Politics

UPDATE: Congress grows impatient with shutout of Dodger fans in Time-Warner dispute

The Dodgers swept the Giants in San Francisco; but thousands of local fans were still in the dark, unable to watch televised games because of a cable carriage fee dispute.
The Dodgers swept the Giants in San Francisco; but thousands of local fans were still in the dark, unable to watch televised games because of a cable carriage fee dispute.
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Most Dodger fans already know their team swept the Giants this weekend, not only jumping into first place, but boosting their lead to a game and a half. They know their star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw threw a great shutout game on Saturday.

However, thousands of fans didn't get to see much of it on TV.  That's because they've been shut out all season, thanks to a fee fight between Time-Warner and other cable and satellite providers. The season-long dispute has now boiled over into Congress. Letters are flying like line drives.

RELATED: Where beleaguered Dodger fans can find a televised game

Eight Southern California Democrats are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to mediate the media battle. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, (see letter below) the lawmakers said the tradition of Dodger baseball, “accompanied by the iconic voice of Vin Scully,” remains an eagerly awaited pastime - not only for fans, but for sports bars as well.

Congressman Tony Cárdenas of the San Fernando Valley writes, "unfortunately, we are at the midpoint in the season and thousands of baseball fans remain in the dark."

The lawmakers say that the season-long dispute may set a precedent for future battles that “hold the consumer hostage to assert unfair market dominance.” 

The letter was cosigned by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard of Los Angeles, Judy Chu of El Monte, Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, Linda Sanchez of Lakewood, Julia Brownley of Ventura and Janice Hahn of Carson. Hahn says fans "have put up with enough," saying the dispute is "really an insult to Dodger fans everywhere." It was Hahn's father, former LA County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who flew to New York to help entice the Dodgers to move from Brooklyn. She says he would have wanted everyone to be able to watch the Dodgers for free - "particularly those who couldn't afford to buy a ticket at Dodger Stadium."

Time Warner Cable broadcasts Dodgers games on their local sports network, SportsNet LA. The company has been fighting over carriage fees paid by providers including DIRECTV, DISH Network, and Verizon FIOS. As a result, many Los Angeles have not been able to watch Dodger games this season.

In April, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appealed to both sides to find an agreement.

Time Warner paid more then $8 billion over 25 years for the rights to broadcast Dodger games and wants other cable companies to pay their share. All cable and satellite companies are grappling with changes in the way consumers watch TV. As viewers switch to Netflix or Hulu or other "on demand" systems, their biggest attraction is live events - sports.

Cardenas says in his experience as a small  businessman, you negotiate back and forth, but sometimes, "the person on the other side of the aisle doesn’t want to sell." He says it appears that Time Warner wants to keep the Dodgers to themselves, something he calls "irresponsible" when just 30% have access to "a particular product" - in this case, Dodger games. He describes the team as a "quasi-gift to city of Los Angeles," given how the land swap for Chavez Ravine traded a neighborhood for a ballpark.

Cardenas and the other lawmakers want the FCC to pressure both sides to come to an agreement. So far, the  Federal Communications Commission has no comment, though staffers say they are "aware" of the letter from members of Congress. The FCC's enforcement bureau is looking into the issue. 

Late Monday, Congressman Sherman sent a letter of his own to the CEOs of Time Warner, DIRECTV and other providers, asking them to agree to binding arbitration. He says a neutral third party could "determine the right price" for Dodger broadcasts. Along with Sherman, five other Democrats signed onto the appeal, Hahn and Lowenthal - who also co-signed the FCC letter - as well as Gloria Negrete McLeod of Montclair, Grace Napolitano of Santa Fe Springs, and Karen Bass of Los Angeles. In the meantime, the letter also asks SportsNet LA to let all parties air tomorrow night's Dodger game against the Atlanta Braves. 

In response, Dodger President Stan Kasten thanked members of Congress for "putting our fans and their constituents first and doing their best to move this situation forward." Time Warner has agreed to binding arbitration and Kasten says the ball is now in DIRECTV's court. 

Meanwhile, disgruntled Dodger fans are suffering in good company. Legendary play-by-play announcer Vin Scully, who doesn't accompany the team on road trips west of the Rockies, can't watch them on TV either. He told "USA Today" he has DIRECTV.

Letter: Congress appeals to FCC to end dispute

Members of Congress appeal to Direct TV and Time Warner