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Ventura County Star (California)

Most of us are unable to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers on TV unless they happen to be airing on a national network, and that doesn't figure to end any time soon.

In fact, don't plan on it happening this season, and there's no great reason to expect it to happen before the 2015 season starts either.

Back in the day (as the kids say -- or used to until just now when I said it), the Dodgers were almost a radio-only enterprise. Well into the 1970s, the only games the team ever televised were those from San Francisco.

It was years before many of us even knew what Dodger Stadium looked like. The only way you could find out was to go. Not even NBC's old "Game of the Week" would show us locals what a home Dodgers game looked like because it would be blacked out in Southern California.

Vin Scully and his partner Jerry Doggett were radio personalities who made occasional forays into TV. Fans fell in love so much with listening to them on the radio they kept doing it even when they went to a game in person. You could hear them all over the ballpark.

Eventually, the Dodgers would televise every game they played. But now, for many fans these days, everything old is new again.

The Dodgers' SportsNet LA, which the team launched this year under a 25-year, $8.35 billion partnership with Time Warner Cable, still has not been even sniffed at by any other major TV provider.

How bad is it? So bad that Time Warner Cable Sports president David Rone was quoted last week as saying he doesn't expect to reach an agreement this season.

"It is unlikely that we are going to get a deal done," Rone told the L.A. Times, although it was unclear if he was talking only about a deal with DirecTV or with anyone.

That's a surprisingly candid admission from someone whose job it has been to remain constantly optimistic during this entire ordeal, someone whose job it has been to try to encourage something positive to happen.

He usually tries to make it sound like he's on the viewers' side, like this remark to USA Today last week:

"I'm so frustrated for the Dodger fans, and I'm also so frustrated because of DirecTV's unwillingness to even engage us," Rone said. "They have no sense of urgency to get it solved. We have not been at the negotiating table with them for four or six weeks, and there is nothing scheduled."

With his comments, Rone has effectively thrown away any chance of any provider signing a deal this year. Why should they? Rone is sounding retreat and admitting defeat.

Time Warner Cable is reportedly responsible for getting carriers to add SportsNet LA and liable to the Dodgers if it can't get it done. The company, according to the Times, is supposed to pay the Dodgers $210 million this season, and that figure increases as the contract goes on. That is reportedly 400 percent more than what Prime Ticket and KCAL (Channel 9) paid last season.

TWC is said to be asking for more than $4 per subscriber per month from providers, and the price is supposed to increase in subsequent years. Time Warner Cable followed a similar strategy in 2012 for its TWC SportsNet channel, which was formed in a 20-year, $3 billion deal with the Lakers. The distributors initially balked at the price, but they eventually gave in.

That isn't happening for the Dodgers. SportsNet LA is the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to exorbitant TV sports fees, and it's obvious that nothing is going to change until the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable finally lower their prices.

In the meantime, the only way to see most Dodgers games is to be a subscriber of Time Warner Cable, which services only about 30 percent of the Southern California audience.

TWC would particularly love to get DirecTV to join up because that would add another 30 percent of the audience. But DirecTV has led the opposition to the issue, and it's clear that no other domino will fall until DirecTV does.

Complicating all of this is the fact that Comcast is trying to acquire Time Warner Cable, and AT&T is trying to acquire DirecTV. Those deals aren't likely to be finalized, if they succeed at all, until well into next year. It's quite possible distributors will choose to wait until those deals sort themselves out before making any decision on SportsNet LA. It's possible that after a TWC purchase, Comcast may decide to charge less for the channel.

The Dodgers' TV ratings are down 70 percent from last season, averaging about 40,000 homes, according to USA Today. Meanwhile, the Angels are averaging about twice as many on Fox Sports West.

And Dodgers radio flagship station KLAC (570 AM) had April ratings almost twice as high as the year before, according to the L.A. Daily News.

Seems like old times

July 22, 2014
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