If there’s a baseball season in 2020, many more Dodgers fans across the region will finally be able to watch their team from home.
Spectrum announced Wednesday it reached an agreement to carry SportsNet LA, the Dodgers’ television home, on AT&T video platforms, including DirecTV, AT&T TV, U-Verse TV and AT&T Now in Southern California, Las Vegas and Hawaii, beginning immediately.
SportsNet LA started airing Wednesday on DirecTV Channel 690. U-Verse TV also has already picked up SportsNet LA. AT&T and AT&T TV Now are scheduled to add the channel April 8.
The deal ends a seven-year stalemate between the two parties since the Dodgers agreed to a record 25-year, $8.35-billion television deal in January 2013 and granted Time Warner Cable exclusive marketing rights for the channel. SportsNet LA launched in 2014.
The length of the agreement was not disclosed. And while it expands the number of households with the channel, the deal does not include several other pay-TV providers in the area, including Frontier, Cox, and Dish Network. Their customers remain without SportsNet LA.
“Our interest in SportsNet LA hasn’t changed,” Cox Communications spokesman Todd Smith said. “If we can get a reasonable deal that doesn’t overburden our entire video customer base in the market, we’d love to carry the content. Now more than ever we’re doing everything we can to keep customers connected to people and things they care about at an affordable price.”
Charter Communications bought Time Warner four years ago, but had been unable to reach an agreement with DirecTV and other local providers. SportsNet LA had reached less than half of the Southern California market. That finally changed Wednesday.
The baseball season, which would have been underway, is delayed indefinitely because of the coronavirus crisis.
“I want to thank AT&T and Spectrum Networks for coming together on this agreement,” Dodgers president Stan Kasten said in a statement. “We are eager to get this season started once it is deemed safe to do so everywhere.”
While some Dodgers fans immediately reacted on social media suggesting the announcement must be an April Fool’s joke, it was no joke that fans had missed six years of highlights — including Vin Scully’s final years, Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter, and six consecutive National League West championships.
In 2013, Guggenheim Baseball Management — then the Dodgers’ new owners — struck a record $8.35 billion deal with Time Warner Cable. The 25-year contract guaranteed the Dodgers all the money, with Time Warner Cable responsible for marketing the channel to other cable and satellite operators in Southern California.
However, when SportsNet LA launched in 2014, no other major operator had agreed to carry the channel. DirecTV led the resistance, arguing the asking price of $5 per month for every subscriber was too high for a channel devoted to one team, and a channel many subscribers would not choose to watch.
At the time, an estimated 70% of local households could not receive the channel. In 2016, after Charter Communications bought TWC and slapped the Spectrum name on both, a majority of homes in the Los Angeles market could get SportsNet LA.
By then, however, many fans had decided to stick with DirecTV, which offered free Sunday Ticket and other enticements to customers calling to complain about the absence of SportsNet LA. In 2016, the Department of Justice sued AT&T, alleging its DirecTV subsidiary had violated antitrust law by acting as a “ringleader” in sharing negotiating information among rival cable and satellite operators.
“The ultimate result: Many consumers in L.A. had fewer — or no — means by which to watch the Dodgers channel,” the lawsuit read.
AT&T denied the charges. The government settled the case the next year, with no fines for AT&T and no requirement for DirecTV to carry SportsNet LA.
The cold war persisted, with the Dodgers blaming DirecTV for refusing to negotiate. The Dodgers instead worked with Spectrum to air a handful of games each year on KTLA.
All that ended with Spectrum’s agreement with AT&T.
“Our city has the best sports fans in the world, and they want to enjoy all of the excitement and tradition that Dodger games bring to Los Angeles,” L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “I’m very pleased that Spectrum Sports and AT&T have reached this agreement.”
In the absence of live Dodgers games, SportsNet L.A. programming in April will include condensed one-hour formats of game telecasts and behind-the-scenes look at current players.
“I think of myself, back as a kid, how big a deal that was to be able to flip on the TV every day and have that be part of my summer,” Dodgers play-by-play broadcaster Joe Davis said. “Part of my upbringing as a fan of baseball was that daily experience of watching the game. So it just makes me so excited to know that kids across Los Angeles are now going to be able to do that, to begin their fandom through that process.
“It’s small, relatively speaking, when you compare it to everything else going on in the world, but it is something to smile at, be happy about and something to look forward to eventually.”