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34799Forget Pay Dispute: Dodgers Owners Should Get Games on Free TV - Opinion - LADTN

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  • pbspeedo@sbcglobal.net
    Jun 4, 2014
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      Forget Pay Dispute: Dodgers Owners Should Get Games on Free TV - Opinion - LADTN

      Forget Pay Dispute: Dodgers Owners Should Get Games on Free TV

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      photo by Gary Leonard

      Posted Yesterday

      DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - On May 25, Josh Beckett tossed a no-hitter, the first time in 18 years that a Dodger pitcher had accomplished such a feat. Yet, like every memorable moment so far this season for the Blue Crew, only a small portion of the team’s fans were able to see Beckett’s masterful performance against the Philadelphia Phillies as it happened.

      The reason for this is clear, and the complaints have come faster and harder than a Clayton Kershaw heater. The new Dodgers owners last year signed a mammoth $8 billion deal with Time Warner. That led to the creation of a new Dodgers television network, SportsNet LA. In the effort to recoup its costs, Time Warner has tried to work out deals with other satellite and cable TV providers, among them DirectTV and Dish Network, to carry the new network. However, the entities have been unable to come to terms — there’s a lot of gobbledygook over what the providers need to charge each subscriber to make the deal pencil out.

      Most observers expected that agreements would have been signed within a couple weeks of the start of the regular season. After all, that’s what happened when the Lakers went down a similar path. However, two months after the baseball season began the TV providers have dug in their heels, with the result that approximately 70% of local households are missing every highlight moment — this means every Beckett, Kershaw or Zack Greinke start, and every Yasiel Puig homerun. Numerous bars that rely on sports fans are also frozen out.

      The inability to catch games live has sparked a lot of anger and handwringing for Dodger diehards who over the years have shelled out thousands of dollars for tickets and assorted extras. There has also been plenty of apportioning of blame. Many curse Time Warner, while some criticize Direct TV, Dish Network and the other providers.

      Those complaints are valid, but we think the biggest culprit is the Dodgers ownership group. Mark Walter, Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson and the other partners in Guggenheim Baseball Management, who spent $2.15 billion to purchase the team from Frank McCourt, may try to distance themselves from the fracas and claim that it is an argument among TV businesses. However, the only reason things got to this point is the severe myopia from those in control of the product. Obviously the team owners believed the current standoff was impossible. They were wrong, and because of it, people are missing games.

      The solution now is simple: The owners should scrap the existing deal and make it up to the Dodger faithful by putting the team not on pay TV, but on free TV.

      The experts will run down all the reasons why this can’t happen, but there are 10 million reasons — the approximate number of people living in Los Angeles County — to make it happen. Those who say starting over is impossible are forgetting that the Dodgers are a special case. As we have been reminded with the recent Clippers/Donald Sterling hubbub, sports franchises have owners, but the team ultimately belongs to the people, to the fans.

      Some will argue that the Dodgers’ 25-year deal with Time Warner has been signed and can’t be unsigned. However, if Walter, Johnson and the rest of the crew had enough money and acumen to buy the team, then we think they also have enough wits and financial sense to get out of a TV deal that doesn’t work in the best interests of Los Angeles. 

      We won’t get into the intricacies of terminating a contract — that’s why lawyers exist. Instead, we subscribe to the philosophy of where there’s a will, there’s a way, and right now there is plenty of will. 

      We understand the shift in sports economics, that teams are chasing the huge bucks being dangled by pay TV providers. However, for decades Dodgers games were a staple of local television. Even last year people were able to watch some games on KCAL 9, and somehow the team made a profit.

      Just because other sports franchises are going this route doesn’t mean the Dodgers have to follow. Not every family in Los Angeles can afford a hefty monthly cable bill. 

      Again, we’re sure that backers of the current system will run down a laundry list of reasons why this can’t happen. They’ll talk about the price of fielding a competitive team and other issues.

      That said, the Dodgers still draw more than 3 million fans a year, fans who pay for tickets, parking, concessions, jerseys and other memorabilia. The stadium is chock full of sponsorships. A lot of money is flowing to the team.

      The new owners messed up by signing a deal that has become a sinkhole. Now, they should make up for it by doing something significant and lasting for the fans. Figure out how to end this contract. Then, make games available to those who love and cheer for the Dodgers.

      © Los Angeles Downtown News 2014