We may look back at Time Warner’s SportsNet LA as the moment when the sports cable boom finally crashed.
Or at the very least, we’ll view it as the moment when it finally slowed down.
Time Warner signed the L.A. Dodgers to a seemingly unthinkable 25-year, $8.35 billion dollar deal to create the new network – think YES for the Yankees – to show Dodger games to the nation’s second-largest media market. To make the money back, Time Warner had to charge cable operators an insane sum per month, like at ESPN levels, to carry the network.
As they have many times before, cable operators pushed back. We saw it with the NFL Network. We saw it with the Big Ten Network. We saw it with the fledgling Pac-12 Network, which is still not available even on a sports tier here in Washington, D.C. We will certainly see it with the forthcoming SEC Network. Even the Yankees had trouble getting on cable in New York City at first.
This fight appeared to be similar, with Time Warner going with a strong #IneedmyDodgers campaign that is ever-present on SportsCenter highlights. The company, and the team, was banking on Dodgers fans complaining en masse to get their network on cable. With Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw and a World Series contender, this seemed to be a solid battle plan.
But something odd has happened in the first two months of the season – the fans don’t seem to care that much. Oh sure, there are diehards that are plenty upset and should be. However, the majority of L.A. fans have resigned themselves to the fact that the Dodgers aren’t on. And they’re okay with that.
For the first time in the past decade, the consumer is not upset with the cable companies refusing to carry the live sports – they are pointing their anger, or apathy, at the new station.
In short, the cable sports racket has finally been revealed and consumers, at large, are rejecting it. ESPN doesn’t make its money from the small sliver of people that actually watch the channel – it revels in the 60+ million who don’t but still fork over $5 a month. Fox Sports 1 was created to exploit this same racket but poor ratings and low monthly rates have proven it to be fruitless so far.
The ploy from networks, such as YES or the SEC Network, has always been a curious one – rile up sports fans to get them to beg cable companies to carry more sports and make everyone pay more.
When people say, “I want the SEC Network,” they are really saying, “I want everyone to pay more money!” It’s insane but it’s been worked.
Not in Los Angeles. Who knew the glorious city that wouldn’t support an NFL team would balk on paying more money for a baseball team?
Now to be fair, the Dodgers have a bigger problem – namely they employ the greatest living broadcaster as their radio voice. Vin Scully has certainly helped to contribute to the marked increase in radio ratings, as Dodgers broadcasts are up 78% this year.
Even Dodger Stadium is benefitting as the team is averaging more than 46,000 per home game and leads the majors in attendance. In fact, on average, there are more Dodgers fans in the park than watching at home.
Of course, it’s only May and the Clippers and Kings in the playoffs may have deflected some attention. Things will likely heat up over the summer, especially if the Dodgers remain World Series contenders.
For now, the city of Los Angeles is doing the consumer nation at large a solid. They’re taking a stand against cable companies raking people over the coals, the same tactics that have led to the cord-cutting phenomenon.
Besides, what would you rather do – sit in the bleachers at Chavez Ravine, listen to the dulcet tones of Vin Scully as you lie on the beach or fork over $5 a month to watch baseball from your living room?
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