Amid SportsNet LA dispute, bars are a hit with Dodgers fans
Joseph Serxner threw on his Dodgers T-shirt and headed to Public House 1739, a Los Feliz bar, hoping to spend the afternoon watching the Boys in Blue battle the San Diego Padres.
Instead, he is staring at the hated New York Yankees playing the Houston Astros.
No, Public House 1739 didn’t become a Yankee hangout in the off-season. It’s just one of many bars and restaurants in Los Angeles unable to get Dodger games because its satellite provider, DirecTV, has yet to strike a deal to carry the team’s new channel, SportsNet LA.
“It’s more annoying than anything,” said Serxner, 27, a freelance copywriter. “I’m not up in arms or anything. I’ll just have to find a bar that gets Dodger games regularly.”
That may be easier said than done.
Fans and small-business owners are caught in the middle of a business dispute between the Dodgers and their TV partner Time Warner Cable and other area pay-TV companies. Time Warner Cable, which is distributing SportsNet LA for the Dodgers, has been unable to reach agreements with DirecTV, Dish Network, Charter Communications, Cox, FiOS or U-Verse.
That means about 70% of the Southland market is without access to the Dodgers. Although some businesses and fans can switch to Time Warner Cable, many others can’t because the cable operator does not serve their neighborhoods.
Satellite broadcasters DirecTV and Dish are available everywhere, but neither is believed to be close to a deal to carry SportsNet LA.
Many local bars and restaurants subscribe to DirecTV because it has a variety of sports packages including exclusive access to the popular NFL Sunday Ticket, which carries every football game. DirecTV has said that commercial businesses accounted for about $1 billion in revenue nationally in 2013, up from $640 million three years earlier. Much of that is from bars, restaurants and hotels.
Disputes over pro sports TV contracts are usually settled, but some bar owners didn’t want to risk losing any business and signed up with Time Warner Cable, though that meant having two pay-TV providers.
“It’s the cost of doing business — we needed the Dodgers,” said Corianne Hamilton, owner of Rusty’s Bar & Grill in Simi Valley. Hamilton opened the establishment six months ago and immediately subscribed to DirecTV.
But she knew that without the Dodgers too, her new bar might look like a ghost town, so she agreed to a three-year contract to get Time Warner Cable even though most of her seven TV screens are still devoted to DirecTV.
“We’re new, so having it will get us clientele,” Hamilton said. The move seemed to be paying off Tuesday afternoon when the Dodgers squared off against the San Diego Padres and Hamilton had plenty of customers because she has one of the few bars in Simi Valley with Time Warner Cable. “It’s pretty awesome,” she said.
Time Warner Cable has not said publicly how many subscribers it has added in recent weeks because it does not want to further alienate the companies it is trying to get to carry the channel.
At Busby’s in Santa Monica, the bar was packed, in part because it has SportsNet LA.
Larry Mish, a frustrated DirecTV subscriber, had driven from Malibu to catch the game after calling first to make sure the bar had Time Warner Cable service.
“I get 500 channels and I don’t get this,” Mish said, adding, “I might have to get Time Warner Cable.”
It was a similar story at the Short Stop, a go-to bar for Dodger games in Echo Park, just down the street from Dodger stadium. Jennifer Davis, 30, of South Park came because she can’t get the games using her home AT&T U-Verse system. Sitting at the Short Stop, she was not a happy camper.
“It’s really getting on my nerves that everyone’s so money hungry,” Davis said. “Why don’t the fans come first?”
Many other fans took to Twitter to voice their displeasure over the situation.
“This is insanity that we cannot watch our beloved Dodgers on TV. I am boycotting this team until YOU do something about this,” tweeted Joanna Rogari to Magic Johnson, one of the team’s owners.
Distributors are balking at the price Time Warner Cable is seeking for SportsNet LA, which would start at more than $4 a month per subscriber the first year and go up from there, according to people familiar with the talks. They have countered that they are happy to offer the channel to subscribers who want it, but don’t want to force all their customers to have to get it if they are not sports fans.
For Time Warner Cable and the Dodgers, that is a non-starter. Both want the channel distributed as widely as possible. Time Warner Cable agreed to an $8.35-billion, 25-year deal to run SportsNet LA, according to a valuation by the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. For the channel to work financially for Time Warner Cable, it has to be fully distributed.
For enterprising fans, there was one work-around Tuesday — they could watch a live stream via Major League Baseball’s Mlbtv.com, but that’s not a permanent solution. It was a one-day promotion, and future games will be blacked out here.
Dodgers President Stan Kasten expressed some frustration last week at the pace of negotiations.
“I am disappointed that deals haven’t been closed yet,” Kasten said, adding that the idea that some fans will be shut out from the games is “disappointing and it shouldn’t be happening.”
That disappointment is of little use to Serxner, although he did find some solace in the Yankees game.
“I’m glad the Yankees are losing,” he said. “That’s all I’m getting from this.”
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