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Dodgers, Time Warner Cable announce new channel: SportsNet LA

January 28, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Mark Walter in May 2012
Mark Walter in May 2012 (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

The name for the Dodgers' new television channel: SportsNet LA.

The Dodgers and Time Warner Cable officially announced their television contract on Monday, with the team-owned channel starting in 2014. The deal, pending the approval of Major League Baseball, covers 25 years and is believed to be worth between $7 billion and $8 billion to the team.

The Dodgers are to remain on Fox Sports through the 2013 season, but the team decided it wanted its own channel thereafter and negotiated with Fox and Time Warner Cable.

"We concluded last year that the best way to give our fans what they want -- more content and more Dodger baseball -- was to launch our own network," Dodgers controlling owner Mark Walter said in a statement.

The Dodgers -- not Time Warner Cable -- will program the new channel. In an interview, executives of the company said they believed the SportsNet LA name would be distinctive enough from the Time Warner Cable Sportsnet name given to the new Lakers channel.

The Lakers and Time Warner Cable also launched a Spanish-language channel. The Dodgers deal does not include a separate Spanish-language channel from Time Warner Cable.

Millions of Lakers fans could not see the team at the start of this season because of extended negotiations between Time Warner Cable and rival cable and satellite distributors. Such negotiations are typical when a new channel starts, so it is possible millions of Dodgers fans might not be able to see their team on opening day in 2014.

"There's always some variation of the distribution dance," Time Warner Cable executive vice president Melinda Witmer said. "I would expect this won't be any different."

The company charges other distributors close to $4 per month to carry the Lakers channel -- fees that are passed on to consumers in some way -- and the new Dodgers channel is expected to be sold at close to $5 per month. The cost of sports programming has escalated so significantly that analysts have wondered whether the Dodgers deal might be a "tipping point" that spurs legislation.

"We have been talking about a 'tipping point' for sports for as long as I've been in the business," Witmer said.

She cited the dramatic increases for national sports rights, including the Fox and ESPN deals with Major League Baseball, and suggested that regulators might pay closer attention to "retransmission fees" -- charges paid by cable operators to carry local over-the-air channels. Witmer said those fees are spiraling to the point of what she called "a broken retransmission process."

For Time Warner Cable, the rationale for the Dodgers deal is similar to the rationale for the Lakers deal -- pay a lot to cut out the middle man and secure access to a popular team for decades. However, Witmer conceded that there is no guarantee the company will make money on the Dodgers deal.

"There's always risk," she said. "With the hundreds of channels we deal with, there are many we carry that it would not be easy to assign a direct return on investment."

Dodgers executives were not immediately available for comment.

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