Column: Dodgers need to be seen, not just heard about
Hey, did you see all the cool new things happening with the Dodgers in spring training?
Joc Pederson gets five hits in his first seven at-bats? The melding of the double-play combo of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick? The lovable journeyman David Aardsma throwing one scoreless inning?
Have you seen ... wait, oh, sorry. Of course you probably haven’t seen them. Seventy percent of you have no chance of seeing them. As the Dodgers’ TV blackout enters its second full season, one is reminded that even Arizona spring training is awful. The Dodgers are whittled and shaped into a 25-man unit during a month-long process, yet because the TV images are only available on that expensive rumor known as SportsNet LA, most of their loyal fans are a six-hour drive from watching it happen.
But enough of the bad news. Today’s latest review of “A Greed and Arrogance of Their Own” is actually filled with good news.
There is a quick and easy salve for all of this. It doesn’t involve Time Warner Cable making a deal with DirecTV. It doesn’t have to wait for mergers or FCC approvals. It requires only that same sense of public responsibility and respect for community that exists with baseball teams in other giant markets such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Why don’t the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable announce, right now, that they are selling 25 games this season to a local over-the-air TV station so that every Dodgers fan can stay connected during the cable wars and beyond?
This has been done before here — last fall, Time Warner Cable put the final six regular-season games on KDOC.
More important, this is currently being done all over the country for reasons that should make the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable blush.
No baseball franchise is more powerful than the New York Yankees, yet their YES Network will broadcast 15 games on WPIX TV this season while the crosstown Mets will show 25 games on the same over-the-air network.
“It continues a tradition of always offering a package of Yankee games over the air,” said YES spokesman Eric Handler.
This tradition is practiced not only in New York, but also by the most popular teams in four of the nation’s top six TV markets.
In Philadelphia, 11 Phillies games will be shown on the local NBC 10. In Chicago, the Cubs will show 70 games on a combination of over-the-air stations.
Then there is San Francisco. It should greatly pain Dodgers fans to know that not only have the Giants eclipsed the Dodgers on the field, but also in the community, as the defending World Series champions are showing 15 regular-season games and three spring training games on NBC Bay Area.
That schedule includes four regular-season games against the Dodgers, which highlights the ugliest of truths. There are ordinary Dodgers fans living in San Francisco who, without requiring a cable package or MLB subscription, can watch more Dodgers games on TV than fans in Los Angeles.
Stan Kasten, the Dodgers’ president, was unavailable for comment.
Larry Baer, the Giants’ chief executive, said it’s all about maintaining a connection.
“At the end of the day, we know there’s a certain percent of our fans that just can’t get cable, and this enables us to reach everybody,” Baer said in a phone interview. “If you have regular TV, you can watch us. If you have rabbit ears, you can watch us. That’s very important to us.”
Baer said the over-the-air broadcasts were not about selling tickets, but about creating community.
“We know that every single fan watching us is not coming to the ballpark,” he said. “But maybe by staying connected to the team they can buy a T-shirt, talk up the Giants around town, create a community feeling about the team.”
That importance of the connection between a community and its baseball team doesn’t seem to be understood by new Dodgers ownership, who have botched this deal so badly that Dodgers fans are believing even city cornerstone Magic Johnson has lost his touch.
Also absent from the Dodgers’ equation is the pressure from public officials that is placed on teams in other major markets to make their games available to the general population. Baseball folks in those towns will tell you that their neighborhood politicians would never allow them to ignore the millions of TV owners who don’t have cable. That hasn’t happened here. Where’s Mayor Eric Garcetti? When Clayton Kershaw threw a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies last June, Garcetti sent out a congratulatory tweet, but he has yet to fight for the millions who were unable to watch that game.
Because Time Warner Cable controls the Dodgers’ television rights, it would officially be their decision to sell some games to an over-the-air network. But they don’t get it either. When contacted for this column, the company issued a couple of statements, but never answered the question.
“We want all Dodgers fans to have access to
SportsNet LA, so they can experience the exclusive, in-depth Dodgers programming and games they love,” said Andrew Fegyveresi, Time Warner Cable spokesman, in an emailed statement. “We are actively pursuing meaningful negotiations with operators.”
As for the idea that they already set precedence for over-the-air telecasts last fall, Fegyveresi said, “That was a one-time effort so that all fans could watch the Dodgers in the race to win the NL West. We’re hopeful that other companies will join us soon in putting fans first. Time Warner Cable loves the Los Angeles Dodgers and we want fans to be able to watch the games and other programming.”
Seriously? If Time Warner Cable really wanted Dodgers fans to have access to SportsNet LA, if they really wanted to put the fans first, they would slide some of the games to a local over-the-air network. If the Dodgers really cared about anything other than a return on their bazillion-dollar investment, they would lean on Time Warner Cable to get it done now.
Twenty-six games. Once a week. Maybe every Friday night so it can become a ritual?
It would work. It has worked. Act like the Yankees. Act like the Giants. Heck, for once, just act like the Dodgers.
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