”

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As for Prime Ticket picking up SportsChannel properties, Gold said it’s too early to comment.

SportsChannel Los Angeles is one of nine regional sports networks affiliated with SportsChannel America.

John Mohr, the president of regionals, said that the older, more established networks such as SportsChannel New York, SportsChannel Chicago, SportsChannel New England and Prism in Philadelphia are profitable.

“We tried every innovative thing we could think of to make it work in Los Angeles, and we just couldn’t do it,” Mohr said.

Sharon Patrick, president of Rainbow, said in a prepared statement: “After much investment and effort to make the channel economically viable over three years, we have concluded that the business performance of SportsChannel Los Angeles does not support further investment in the service.”

Patrick points to several factors:

--The declining subscriber base.

--The proliferation of sports on basic cable.

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--A changing cable environment.

--Team performances.

SportsChannel televised 35 Dodger and 35 Angel games. More competitive seasons might have prolonged SportsChannel’s life. But probably nothing could have saved it.

Times staff writer Robyn Norwood contributed to this story.


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