"My name is Austin Green, and I am a survivor of the SportsNetLA debacle."
It's bound to happen down the road at some point. I'll be in a dimly lit room, probably in a church, surrounded by many others who share my pain. A good number of them will probably be Mexican, with intricately designed tatoos sticking out from underneath their replica Puig jerseys. They'll listen to me as I recount the horror that I experienced on far too many nights this past summer, just like they had: the feeling of relaxing on the couch and turning on the TV to watch my team before I remembered that I couldn't. I couldn't watch what crazy antics Yasiel Puig was going to pull next. I couldn't watch Clayton Kershaw dominate hitter after hitter. I couldn't see the next Dee Gordon stolen base, the next Kenley Jansen save, the next clutch hit by Adrian Gonzalez or Matt Kemp or Hanley Ramirez.
But I digress.
I couldn't see any of those moments because in 2013, Time Warner Cable swooped in and convinced the new, cash-flushed Los Angeles Dodgers ownership into signing over exclusive TV rights to to them. In return, TWC would create a new, Dodgers-only channel and market that to other cable providers. The deal looked crazy back then, and as time has gone on, it now looks downright insane. But TWC had already done the same thing with the Lakers, and although there was an initial dispute with the other cable companies in that instance, a deal had quickly been struck and TWC SportsNet was soon available to every cable subscriber in Los Angeles without too much backlash.
Not so with SportsNetLA.
For the first 156 games of the 2014 regular season, roughly 70% of Dodger fans in the greater Los Angeles Area – millions of people - could not watch the Dodgers on their own TV screen. I was one of those people. In the 2014 regular season, I watched roughly seven or eight Dodger games on my own TV screen, and half of those were meaningless games after the Dodgers clinched the NL West. Instead, I was forced to resort my $2.99/month MLB.com At Bat subscription, plus several trips to the house of my one friend who did have TWC and, by extension, SNLA. It helped, but not much. I couldn’t shake the outrage I felt at the fact that I wasn’t able to watch my favorite team simply because a few giant corporations couldn’t see past the dollar signs. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t alone – several other Dodger fans were outraged as well.
“In 2013, we thought we had made it,” one fan said. “We ran (former Dodgers owner Frank) McCourt out of town, we went from bankrupt to cash-flushed pretty much overnight, we put together what was practically an All-Star team, and we went back to the playoffs. But now, I can’t see any of that because I won’t pay an arm and a leg for Time Warner Cable.”
For the right to carry SportsNet LA, Time Warner demanded huge payments from several rival cable companies, sparking major backlash. They finally settled with their biggest rival, DirecTV – only to have the deal fall through and SNLA yanked from DirecTV’s channel lineup in the middle of the season. The two companies became locked in a feud that makes the Dodgers and Giants look like a young couple on Valentine’s Day.
The Dodgers, meanwhile won 94 games and back-to-back NL West titles for just the second time in the past 30 years. Kershaw had one of the most dominant pitching seasons ever and became the first pitcher in 45 years to win the National League MVP award. Puig and Gordon exceeded the expectations of many and proved they belonged in the Majors. Gonzalez, Crawford, and Kemp provided a much-needed late-season power surge. It was one of the most remarkable seasons in Dodger history - and over half of their fanbase couldn’t see it unfold. In fact, the game telecasts on SportsnetLA averaged only about 55,000 viewers – in a 10 million person market. So… lesson learned, right? Surely the Dodgers won’t stand to see another season like that witnessed by so few.
Several news outlets reported in January that there is virtually no chance that any deal allowing the mass distribution of SportsNetLA will be in place by Opening Day 2015. Now, many are saying that a deal could come no sooner than midseason. That news made it almost laughable when the Dodgers unveiled their marketing slogan for the 2015 season: We Love LA. Within two hours, someone had photoshopped that “We Love LA” logo into the image you see at the top of this article. It better reflects what the Dodgers actually mean.
Brian Gadinsky gets it. An LA-based TV producer and Dodgers season ticket holder, he became the face of the Dodger fanbase’s revolt against McCourt when he refused a private invitation from the embattled then-owner. He was overjoyed at first when a group of businessmen led by Laker legend Magic Johnson bought the team. But now… “Are we really having this discussion again? Seriously?” he told the LA Times. “That they can treat fans like this is just terrible. They just don’t care.”
It almost feels like one of those movies you see when you’re channel surfing: Evil corporations run by soulless businessmen seek to make the lives of those “beneath” them as miserable as they can. I thought you were supposed to make movies in Hollywood, not be the movie. But who is at fault here anyway? Is it the Dodgers, for being greedy – and idiotic – enough to make this deal? Is it Time Warner Cable, for being stubborn – and idiotic – enough to essentially hold the Dodgers ransom? Is it DirecTV and the other cable providers for being cheap – and idiotic – enough to refuse to negotiate with TWC?
There’s one man who should have a say in all this, more so than anybody else on the Dodgers or the cable companies. His name is Vin Scully. He is a national treasure, a hall-of-famer, and one of the last of the great sportscasters of all time. He has been doing his job as the Dodgers play-by-play man for over 65 years and he is the best there is at it. He’s also 87 and while still in good health is starting to wind down, which means we should enjoy every minute he has left in the broadcast booth while we still can.
And he can only be heard on SportsNetLA.
If that doesn’t turn your stomach, I don’t know what will. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get a $130 MLB.TV subscription then rig it to bypass the local blackout. To hell with Time Warner Cable.
Baseball is,was, and always will be the greatest game in the world
Jake Wesley is now the only writer for MLB_NL_AL.com all of these articles are ether based on facts and pieces of his opinion.