Dodgers Officially Unveil SportsNet LA Cable Channel

Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig
 Joe Pugliese

The Los Angeles Dodgers have unveiled the website for SportsNet LA, the cable channel devoted to the baseball franchise set to debut Feb. 25. The site prominently includes a form for fans to let cable providers know that they want access to the channel.

"We're so excited to launch SportsNet LA and give Dodger fans all of the in-depth coverage and programming that they have been asking for for years," said Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten in a statement. "Building off of this past season's momentum, we have so much planned for the 2014 season and beyond. We can't wait to share the excitement with our fans through SportsNet LA and showcase all that this great franchise has to offer."

In January 2013, initial plans for the network were unveiled by Time Warner Cable and Dodgers owner Mark Walter, chairman of Guggenheim Partners, along with the creation of American Media Productions to operate the channel. The Dodgers' previous deal, with Fox Sports, concluded at the end of the 2013 season when the team lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

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In October, Dodgers broadcasters Steve Lyons and Eric Collins both said they would not be returning in their roles for the upcoming season. Vin Scully, the team's legendary announcer, will continue to call games in 2014. The Dodgers also officially announced Wednesday the hire of KABC-TV anchor John Hartung as a studio host.

The success of the Dodgers new TV venture will hinge on Time Warner Cable’s ability to get other cable and satellite operators to carry the new service, including DirecTV, Dish, Charter and Cox cable system operators. That isn’t expected to be an easy chore, as the cost is expected to be around $5 a sub per month for every home in the TWC footprint, which runs from Las Vegas to Hawaii, and includes most of California. The SportsNet LA site features a section urging fans to share the message "#INEEDMYDODGERS" on social media in order for providers to carry the channel.

Providers are expected to insist that the new channel be carried on the basic tier, which means it will reach every home that subscribes. This will allow TWC and the Dodgers to also sell advertising based on the large potential audience draw. To please their subscribers who aren’t sports fans, most would prefer to carry the new channel on a sports tier that their subscribers can elect to take; but TWC and the Dodgers are expected to refuse to allow that type of distribution.

However, as TWC learned with the Lakers channel, other providers are very cost-conscious and face a backlash from subscribers who are not avid sports fans and don’t want to see their bill go up for a channel they might not watch frequently.

SportsNet LA follows the template that Time Warner Cable created with the L.A. Lakers' dedicated channel, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, which also carries L.A. Galaxy soccer games.  In February 2011, the Lakers inked a 20-year deal with Time Warner Cable to carry the franchise's broadcasts and develop programming around the team. Shows on the channel include Backstage: Lakers, a reality TV-style series featuring locker room and practice court interviews, and #Lakeshow, a social media-themed discussion show. 

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Although the Dodgers new channel will launch in late February, the negotiations on carriage likely will extend until closer to the beginning of the official baseball season on March 22, when the Dodgers take on the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney.

For those distributors that resist, the pressure is likely to mount if the team gets off to a good start. However, if the Dodgers don’t perform on the field, that will impact viewership, which will hurt advertising and the new channels of getting the type of wide distribution it needs to be a financial success.

The new channel also arrives at a time when there is growing pressure from Congress and various lobbying groups to allow subscribers to pick and choose what channels they are willing to pay to receive. If TWC runs into significant resistance to the pricey new channel, that could make it another political football that opponents will toss around – or, in this case, it might better be called a political baseball.

Guggenheim Partners, which acquired a controlling ownership stake in the Dodgers in March 2012, is the parent company of Guggenheim Digital Media, which includes The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard magazines.

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