By the time the first pitch was thrown out at Wednesday night's Dodgers game, the thermometer on my patio in Irvine still registered in the mid-90s. Which, come to think of it, is the speed you like to see on a good fastball.
So we spent the evening outside, first on the patio, then on the front porch, where the air felt like it was moving just a little bit more. Both options were much better than the stuffy stillness inside the house, which is not air-conditioned and, on an evening that hot, too much of a challenge for a floor fan. So it was me, my wife, the dog, a couple of cold beers and Vin Scully on the radio (for the first three innings, anyway). Which really is how baseball should be followed, rather than on television.
Of course, watching the Dodgers on TV wasn't an option. Our cable supplier is Cox, not Time Warner, which paid that obscene amount of money — reportedly $8.5 billion over 25 years — for the right to distribute the new Dodgers-owned SportsNet LA channel. Time Warner has since found it impossible to spread the costs around to other distributors like Cox and DirectTV. So those of us non-Time Warner customers can't watch the Dodgers broadcasts.
But that's OK. A persistent problem with cable television, and with professional sports, is the cost (I've written about ticket prices before). According to news accounts, the per-subscriber monthly cost for a cable provider to pick up SportsNet LA from Time Warner is $4.
That's a deal if you're a Dodgers fan who wants to watch the team on television. But it's a waste if you're not a baseball fan, or a Dodgers fan, yet you still have to pay that fee because cable companies refuse to sell access on an a la carte basis. And, in fact, if consumers paid only for the channels they wanted to watch, the individual cost for the Dodgers' game channel would probably be significantly higher.
Of course, since so much cash has been injected into the system — sports and television — fans often can no longer watch games over the free airwaves, as used to be the norm. So in a sense, we're creating yet another economic divide, with low-income viewers or those who decline to pay exorbitant cable rates shut out from most television broadcasts, Dodgers or otherwise. Without cable, CNN, ESPN, USA Network and scores of other channels can't be viewed.
And if the pro-industry forces within the FCC get their way, we can see the same problem emerging with the Internet, with the best service going to the Web businesses that can and will pay for higher speed delivery of data. Which, one presumes, will lead to higher subscription fees for customers of pay services like Netflix.
It's a mess, and one in which consumers seem to have the smallest voice.