TV Strike Against Dodgers May be the Straw That Breaks the Sports Bubble

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez thinks it’s long past time for everyone to figure out a way to end the Dodgers TV blackout in Southern California:

This all began in 2012 when the Guggenheim Group, or whatever they call themselves, paid too much money — about $2 billion — to buy the Dodgers from the hated Frank McCourt….The new owners then managed to dupe Time Warner Cable into spending an even more obscene amount — $8.4 billion — for the rights to broadcast the games on SportsNet LA.

….They figure they’ll get all of it back from you and me by raising the price of tickets and hot dogs and the fees for getting the games on TV….But in the case of the Dodgers, there was a snag along the way. DirecTV and other companies didn’t like Time Warner’s asking price for the right to carry the games, and they told the cable giant to stuff it. So the standoff continues, with half the season gone and no relief in sight.

Actually, I don’t think this is quite right. It’s not the asking price per se that cable companies don’t like, it’s the fact that Time-Warner is demanding that their spiffy new all-Dodgers channel be added to the basic cable menu. Other broadcasters aren’t willing to do this. If Time-Warner wants to set a carriage fee of $5 or $10 or whatever, that’s OK as long as it’s only being paid by people who actually want to watch the Dodgers. It’s not OK if every single subscriber has to pay for it whether they like it or not. At that point, it basically becomes a baseball tax on every TV viewer in Southern California.

Of course, this is just another way of saying what Lopez said: Everyone involved in this fiasco has overpaid. Time-Warner is demanding that their Dodgers channel be added to basic cable because they know they can never justify their purchase price if they can only get subscription revenue from the one-half or one-third of all households who actually care about the Dodgers. So they’re holding out for the tax.

I’d like to see the Dodgers on TV, but I hope everyone holds out forever anyway. It’s time for a revolt against the absurd spiral in prices for sports teams, and maybe historians will eventually point to this as the straw that finally broke the sports bubble. But that all depends on how long everyone can hold out.

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