Column: Time Warner Cable’s proposal to end the Dodgers’ blackout is a cheap shot
This week’s attempt by Time Warner Cable to end the Dodgers’ blackout before its third consecutive opening day is being categorized by some as a first pitch.
If so, it was an Eephus pitch, high and looping and designed to sucker the batter into a wild swing.
It’s a pitch that DirecTV and other pay-TV operators surely will refuse to engage. It’s a pitch that Time Warner Cable and their blue overlords should never have tried to sell.
When one cuts through the smoke and mirrors and salutes to Vin Scully, this supposedly serious offer actually shows the Dodgers are not very serious at all.
That Time Warner Cable has offered to cut the price of SportsNet LA by 30% is admirable, but that the offer is good for only one year is ridiculous.
Would you make that deal? Buy somebody’s car for one year at a deeply discounted price, then take your hands off the wheel and agree to renegotiate?
Would you expect DirecTV to make that deal? The currently misguided outrage toward them would be replaced by justified anger if they were to carry Dodgers games for an entire season and then drop the team because the price was once again too high.
If the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable really want to make their games available to the 60% of Southland households who currently don’t have access, they have to act like it.
Make the cut real. Make the discount permanent. Thirty percent for 100% of the life of a contract.
The Dodgers repeatedly have complained that DirecTV won’t come to the bargaining table, but it’s not DirecTV’s responsibility to negotiate.
Those caps seen on the heads of thousands of Angelenos do not read “DirecTV” The name emblazoned across the front of jerseys worn by generations of Southland families is not “DirecTV.”
There is no color called DirecTV Blue. Nobody has ever eaten a DirecTV Dog.
The Dodgers’ tradition was built on one of the strongest community connections in sports, and it is the Dodgers’ civic responsibility to nurture that connection. If they want DirecTV to come to the bargaining table, then make them a better offer. If it means taking less money, then take less money.
The Dodgers didn’t do their homework when taking $8.35 billion from Time Warner Cable for the rights to distribute SportsNet LA. They were blinded by the green and unable to recognize the difficulty that TWC would face in selling their product for a price that would justify the investment.
The Dodgers’ claims that they will not give back any money seem increasingly silly as it becomes clear they were paid far too much of that money in the first place.
The Dodgers’ ownership has done good things with their riches, using the money to refurbish the stadium and restock the farm system. But because of the blackout, the legacies of the likes of Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson have been discounted far deeper than 30%, their stewardship has been badly stained, and only a new TV deal in the final year of Scully can restore their credibility.
Speaking of Scully, could the Dodgers please stop speaking of the legend when talking about TV negotiations?
In various quotes about this week’s discount deke, Scully’s name and final year were cited by everyone from Kasten to Rob Manfred, the baseball commissioner who has been an empty suit while Dodger fans have endured empty television screens. Even Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has spent two seasons doing virtually nothing to fix this issue, jumped on Scully’s coattails.
“If nothing else, let’s do it for Vin Scully,” Garcetti stated without shame.
Using the legend as a pawn in this latest ploy seemed uncomfortable for Scully, who told The Times’ Bill Shaikin, “It’s really kind of embarrassing for me.” Scully deserves a farewell tour void of politics and gamesmanship. He didn’t get the Dodgers into this mess, and it’s not his responsibility to pull them out.
“There could be no better way to honor Vin in his final year than for them [pay-TV operators] to quickly accept this offer and get the games on TV,” Kasten said.
Oh, there’s a better way. If this offer was indeed about Scully’s final season, then the Dodgers would put all of this year’s games on free TV, just like they put six games on free TV at the end of the 2014 season.
But no, this is not about saving Scully, this is about saving face. This is about addressing a long-term problem with a short-term sleight of hand. This is about a sale with strings attached, a discount with an expiration date, a bait that gets switched.
This is an Eephus pitch, baseball’s Shakespearean delivery, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter: @billplaschke.
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