In March, Dodgers President Stan Kasten told me that Sportsnet LA would be widely available by Opening Day, if not before.
“We remain optimistic that in short order we’re going to have full coverage throughout the market because it’s something this incredibly deep and loyal fan base wants to have,” Kasten predicted.
Opening Day has come and gone. So has the All-Star Game, a pair of no-hitters, and a pennant race. Through it all the Dodgers have been invisible to most of Southern California TV viewers because Time Warner Cable still hasn't been able to make deals with any major providers. Dodger fans have been the biggest losers, but there have also been some winners.
Time Warner was hoping enough DirecTV customers would cancel their subscriptions that the satellite provider would be forced to capitulate to Time Warner's demands. It didn't happen. DirecTV saw fewer cancellations than it expected and found many sympathetic customers who bought the company's argument that it was trying to hold the line against higher pay-TV bills.
If there was minimal pressure on DirecTV, there was even less on all the other providers, like Cox, Dish and AT&T that correctly calculated that as long as DirecTV didn't offer Sportsnet LA, they didn't have to either.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
If ever there was a season for the Angels to truly earn the "Los Angeles" in their name, this was it. The team not only earned a better record than the Dodgers, they had the benefit of being televised on a widely available cable channel.
Angels games on Fox Sports West this season averaged a 1.67 rating, which is 45 percent higher than last season. Some of this is surely attributable to the Angels improved performance, but alot also has to do with the fact that for many people, Fox was broadcasting the only game in town. It's also worth noting that Fox bid for the Dodgers rights, albeit at a lower price than Time Warner. Fox is probably pleased it didn't go any higher.
Fox Sports Radio
For many Dodger fans, this season was a return to the pre-television days of Babe Ruth; Either make your way to ballpark or catch the game on the radio. Ratings for the Dodgers flagship station, AM 570, skyrocketed.
Time Warner Cable
It's much easier to come up with losers than winners in this dispute and at the top of the list is Time Warner Cable, who's slogan is "Enjoy Better." The company overpaid and overestimated the popularity of the Dodgers, who as compelling as they've been the last two seasons, still haven't won a World Series since the Reagan administration. Owing to the fact they're available in so few homes, Dodgers ratings are down 73 percent this season. An average of 55,000 viewers have tuned in, which is only about 9,000 more than sit in the ballpark on a given night. In July, Time Warner Cable lowered its earnings estimates for the rest of the year, citing revenue shortfalls due to SportsNet LA. With a market capitalization of around $43 billion, the company can absorb losses on SportNet LA for years to come but what should be more concerning it that the Dodgers TV blackout could jeopardize its proposed merger with Comcast.
The Dodgers still get to cash their hefty checks from Time Warner and the team still leads the league in attendance, but Guggenheim Partners' honeymoon with fans is over; As bad as Frank McCourt's reign was, at least under him, fans could watch the team. One has to wonder whether Guggenheim wishes it had accepted Fox's slightly lower offer so that it could avoided this mess and kept the good will of fans.
No contest here. The biggest losers in the Dodgers cable dispute were fans. This week, Time Warner finally threw fans a bone by striking a deal with KDOC to air the last six games on a channel everyone gets but their press release announcing the goodwill gesture smacked of insincerity. “Time Warner Cable is part of this community and we’re Dodger fans too,” said Dinni Jain, Time Warner Cable’s Chief Operating Officer, in a press release patting the company on the back. But Jain and Time Warner aren't part of the community. They're based thousands of miles away, in New York. All season long, Time Warner told fans to "DEMAND YOUR DODGERS." But the truth is there is little or nothing fans can do to get the Dodgers on TV. They are innocent bystanders, stuck in the middle.