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San Diego seeks to end Padres TV impasse

March 10, 2013|Tony Perry
  • In downtown San Diego, just blocks from Petco Park where the Padres play, opening day is next Thursday. That's when the civic all-star lineup hopes to end a stalemate between two media titans that threatens to keep more than one-fifth of San Diego's pay TV households from seeing the Padres on TV.
In downtown San Diego, just blocks from Petco Park where the Padres play,… (Donald Miralle, Getty Images )

SAN DIEGO — In the desert of Arizona, the San Diego Padres are preparing for next month's opening day against the Mets in New York. Veterans are getting in shape, newcomers are hoping to earn a spot on the roster.

But in downtown San Diego, just blocks from Petco Park, opening day is next Thursday.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, March 12, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Padres on TV: In the March 10 California section, an article about the impasse between Fox Sports San Diego and Time Warner Cable over broadcasting Padres games said Time Warner Cable cut a deal with Fox over broadcasting Dodger games. Fox is not involved in the Time Warner Cable deal involving the Dodgers.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, March 17, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Padres on TV: In the March 10 California section, an article about the impasse between Fox Sports San Diego and Time Warner Cable over broadcasting Padres games said that Time Warner Cable had cut a deal with Fox over broadcasting Dodger games. Fox is not involved in the Time Warner Cable deal relating to the Dodgers.

That's when the civic all-star lineup -- the mayor, city attorney, City Council members -- hopes to end a stalemate between two media titans that threatens to keep more than a fifth of San Diego's pay TV households from seeing the Padres on television.

For a second season, Time Warner Cable has declined to sign with Fox Sports San Diego to show Padres games.

Four other pay television outlets that serve San Diego County customers have signed up with Fox but not Time Warner Cable, which has 22% of the market. Result: 185,000 households could again be Padre-less.

Letters have been sent to New York-based executives of both companies in preparation for Thursday's meeting of the council's Rules and Economic Development Committee.

Mayor Bob Filner, whose strongest political pitch is the brushback, warned that "rest assured, I will continue to monitor this situation and am prepared to take the steps necessary to bring about a resolution prior to the 2013 baseball season."

Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner, like a pitcher who values control over speed and dominance, has appealed to the two corporations' sense of compassion for the less fortunate.

"Many fans, including the elderly and disabled, are only able to watch Padres games on television, and for many fans living north of the San Diego River, Time Warner Cable is the only option for television service," Lightner wrote to both sides.

What annoys many Padres fans is that Time Warner Cable is willing to spend an estimated $8 billion in a deal with Fox to show Dodgers games but declines to spend a much lower figure to carry Padres games for San Diego County customers.

Add several billion dollars more being spent by Time Warner Cable to show the Lakers games and the sense San Diego is being disrespected worsens.

"I've been here for 40 years," said City Atty. Jan Goldsmith, "and if there is one thing that gets San Diegans riled up, it's the idea that they're being treated unfairly compared to Los Angeles."

Litigation is not an option, Goldsmith has counseled the mayor and council. Even though the city grants franchise licenses to pay television operators, that does not give it the right to interfere in programming, Goldsmith said.

The solution, if one exists, may lie in the power of the marketplace, with San Diego customers expressing their dismay by switching to other vendors, where possible, Goldsmith said.

"I can't believe people haven't stormed Time Warner Cable headquarters," said county Supervisor Ron Roberts.

"Let a thousand people cancel Time Warner Cable and they'll get the message loud and clear."

The Padres, having sold the television rights to Fox, are seemingly not involved in the dispute. But the prospect of a second season without their games on Time Warner Cable is problematic for a team that finished last season in fourth place and made no blockbuster acquisitions during the off-season.

"If they don't get back on TV this season -- with a winning team, ideally -- they may discover that by next season most people don't care about them," said Carl Luna, political science professor at San Diego Mesa College.

In dueling statements to The Times last week, Fox and Time Warner Cable looked at the same figures and drew different conclusions.

Time Warner Cable: "We have offered them a reasonable price.... But Fox has demanded 300% more than the price we paid for the Padres games two years ago when Cox had the rights. This is unreasonable."

Fox Sports: "Less than 2% of Time Warner Cable's 12 million customers live in San Diego. Maybe that's why this issue is not important to some of their executives thousands of miles away."

Each side said it was willing to resume negotiations. But as that initial Padres-Mets game draws near, patience has grown thin among San Diego fans.

George Mitrovich, founder and president of the City Club of San Diego, accuses Time Warner Cable of having "sold its soul to the Dodgers and Lakers." After spending lavishly on the two Los Angeles teams, he said, the company has decided to save money elsewhere.

"So the Padres are denied their market," Mitrovich said. "It's cynical. It's contemptible. It's business."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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